When social networks first gained popularity — back in the days of AOL chat rooms — it was exciting, fun, and a generally positive experience. For LGBT people, it existed as an outlet where we could be ourselves without fear of discovery and ridicule from the outside world. But as time trudges on, social media has evolved into a dark and depressing vortex of negativity — mostly attributed to our outrageous political climate — which, if you’re not careful, can suck the life right out of you.
It’s hard to quit social media altogether. I’ve tried myself and failed. But if you’re experiencing a sense of sadness and despair as a result of your time on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, it may be time to reevaluate your priorities and implement ways you can make the experience and your overall life better. Here are eight ways how.
1. Maintain a balance between online and real life
Spending too much time on any one thing is not a good thing, especially if it’s causing unnecessary stress and anxiety. You wouldn’t actively throw yourself into a lion’s den of radical political foes in real life, so why put yourself through that online? Certainly, there’s the appeal of voicing your opinion without much consequence — we’ve all been keyboard warriors at some point — but what good has it done? Has anyone changed their mind based on what you’ve commented? Chances are slim, and all you got from it was a headache. Thus, the first way to take back your life from the social media stronghold is to maintain a balance, or tip the scales even. If you’re spending a lot of time online, power off and seek out the positive real-life relationships you have and plan activities you enjoy doing.
2. Quit a platform or two
If the idea of entirely quitting social media causes anxiety, there’s a compromise: Get rid of one or two platforms that you can live without. For me, it’s hard to quit Facebook because I use it for business and I like the convenience of having it attached to other app-based accounts that allow me to log in effortlessly (one of the more brilliant moves that Facebook made to keep us from straying), but I can live without Twitter because I don’t see the point of it anyway. I look forward to the day that I don’t have a business that requires social media (which may never come), so I can deactivate Facebook, never to be heard from on that platform again. A boy can dream, at least.
3. Stop the comparisons to the social media ‘highlight reel’
One of the major contributors to social media sadness, which is a legitimate disorder, is comparing your life to the ‘highlight reel’ of others you follow. You may be part of that façade yourself; I know I am. We purposely push the great content out there — the beautiful restaurants we eat at, the luxurious places we go, the expensive clothing we wear — because we want to elicit the envy of our friends, family, and perfect strangers, whether we’ll admit it or not. And then we look at other people’s feeds and judge our success, happiness, wellbeing, and wealth by those fantasies.
Not healthy, says Dr. Judi Cinéas, a psychotherapist practicing in New York and Florida.
“People follow a lot of things online that create an illusion of reality that they try to emulate,” she explains. “When their lives fail to follow that path it can cause some dissatisfaction. Instead, follow things that are more in line with your life and your goals. Seek out things that inspire and motivate you to pursue your own goals. Social media houses enough content to build you up and tear you down in the same split second. It’s up to you to determine what you allow.”
4. Limit your social media use and remove the temptations
Cut back on time you spend endlessly scrolling Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by practicing discipline. Allot yourself a certain amount of time per day and stick to it — 90 minutes, for example. Break it down throughout the day by checking in when you wake up, on your lunch break, and while you’re unwinding on the couch after dinner. Stay off it altogether when you’re in the company of family and friends, too. Sticking your face in your phone during actual human interaction defeats the purpose of that interaction. You might as well have stayed home.
Another tactic I use is to delete apps I’m spending too much time using for a while. While I have a hard time shunning Facebook altogether, I do sometimes take a hiatus when I feel like it’s challenging my productivity and replacing it with procrastination. You have to recognize that problem first, which is half the battle.
5. Think about what triggers you, and how to improve upon it
When your anxiety and stress levels start climbing because of a social media post, take a minute to ask yourself why. What about it has triggered certain feelings? Are you browsing pictures of a happy couple while you’re experiencing loneliness? Are you reading about someone’s wild weekend as you struggle with your sobriety? All you’re doing is punishing yourself, and for what?
Bianca L. Rodriguez, a psychotherapist in Santa Monica, Calif., offers advice on how to make lemonade out of your rotten lemons:
“Looking at social media and wallowing in self-pity is not constructive,” she says. “I recommend you investigate what feelings are surfacing, allow yourself to experience them and then devise a solution that supports your wellbeing. It’s always helpful to speak with a trusted friend, therapist or your partner to gain some perspective and support.”
6. Make compromises and stick to what makes you happy
What we consume changes our mentality, and if, for instance, you’re obsessing over how many likes your latest selfie is getting, you’re setting yourself up for the disappointment that will only lead to sadness.
Social media consultant Austin Iuliano recognized that habit in himself and made a few changes on how he interacts with social media to limit the self-inflicted pain.
“I took a single social media platform and changed what I consumed on it to reflect things that make me happy,” he says. “In this case, I took Reddit and only follow accounts that post pictures of puppies. Yes, it is that simple. By consuming pictures of puppies and the silly things they do, it reminds me life isn’t so serious.”
7. Use the unfollow button
Out of all the tips on this list, this one is my personal favorite: Unfollow those who create a negative experience for you on social media. I’ve been doing it a lot lately, and it’s quite cathartic. Recently I’ve unfollowed, unfriended, or outright blocked people for homophobia, religious zealotry, videos of animal abuse, and one nasty bitch eating raw hamburger. I don’t want that shit in my feed, so I cut them out. The less negativity you see betters your time online.
8. Consult your doctor
If you can’t seem to shake your addiction to social media and the stress and sadness that it causes you, it may be time to consult your doctor. As I mentioned earlier, depression spurred by social media is a real disorder, and you may need qualified help to deal with it. Discuss the issue with your primary care physician. Maybe there are meetings you can attend or a therapist you can see to work through the issue. There’s no shame in admitting you need help — because, honey, we all do.
Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. He spends his time writing from the beach with his dog Jaxon. Connect with Mikey on Twitter @mikeyrox.