Self-Care in the Time of Social Media
Ever since the start of this year, I have found myself coming up with a resolution every few weeks and it is the same resolution every time: to regulate the time and the quality of content I am consuming on social media. Yep, my 2018 resolution is social media self-care. (And nope, I haven’t yet succeeded 100% but I am being relentless in my effort.)
Much before social media self-care was a topic that warranted discussion and social media detox was yet another hashtag, I recall being the person who would switch off the data on her phone for no particular reason. These would last at times for as long as a week and at times, a mere 24 hours. Travel would make it easier – what with Ladakh, Spiti, and the Kanha-Pench corridor not being as digitally connected as they are these days.
I am not addicted to social media. I don’t have the urge to check for notifications mid-way during an in-person conversation. Until last month, I only relied on free WiFi to be connected (read: WiFi at home – which is where I work out of) – i.e. no mobile network-enabled connectivity when I’m not at home.
I don’t despise it entirely either. I manage digital content in a professional capacity. In other words, I have gotten paid to be around social media. It’s something I have been proactively sought and enjoyed in my role as a freelancer. I also rely on social media to get the word out on my blog-posts and even more importantly on the expressive writing workshops I conduct.
I don’t seek to escape social media. I have experienced its perks. In fact, I would even dare to say that I am grateful for its presence. It’s helped me find new people and build new friendships. It helps me connect directly with my favourite writers, artists, comics, musicians and the whole universe of folks whose work I love.
Even for someone like me who is mindful, social media self-care is a priority. It is my mindfulness that alerts me towards the unpleasant effects on me – it could be something as inane as the number of Likes my posts don’t receive in the world of the ever-changing algorithms that seem to be at odds with me or how in 2015 I was quite affected when I wasn’t travelling but almost everyone on my timeline seemed to be at someplace exotic!
Social media self-care becomes imperative irrespective of where on the continuum I am because it is designed to be all-consuming and overwhelming! At its worst, it can begin to manifest negative implications on my wellbeing.
So, what does my practice include?
Uninstall the app > Deactivate the account
I am against mindless, unregulated consumption of online content. But I am not willing to ditch my smartphone at the nearest e-waste-basket just yet. Neither am I in favour of deactivating my account. Not that I haven’t ever considered it; I have – as recently as a month ago*. I haven’t ever been embroiled in any online toxic conversations to want to abandon my online presence. Not yet.
But I have seen the merit in uninstalling the app from my phone. That I intentionally create complex passwords ensures that I cannot log-in whenever I please (ah the perks of not remembering my passwords). It has meant freedom from notifications (whether or not my device has been muted) i.e. I have reverse-Pavlov’d my way into not reaching out for my phone at the sound of a bell. But it also means a reduction in thoughtlessly scrolling through even if while waiting for a bus or train – instead I now plug into a podcast! P.S.: My quiver of actionable steps also includes the three arrows of Mute, Unfollow and Block.
*as of February 2019, I have deactivated my Facebook and Twitter accounts
Switching to RSS feeds
When I considered deactivating my account(s), I wondered how I would continue to consume content from some of my favourite websites like Brainpickings. Newsletters are a solution. But they always tend to get lost in the pile of other emails!
I am happy to inform that I found my answer in going back to the good old RSS feeds. I have now not only gained direct access to content as it goes live without having to rummage through my inbox but I also do so by bypassing insensitive thoughts from perfectly airbrushed faces – i.e. the generally vile and toxic timeline.
Au revoir ‘Last Seen’
I miss the good old days of the SMSes when the only notifications I’d get were: Message Sent and Message Delivered. What happened to my message after that was never head-ache inducing. I became that person who would obsess over the double-tick (and then its colour when that became a feature upgrade), the time-stamp and whatever else is considered as an indicator to denote that my message has been consumed.
At some point, better sense for the sake of my own sanity prevailed over me and I disabled every such feature across every App that allows me to disable it. Today, I trust folks to respond whenever they deem fit instead of finding myself being incensed by my anxiety and/or insecurity. I have also absolved myself of the responsibility to respond ASAP to everything. I am dispensable and if anything requires my urgent attention, I continue to be a mere phone call away! Everything else can wait.
