Ever open your Facebook to see Joe and Jan tanning in the South of France, a simply amazing video of little Judy swimming by herself at the age of 18 months, or a screen shot of Sue's 2 hour kickboxing workout even though you were too lazy to go to the gym that day?
Research strongly suggests that frequent use of Facebook can “undermine well-being" and can actually make people feel lonelier or worse about themselves.
While it may be pretty unrealistic or undesirable to stop using Facebook altogether, bringing mindfulness to how and why you use Facebook may protect you some of its potential negative effects.
Elisha Goldstein wrote, “Facebook. . . and all the wonderful new ways of connecting are an evolution in our culture, we just need to peel the lens back a bit and watch ourselves as we engage in this great big experiment.”
How exactly do you bring mindfulness to Facebook? Here are 10 ideas.
#1 Become Aware of How Facebook Affects Your Mood and Outlook
Kross, Verduyn, Demiralp, Park, Lee, Lin, Shablack, Jonides, and Ybarra (2013) found that “the more people used Facebook during one time period, the worse they subsequently felt.” They also found that “the more participants used Facebook over the two-week study period, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time.”
deVries and Kuhne (2015) found that “Facebook use was related to a greater degree of negative social comparison, which was in turn related negatively to self-perceived social competence and physical attractiveness.” The effect was particularly strong if a person was unhappy to begin with.
Notice how Facebook affects your own mood and self-esteem. Remind yourself that looking at everyone’s accomplishments, happiest photos, and seemingly-perfect lives does not capture reality.
#2 Become Aware of How Facebook Fragments Your Day Through Interruptions
Altmann, Trafton, and Hambrick (2014) found that interruptions as short as 2.8 seconds caused participants to double the rate of “sequence errors” and those 4.4 seconds or longer caused participants to triple the rate of these errors.
Try logging the number of times you check Facebook in a given day or week.The next time you take a “Facebook break” while working, bring awareness to the way it might lower your performance.
#3 Reflect on Your Facebook Activity Patterns (Tip - Post and Comment!)
Take stock of the ways you use Facebook. Do you scroll through Facebook content without engaging with anyone else? Do you post about your accomplishments, photos of travel, or photos of food? Do you post photos of children, political commentary, quotes that inspired you, or things you think are funny?
You might reflect on the degree to which you interact directly versus simply "consuming content."
Burke, Marlow, and Lento (2010) found that directed interaction on Facebook – such as posting, commenting, and liking – is associated with greater feelings of bonding and social capital. However, simply consuming greater levels of content is linked with increased loneliness.
Similarly, Verduyn, Lee, Park, Shablack, Orvell, Bayer, Ybarra, Jonides, and Kross (2015) found that participants who were cued to use Facebook passively experienced “affective declines in well-being over time.”
If you're using Facebook, remind yourself to post and comment as much as you can.
#4 De-Clutter Your Facebook Feed
Be purposeful about the information you are fed. If you want to sort out or reconfigure the information you see from friends, acquaintances, and business pages, read an article like this one to help you do it.
#5 Reflect on What You Feel You “Get” Out of Facebook
Pinpointing your own goals for using Facebook may help you gain insight and make more conscious decisions about how you want use it.
#6 Imagine Looking at Yourself Looking at Facebook
Imagine you were velcroed to the ceiling, watching yourself spending your time scrolling through Facebook, clicking on friends’ photos, clicking on viral types of posts such as “The Three Foods that Surgeons Warn You Not to Eat” or “You’ll Never Believe What Happened to These Twins at Birth.” Now imagine watching yourself enjoy a photo of a friend's trip to Greece, a photo of your best friend's baby, or a funny quote that made you laugh. Now see yourself using Facebook to contact old friends, strengthen connections, or become more connected to social groups. What words would you use to describe what you see?
#7 Bring Awareness to the Way Facebook Might Be “Intruding” on Prime Life Activities
Using Facebook at certain times can whittle away at the pleasure derived from prime life activities, such as eating dinner together as a family, talking with a friend on the phone, daydreaming, being intimate, or getting a good night’s sleep. Research suggests that the blue light (found in smart phones or tablets) can disrupt natural circadian rhythms and lower melatonin levels (a factor which can be linked to depression). Think about any "intrusions" Facebook has in your life and remediate them.
#8 Diversify - Use Other Mediums to Interact with Friends
Think about how you split your time between forms of communication. Craft a snail-mail card or letter, call a friend on the phone, or get together with friends in person.
#9 “Fast” for a Time
“Fasting” from Facebook for a day or a week is a powerful way to comprehend the complexities of how it affects your life. Taking a break might alert you to the functions Facebook serves in your life– whether to distract you from a boring or difficult task, to connect with friends, or to read something illuminating that breaks up doldrums. Fasting may help you reconnect with some of the real-life activities you may have been missing out on, such as noticing simple pleasures, getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep a night, or having more conversations with co-workers. When you return to Facebook, you may see aspects of it in a new way or appreciate it with fresh eyes.
#10 Commit to Kindness
An alternative to “fasting” from Facebook is to spread as much kindness as possible to Facebook connections for a day or a week. Post as many nice (but genuine) compliments as you can, use Messenger to check in with long-lost friends, send a sweet note to your partner or best friend, share quotes about kindness and love, or thank someone for sharing something that inspired you, taught you something, or made you laugh or smile.
The essence of mindfulness is observing thoughts, feelings, or interactions "from a distance." It's about awakening to the experience that's hard to see because you are right smack in the middle of it. Taking a step back helps you bring a deeper understanding and intention to the patterns in your life, including those with social media.
Copyright Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of Joy Fixes for Weary Parents (2017), is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago's western suburbs. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, read her blog at www.thejoyfix.com, or sign up for email updates at www.erinleyba.com