4 Healthier Social Media Habits
The love/hate relationship with social media can be intense. One minute you’re laughing to relatable reels and hitting the "heart" button on stories; the next, you’re simmering into full-blown insecurity mode over a documented group trip you didn’t get invited to. Cue the internal inquisitions, failed attempts at reasoning, and involuntary pain that can unintentionally ruin a day.
It’s no secret that our favorite social apps have magnified some unhealthy collective behaviors: Like feeling a little salty when you see your high school friend’s newest vacation rental or your college roommate’s growing family. Sure, you’re glad they’re thriving, but there’s also that nagging fear of somehow being left behind.
In the face of fear of missing out (FOMO), mindfulness can be your best friend, says Roundglass senior researcher, Rebecca Acabchuk, Ph.D. Paying attention to triggering thoughts and feelings with curiosity and nonjudgment can, over time, change your brain’s response to other people’s posts — particularly when it comes to comparing yourself to people you might feel jealous of. Known scientifically as upward social comparisons, Acabuchuk says this behavior has been linked to mental health issues such as increased feelings of anxiousness or inferiority that can bleed out into your in-person interactions, too.
If you find yourself ruminating on negative thoughts or comparisons when using social media, try these exercises to pull you back into reality.
1. Monitor Your Mind
Catch yourself when you’re distorting reality while scrolling. Notice your thoughts and how they’re making you feel. Remember that what you see online is never an accurate portrayal of reality, and then connect with an internal anchor like your breath — while noticing an external focus point, like a tree or sound.
Tuning into the flow of your breath redirects your attention to the present moment. Witness the rise and fall of challenging emotions without attaching an opinion to them. Don’t shame yourself for feeling jealous or coveting your cousin’s new car. Simply let your thoughts wash in and out with each rise and fall of the breath. As you release negative emotions, remind yourself their impermanence.
2. Delight in Sympathetic JoyPracticing sympathetic joy (mudita in Sanskrit) means fully sharing in the excitement toward someone else’s success, regardless of who they are and how you think you compare to them.
Sympathetic joy is what’s known as a prosocial behavior — it’s motivating by genuine concern for the wellbeing of the community. But it can be hard to tap into this mindset, especially under stress says Acabchuk. But practicing loving kindness meditation (metta) can help. This simple meditation practice involves repeating the phrases, “May you be safe; may you be happy; may you be healthy,” as you take turns thinking about different people in your life and even those you haven’t met.
Try this class, Spread Loving Vibes, by Roundglass meditation teacher Curtis Smith to learn how to replace negative emotions with positive ones, when you glimpse the good things in your social network’s lives.
Over time, this practice can trigger a new habit loop in the brain by releasing chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, that increase feelings of satisfaction, happiness, calmness, and bliss by simply focusing on the wellbeing of others. And since our brains are wired to repeatedly do things that feel good, take comfort in knowing that wholeheartedly sharing in other’s joy will get easier with practice.
3. Focus on the Good in the People You Follow
One 2017 study published in "ResearchGate" found that the more gratitude a person practiced, the less likely they were to engage in social media comparison. Try writing down things you can appreciate about the people in your feed who may make you feel inadequate. Consider sending them a note of appreciation. Research shows that sharing virtual high-fives helps to release oxytocin, a love hormone that assists in strengthening relationships.
4. Don’t Use Social Media to Air Out Grievances
Sure, it’s satisfying to share a meme that validates your feelings when something’s got you down. And perhaps it’s less intimidating to admit your sister rubbed you the wrong way over text than confronting her face to face. But eye contact, body language, and hearing the sounds and tones of voices helps us gauge each others intention and emotions. This is important communication that you miss out on online. In fact, one study published in "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience" looked at how the brain changes in response to feeling understood, and found areas related to reward and social connection were triggered. It’s easier to see each other’s perspective and find middle ground when you can hash things out together, offline.
Habituate a Mindful Approach to Your Time Online
If your time online isn’t nourishing you, remind yourself that social comparisons are part of the human experience. Then try any of the mindfulness practices above and see if you can redirect your perspective. Remember that you decide how you relate to the people in your life, not the widgets on your phone.
- Notice when you’re engaging in social comparisons and use your senses to bring you back to the present moment.
- Let go of a scarcity mindset so you can fully share in the happiness of others success.
- Use Metta or loving-kindness meditations to experience sympathetic joy.
- Concentrate on what you’re thankful for to ease feelings of dissatisfaction and envy.
- Opt for in-person communication to minimize misunderstanding.
- Use mindfulness to get back to using social media as it was intended.