Finding the Balance Between Using Social Media and Improving Your Self-Esteem

Finding the Balance Between Using Social Media and Improving Your Self-EsteemSocial Media has irrevocably changed our lives. Since the dawn of its invention, everybody has had their own opinions on how to use these platforms. I grew up with the scrutinization from older relatives for “always being on my phone,” and often resented my father for taking my phone away when it was past 10 pm. People were convinced—and still are, that the younger generation spends way too much time on social media, and as a result,  suffer from its effects on self-esteem and overall mental health.

As a college student, I use social media all the time—and I’ll admit—probably more than I should. At my lowest of times, I tried taking breaks from using Instagram, Facebook, and other social media as a means to improve my self-esteem. Yet, regardless of how my mental state improved, I consistently felt like I was “out of the loop.”  I even once missed my friend’s birthday party, because my friends assumed I saw the invitation on Facebook.

After every week-long break I’d attempt, I found myself re-downloading the app, this time determined to achieve the happy balance I’ve been striving for: staying connected with friends without letting the effects of comparison, photoshopped images, and unrealistic lifestyles that flood my feed deteriorate my self-esteem and mental health.

However, according to a recent study from The University of Delaware, there may be a step in the right direction to achieving this balance without having to remove oneself completely from all of social media. Researchers found that the content and context of our online interactions are what truly determine our overall well-being outside of social media, more than how much actual time we spend on these apps.

The study surveyed more than 100 college students and found that those experiencing positive interactions online are more likely to have positive social interactions outside of social media, and those experiencing negative interactions suffered a greater amount of negative effects in overall mood, mental health/well-being, and self-esteem.

These findings contradict what I believed my whole adolescent life: my lack of self-esteem is from spending too much time on social media. Although there is a line between using social media often and spending an unhealthy amount of time on an app, the true determining factor in the effects on self-esteem lie in the type of content we immerse ourselves in.

So, before I rush to delete all my social media apps in attempt to improve my mental health again (which still serves as one solution, albeit a challenging one), I can start by simply changing the online environment that I participate and interact in. Here are some steps I’ve been practicing to cultivate a more positive online experience, in hopes to project this positivity into my real-life interactions as well:

1. Stop following people on social media who make you feel bad about yourself.

By removing posts from your feed that spark self-comparison, promote diet culture, and present photoshopped pictures, your social interactions online can become less self-critical and resemble more of what real people look like.

2. (follow up step to #1) Follow people who promote a positive message.

The body-positivity and self-care communities are one of the benefits to social media. Replacing self-esteem reducing content with that of an uplifting and supportive online community can be empowering.

3. Go a step further and block accounts that make you feel bad about yourself.

Hate seeing unrealistic appearance ideals? Or certain celebrities promoting “detox” teas? By blocking them, you can be sure their content is free from your feed and create a more positive environment without having to actively avoid their content.

4. At the end of the day, remind yourself that social media is the highlight reel of everyone’s life.

Even unedited photos can be misleading. Good lighting, angles, and posing misconstrue reality without digital editing. The ways to represent one’s life in a simple square image can greatly distort the reality of the life they truly live.

We can take back control from the effects of social media a lot more than we think we can, based off who we follow, what pictures we like, and what accounts we interact with. The more steps we take to create a more positive online social life, the better our real lives can be in terms of self-esteem, mental health, and overall well-being.

There can be great benefits to social media, such as keeping in contact with loved ones and finding other like-minded people who care about supporting mental health. However, these pros can only be reaped if we use social media in a mindful way.


Why It’s Important to Break Routines

Failing to examine or alter our habits can have a deadening effect on our lives.

Having a routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can help you stay organized, be productive, or even, according to some researchers, find meaning. Certain studies have associated family routines with parenting competence and marital satisfaction. However, not all routines are created equal, and failing to examine or alter our habits can have a limiting or deadening effect on our lives.

A big reason for this is that habitual behavior, by nature, can cut us off from feeling. Moving through a series of them can set us on autopilot throughout our day, which can lead us to lose touch with ourselves and our immediate experience—be it sensory or emotional. For example, scrolling through our phone on our morning train commute can seem pretty innocuous, but we may be missing out on sights, sounds, or even smells that would enliven us in some way, inspire a specific feeling, or spark our imagination. Similarly, the list of items we pressure ourselves to include in our evening routine may be taking up time we could use to connect with loved ones.