Means > Ends
I have and continue to make a conscious decision on how I engage with (and not just on) social media. I prefer putting in some thought behind my every post. 'Likes' are wonderful but they are not the only thing!
This outlook of mine - as a freelancer - has come at the cost of potential brand engagements. I don’t have the numbers that most brands seek. To make matters even more challenging, I refrain from mentioning a product/service that I haven’t used nor foreseen myself having use of, for the sake of a paid post.
It’s cost me the invisible crown of being a social media influencer and that’s fine by me. Social media is an extension of my self-expression and I still maintain that.
JOMO – Joy Of Missing Out
I am an introvert and JOMO is how my introversion works for me. But in all seriousness, I have never experienced the pangs of wanting to know everything there is to know – even before social media existed. I have never been riled up by not being let in on someone’s secret. I need very few things to survive and my sanity is one of those few things.
To be constantly cued in on anyone’s life – whether from my known circle of acquaintances, friends and family - let alone that of famous personalities – isn’t an affliction I struggle to manage. Royal weddings, Oscars, IPLs, celeb breakups and their ilk don’t stoke me. I am a gossip-llama (if that were a thing). I have stopped live posting whenever I’m travelling. Delayed gratification is now my very dear friend.
What’s the word on the street?
I threw open this question on social media self-care online: “Do you have a social media self-care practice? What is it?” and here are the responses I’ve received:
“More than ‘how’ I consume social media, I am concerned with ‘how much’ is too much. I find myself reaching out for my device and checking my timelines randomly, all the time. The phone feels like an extension of my own body. This is time I could be putting to much better use. And that’s something I feel guilty about because it creates a sense of dissatisfaction with my own life, given the unfair comparisons it feeds. I am working on minimising my usage” – Sonali Mujumdar
“To block shady accounts, even if I am operating on a hunch. Also, when I don’t feel like it, I choose not to respond to every comment I receive. I don’t owe it to anyone. Sometimes conversations spiral into character assassination debates and that’s not what social media is for, in my opinion” – Shikha Gautam
“I log out or uninstall the app when I find that I am indulging way too much” – Amrita Kaur
“I don’t look at updates from friends through the filter of jealousy. Sure, I give in to my curiosity but I’m conscious and aware. Secondly, I don’t follow anyone and everyone and I make sure to detox once in a while so that social media isn’t the centre of my life. I also don’t post/share every photo I take. Over the years I’ve started enjoying my personal space more. Self-care works wonderfully.” – Sharanya Manola
“I take frequent breaks from social media and I don’t put everything there is to know about me online. I am working on wanting to post more often and engage with people I follow and am followed by but I will withdraw into my shell whenever I feel overwhelmed” – Zehra Chhapiwala
“Social media is its own kind of propaganda. So everyone has to live the perfect life, in perfect bodies with a perfect partner. We are mostly consuming PR driven content, which for the most part is ridiculous. Because it is algorithm-driven, I am only seeing what I am anyway interested in – which if I am not questioning often, only feeds my confirmation bias. To me, it’s about protecting my mental health. Because irrespective of how mindful I am or what affirmations I chant, I am susceptible to my vulnerable moments and this projection of the perfect life does take its toll. So I take a break as often as I can. For the sake of my sanity, I didn’t post when I was travelling recently even though it was tempting. I keep myself under check by asking how much of my personal life do I want to share online?” – Sneha Patil
“Being a digital marketing professional, I have to stay updated about all the platforms all the time. But I am pragmatic enough to switch off from a platform from the perspective of self-care. I don’t check my phone right before I sleep and soon after I wake up. I try to not reach out for my phone thoughtlessly but this is still work in progress. Music and a good book or having a journal to write my thoughts are more effective at keeping me away from social media.” – Aditi Abhay
I am a seeker by design. Seeker of information and connections. Most of my time online is spent searching for and seeking recommendations on inspiring folks to follow. And from this perspective, social media is that enabler. But I do what I can to self-manage – both, my consumption and my creation of content. In a crowdsourced information economy, we don’t get to diss what exists without periodically keeping our own content/posts in check!
I found this article by Forbes to be most aligned with my current perspectives on social media self-care.