Social Media Stress!

The irony is not lost on me that I am going to talk about the stress caused by social media whilst posting it on social media! Bare with me...I'm not saying it is all bad, just that we could consider how we could use it better.

Social media and it’s uses is a widely discussed subject these days. We are becoming increasingly aware of the negative effects it can have on our mental health but how many of us are taking steps to control that or keep it in check? It can be very difficult to find the right balance I find. I wonder how many others feel similar.

I am approaching my 49th birthday this month so I am Gen X. I grew up with no mobile phone, internet or on demand tv. We had a phone in the house which we had to ask to use. It was time limited because phone calls were quite expensive. Our most frequent interactions with people were face to face. The tv had 3 channels from my earliest memory and it used to go off at midnight. I remember the addition of Channel 4 being very exciting! The closest thing to on demand tv was a VHS recorder so we could watch a programme back later on tape. If we ever had any general knowledge questions that our parents or older siblings could not answer, there was the Encyclopedia Britannica books on the shelf which were like our Google of the time. Any further questions we might have would have to wait until we could either ask a teacher at school or go to the library in search of books on that subject.

A quick side note…There is so much interesting psychology there which we can learn from. Straight away what jumps out at me is the connection to discovery learning. We know from studies that the most effective learning comes in the form of self discovery. When we search for answers ourselves, often making mistakes along the way, the result is accelerated learning and one which stays with us. So we learn faster and make better connections in our brain when we discover things for ourselves as opposed to being given the answers by someone else. This is applied to coaching techniques too. When coaching is done well it differs to teaching in the way that teaching is more traditionally about telling and coaching is more about guiding and asking open questions allowing for riders to search for answers themselves. The huge advantage to that is when developing a thinking rider, they have the ability to problem solve without the coach even being there. A rider who has only ever been told or shouted at to do things in the moment will be completely lost when the instructor is not there. A complete disaster if you compete or ever want to do anything confidently by yourself.

I have 2 sons who are 26 and 21 so they fall into Gen Y or Millennial and Gen Z.  Although we were pretty slow to adopt the ‘gadgets’ in our house back when they were small (getting our first computer around 2003) my children have known a world largely filled with technology. Our countryside location was a huge plus point looking back because we had horrendously slow internet with dial up long after everyone else went to broadband so the progress into a technological world was slower than some. My boys were not particularly interested in the horses but they did play outside quite a lot due to me being out in the yard most of the day. We had a yard at home then so they weren’t far away riding bikes, playing on the trampoline, building camps and generally being wild! It was great for desensitising the horses too! Eventually they did end up with smart phones, laptops and gaming devices as Christmas and Birthdays came along. I think they were about 10 or  early teens by then which was about as long as I felt I could hold it back. I know some parents had stronger feelings about regulating their children’s use of technology but I guess I made my decision based on what I felt the balance was at the time.

I witnessed some negative changes in their behaviour through teenage years but it is hard to say what was attributed to what as it’s a very volatile time anyway. They were incredibly quick at picking up information and using their knowledge to get around any problems which got in their way. An example of that being school blocking certain internet use through the firewalls they had set up. One of my children worked around that with no problem. Showed good problem solving skills I thought! They were so clever that my partner and I had to learn to be skilled very quickly to have even a chance at keeping up with them or policing them during the teenage years. Information was coming so quickly and changing fast.  

It was estimated during studies in America that in 2011 people took in 5 times as much information every day as they did in 1986. I am not sure what the figures would be today but I would guess a great deal more than that. It is not only the amount of information available to us but the speed at which it arrives in our brain that can cause us problems. We have a limit to how much our brains can manage to make sense of and actually process causing us information overload. When we are overloaded with information it will affect our focus. We cannot focus intently or for any considerable length of time when there is so much going on to distract us. Our phones have become so integral to our lives for most of us that we don’t stop to think about how we use them. Social media encourages us to use it constantly which becomes incredibly addictive. How intriguing is it when you see notifications and just have to know what it is? It is no accident that we behave so predictably. Human behaviours are on the whole, predictable. Companies invest a huge amount of money and resources playing mind games with us and influencing our behaviours. That’s the psychology of marketing.

I think social media and the internet in general can be an amazing tool to have for social interaction, business, for raising awareness of so many things and for education. We cannot go back to the days before it existed so we need to do the best we can to use it wisely. It’s a work in progress for me to find the right balance and I am going to try to do that for my private and business use. I already have a fairly limited use of my private social media accounts. I don’t post very much about my private day to day living but chose to only post occasionally to keep in touch with people. I use my business pages to give information to potential and existing clients and post anything I think people might find interesting relating to my business. I will make a plan to get more organised with regular content ahead of time so that my hours spent on the laptop and phone are less in total. There are scheduled posts and content planning apps which will help me do more in less time.

My own internet browsing and social media browsing habits are the ones I would like to have the more control over. That is where I see the most negative impact on my own attention. I wonder if you relate to that?

I spoke about focus and information overload. Lack of focus is possibly a problem I suffer from anyway, I often wondered if I have an attention deficit but I don’t have a diagnosis and am not particularly looking for one. I do notice that it is worse in recent years though, I think due to the constant picking up of my phone. There is a constant FOMO when you get pulled in to the worlds of Instagram, FB or Meta! There is always a story you might have missed or a popular post you need to read comments on or perhaps comment on yourself. It is constant 24 hours a day and it’s exhausting. I recognise myself getting drawn in often and I don’t even comment on very much but I feel the constant pull of information that I must know.

The downside of the information overload is huge. Our brains are so busy shuffling everything that we lose the ability to think deeply or reflect effectively on things we really want to. I have listened to some great podcasts recently which explore areas of psychology. Life lessons with Simon Mundie has some great guests as do The High Performance Podcast if you want to look them up.

Reflective thinking is our main tool for learning so if we do not take the time or have the ability to focus on good and clear reflection what will we learn? It is great to have information at our fingertips but if we don’t take the time to process what we have learned it’s not so much use, is it?

Going back to an earlier note about discovery learning, it is the most effective means to learn but it takes time. Time is the one thing we are lacking in today’s world. It would appear we lack time however, maybe we are not lacking time but just using it in the wrong way. Here is a fact I found interesting. My iPhone tracks screen time use and analyses what apps have been used and at what percentage. In the past week my daily average screen time was 4 hrs 12 mins down 9% from the week before apparently. Total screen time was 21 hrs 2 mins in a week That’s almost a whole day! 10 hrs 1 min of that was spent on social media. 7 hrs 5 mins of that was on Facebook. I am sure some of that time might have been connected to business and maybe some of that was productive but I am sure the vast majority was nothing but meaningless scrolling and habit. What else could I have done with 7 hrs? That is almost a working day.

There are some things you will inevitably come across on social media which provoke negative reactions and sometimes anger or upset. Even if you don’t respond it can still have a lasting impact on your day and your mood. If that happens later in the evening you might go to bed feeling those emotions which might impact your sleep. I know I have felt that on occasions. So timing is also a consideration. When is a good or bad time to be on social media?

The control and balance I would like to have is one where I use the technology for good and limit the negative effects associated with the overload and overwhelm of information. I want to keep up with people and topical conversation but I don’t necessarily need to be updated every single hour. It is such a hard habit to break as it has become a culture of behaviour among us.  Because I’m old I do remember life before social media which wasn’t all rosy but it does have some lessons to teach us. Thinking time and listening to people are things I would like to do more of. Less immediate reaction and more of a considered one. Maybe if my brain slows down a bit that will be possible.

A thought for a meaningful New Year’s resolution? A few less hours on social media and a few more hours being present in the real world. That is my goal.