Whatever our personal habit patterns may be, it’s worth considering the ways in which they may be cutting us off from a more vital way of engaging with the world. A particular routine may make us feel more secure or unchallenged, muting some of our fears around uncertainty. However, it may also be closing us off to our sense of awe, curiosity, or excitement. This is because whenever we attempt to use anything—be it a substance or a rigid pattern of behavior—to numb a negative emotion, we often inadvertently also shut out our more profound, positive ones.

A common side effect of our routinized attempts to tune out is boredom. Think about how you feel on a day of vacation versus how you feel in the middle of a typical day at home. Usually, there is novelty associated with travel that’s invigorating. And while there is a sense of freedom and lack of obligation, there is also a complete shift to our routine. Instead of how will we tackle this day by new experiences and uncertainty.

In truth, it’s possible to uphold this same sense of adventure on any given day of our lives. There are tangible ways to strike a balance between making our daily life feel calm and stable and opening ourselves up to new and energizing experiences. The first step is to ask ourselves, are we really experiencing our lives or are we just going through the motions? We can start to look at patterns in our behavior that have become rote or even rigid ways of thinking that are bringing down our energy and cutting us off from a feeling of liveliness.

It may be helpful to make a list of activities we engage in that leave us feeling lifeless. For many of us, turning to technology—our phones or streaming TV—can be addictively numbing. However, habits that cut us off have been around for a lot longer than our devices, so it’s also important to consider even seemingly harmless activities, such as a specific place we always go to eat or a certain way we have to get ready for bed. If we have trouble identifying these behaviors in ourselves, a good rule of thumb is that we can often tell how compulsive the action is by how anxious we feel when we vary from it.

Once we have a sense of some of the routines we’re willing to switch up, we can start to take action. This doesn’t need to be anything monumental. We can start by mixing up the order of things, trying a new restaurant, or taking a different route to work.

As we experiment with this exercise, we can start to think bigger. We may explore what it would mean to break out of a fixed identity or a role we impose upon ourselves. For example, if we feel pressure to be the quiet, agreeable one, we can try speaking up and suggesting more ideas. If we often feel a need to control where we pick up dinner or where we go out on a date night, letting go and seeing what happens can completely shift our experience. Small as they may seem, making these kinds of changes can make us anxious. However, they also often wake us up in ways we really don’t expect.

This is because when we fall into routine, we’re often choosing a pattern of behavior that feels self-protective and familiar. These patterns are built on old adaptations we made to feel safe in our early environment. As children, we built up defenses to protect ourselves from the ways we were hurt. We may have needed to feel self-sufficient, pseudo-independent, and organized to exist in a household that felt chaotic and unstable to us. To protect ourselves from anxiety and pain, we subconsciously designed a set of structured behaviors to help us navigate the world. The trouble is, as our worlds and lives change, and we become independent adults who are no longer victims of our circumstances, we remain stuck in our ways. At this point, our self-protective defenses start to hurt rather than help us.

When we stay defended in our lives and rigid in our routines, we often lose a child’s sense of wonder about the world. However, we can reconnect with this feeling by being willing to explore. This exploration doesn’t need to be limited to a vacation or special occasion but can be connected to every day. We can explore in our own city, be freer in our relationships, or be more open to variation in our morning routine. Each day, we can make it a point to celebrate our sense of choice.

The truth: No day or moment will be the same as any other. Yet, seeking out and actively choosing novelty helps us feel more alive, engaged, and attuned to ourselves and others. This may mean doing something as simple as spontaneously hugging our partner rather than hurrying past them or doing something silly with our kid rather than sending them off to clean their room. It may mean picking up a new hobby or putting down our phone.

Whatever the action may be, it’s important to check in with ourselves and see how these new choices make us feel. We can do what Dr. Daniel Siegel calls sifting through our experience, considering any sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts that arise. As we do this, we may feel anxious, but over time, we will slowly reconnect with who we are. We will start to know more deeply what we enjoy, what matters to us, and quite simply, what makes us come alive.


How to Help Someone with Anxiety


Anxiety is the most common mental health problem in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a whopping 18% of the population falls victim to this widespread, yet not often talked about, problem in our society. 

For myself—and roughly 40-60% percent of other students—anxiety became a part of our daily routine after trailblazing through one of the most stressful times in our young-adult life: college.

Though I was fortunate to have caring friends and family, I still hesitated to reach out for support when I needed it most.  I thought stress and anxiety were simply defining parts of the college experience, and that it would be something I could work out on my own.  I was intimidated to ask for help and open up to friends, but wanted nothing more. 

