Healthy Buffs: Keeping it in perspective

Social media can be a place to keep up with friends, make plans or hear about events. At the same time, it can be a bombardment of news and information, which may get stressful. Tyler Branagan, a postdoctoral fellow at Counseling and Psychiatric Services, talks about how to navigate social media use and keep things in perspective.

What are some of the impacts of social media use?

Social media can be a great way for us to stay connected with our friends and family, whether it’s seeing updates from them or arranging lunch dates. It also facilitates a sense of social connection and shared experience.

When it is overused, social media can negatively impact our physical and mental health. When we are preoccupied with social media, we can become less attentive of doing things like going to bed on time, engaging in conversations when out with friends or paying attention in class.

With the amount of information that comes through our news feeds, we may see things that evoke a variety of reactions. Social media makes it easy to compare ourselves to other people, which can cause anxiety and feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. Hearing from friends or family members about their values that may not align with our own can also contribute to feelings of stress or anxiety.

How can we minimize the negative impacts?

One step we can take is to decrease the amount of time we spend on social media. Here’s a couple of ideas for how:

  • Move social apps off of your home screen. Having an extra step can reduce the urge to open the app as soon as you get on your phone.
  • Schedule specific times to check social media or set a timer to limit yourself to 20-30 minutes.
  • Put your phone on silent. When we aren’t hearing a tone or vibration every time we get a notification, we’re less likely to get distracted by social media.
  • Take a break from social media or limit the number of apps you use. Try sticking to apps that you use the most to communicate with people.

Being a critical consumer of social media is also helpful to reduce its negative impacts. Remember that what you’re seeing is usually someone else’s highlight reel, and isn’t indicative of anyone’s day to day life.

How can we use social media in a more positive way?

There are steps we can take to help us have more positive experiences when using social media.

  • Use social media as a way to plan face-to-face meetings. Whether it’s in person or over video, we tend to have more meaningful connections through face-to-face contact.
  • Be mindful and intentional of our social media use. This includes things like following people and brands that make us feel good. Look for those that post funny memes or inspirational quotes.

How do we know if social media use has become a problem?

Reflecting on how often or how long we’re using social media can be helpful to understand if it’s getting in the way of our day-to-day activities. If you find that you prefer social media over more direct forms of communication or if you constantly feel the urge to check it, even if there isn’t a notification, it might be time to scale back or adjust your use patterns.

About the expert:

Branagan is a postdoctoral fellow and part of the Counseling and Psychiatric Services Counselor in Residence Program. He received his PhD in counseling psychology at Florida State University, and completed his doctoral internship at the University of Virginia Counseling and Psychological Services. He has additional experience working in settings such as university athletic departments, psychiatric hospitals and group private practices. He works from an emotion-focused theoretical approach using elements of psychodynamic, interpersonal and other therapies to tailor treatment to the specific needs of his clients.

The Healthy Buffs series is brought to you by Wardenburg Health Services. Visit us online at www.colorado.edu/health