Despite the statistic that nearly 1/5th of the US struggles with anxiety, a stigma still lingers around the word itself, leaving those of us who identify with it not knowing how to talk about it and ask for the help we need. 

It is more than likely you know someone living with a clinically anxious mind—maybe you even fall into the statistic yourself. The fact that this disorder is so present in our everyday lives only reinforces the need for larger awareness for how to help those around us. 

Unless you’ve experienced anxiety firsthand, it can be hard to empathize with someone struggling through life with it. But a lack of personal experience doesn’t mean you’re unqualified to help—there are several ways to support a friend or family member by keeping these tips in mind:

  1. Ask first, act second. 

For many people, the thought of asking for help is anxiety-inducing in itself.  Asking someone with anxiety how you can help is the best thing you can do for them. Everyone channels their anxiety in a different way, thus there is not a simplified, fix-all, solution to this problem.

  1. Make listening a priority.

Sometimes silent, empathic support—whether a shoulder to cry on or a person to vent to—is more helpful than advice. While practical support is often appreciated, emotional support can be just as helpful. 

  1. Do your part to destigmatize.

The biggest fear I had in opening up to close ones was the fear that people would look at me differently. By reassuring them that you still see them as who they truly are, under the occasional mask of anxiety, they can feel more comfortable to be honest and open about what they are going through.  

  1. Encourage seeking professional help.

Going hand-in-hand with destigmatizing, talking about seeing a therapist can bring a somewhat-taboo topic into casual conversation. Only 1/3rd of people dealing with anxiety get the treatment they deserve. By encouraging loved ones to go to therapy, we can break the stigma against mental illness and improve this statistic altogether. 

  1. Be there for yourself, too. 

Helping someone else with their anxiety does not belittle any problems you face too, regardless of the title they fall under. Know that as a friend, there is only so much you can do, but even the smallest acts of help are appreciated. 

Together we can tackle the nation-wide problem of anxiety—simply starting by acknowledging it exists. Anxiety is a treatable disorder. And while professional help is recommended, those who suffer don’t always get the treatment they need, making help from those arounds us even more appreciated, and all the more necessary. 


Is Your Smartphone Ruining Your Relationship?

Smartphone dependency is on the rise. According to Dr. James A. Roberts, “the typical American checks his or her smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times each day.” When one of these frequent phone checks interrupts a conversation or quality time with a romantic partner, it can have serious consequences on the relationship.

The term “phubbing” (derived from “phone-snubbing”) describes those moments we are all too familiar with, when one partner gets distracted by their phone and the other partner feels rejected. In fact, phubbing has become so common that it is now one of the biggest sources of conflicts in romantic relationships—right up there with arguments about money, kids, and sex!

A recent study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture examined how smartphone use and smartphone dependency affect the health of relationships amongst college-aged adults. Young couples were asked about their own smartphone use and dependency as well as the perceived smartphone use and dependency of their partners. The study showed a significant link between higher levels of dependency on smartphones and higher levels of relationship uncertainty. Additionally, participants who perceived their partners as being highly dependent on their smartphone were significantly less satisfied in their relationships.

While these results may not surprise anyone who has ever sat across the table from a loved one and wished they would look up and engage in a conversation rather than responding to whatever text message or notification just diverted their attention, this study offered an interesting twist. The results suggested “that smartphone use, in general, does not affect relational health.” Rather it is the “psychological reliance on these devices, and one’s need to constantly be connected with his or her smartphone, that potentially affects relationships and not actual use.”

This dependence on smartphones makes the devices so alluring that, as romantic partners, we simply can’t compete. (I’ve written previously about why smartphones are SO addictive.) According to the Chicago Tribune, Brandon McDaniel, who studied phones and relationships at Illinois State University, “found that when technology devices frequently interrupted partners, couples had more conflict over technology use, lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction.”

Yet, this is an incredibly common problem. A study on “Technoference,” the interference of technology in relationships, found that 70 percent of participants reported that smartphone interruptions negatively impacted interactions with their romantic partners.  Authors of the study explain that by allowing technology to interrupt time spent with romantic partners “individuals may be sending implicit messages about what they value most, leading to conflict and negative outcomes in personal life and relationships.”
The bottom line is: nobody likes to be phubbed. It makes us feel as though our partners don’t take us seriously and/or don’t find us interesting. It leads to more insecurity in ourselves and more uncertainty about our relationships. So, if your goal is  to have a happy, healthy relationship, it’s best to consistently prioritize your partner over your smartphone. The more distance you put between yourself and your phone, the more closeness you can achieve in your relationship.