When I was younger, I was always called a “social butterfly”. Flittering between cliques, I had my core group of friends, sure, but I was comfortable in nearly every social situation in a way that was unique in the harsh jungle gyms of adolescents. Always a nerd (in the best possible way), my teachers’ only constructive criticism on Parent-Teacher Night or on my report cards were always variations of “Carly talks a lot in class”.
Throughout my teens, this served me well as I moved neighbourhoods, moved schools, got my first job, and really started to experience the “real world”. In my career now, I realize that what injects me with joy and has shaped my path in the world is my love of community. Whether it’s creating specific classes to create communities (“Yoga for Bigger Bodied People”) or designing the yoga studio to encourage it (benches in the lobby, lots of time before and after classes, etc.), community is always at the heart of what I do.
That’s one of the reasons why I love social media so much! It informs me about places or points of view that I don’t get to see in my day-to-day interactions, keeps me connected to people I meet at conferences or retreats, allows me to interact in pockets of community that may not exist here in my backyard, and has the potential to spread my messages of love and ability to so many more people than just my voice alone. That said, I recognize that social media can be a tool to empower or to demoralize, not only by what we present on social media, but through our relationships with what we see.
I have seen friends and family members make the leap and cut themselves off from social media completely. They delete their accounts because it’s sucking up too much of their time, they are disturbed by what they see, it’s affecting their mental health, or they are, ironically, disconnecting from the people around them and glueing themselves to their screens instead. While I support anyone in their choices to do so, complete separation just doesn’t feel right to me. A big part of my social and professional* life take place online, so here I am, mindfully connected. Over the years I have developed some super simple ways to do so that might work for you as well, so here they are:
1. Be a conscious and vigilant scroller. What we see, even if in passing, has an affect on our energy. It has the ability to raise us up or pull us under. This is why it’s so important to open your senses to what you’re reading and who you’re following. If you follow an Instagrammer because you’re inspired by her perseverance and motivated by her posts, perfection; however, if the negative self-talk snakes slither out when you see that six pack and your Newsfeed makes you scared to leave your house in the morning, you need to protect your mental health. While it can be enlightening to be presented with perspectives in contrary to your own, we have to recognize the ways that we can be triggered. Staying connected - present and mindful - to what you’re reading/seeing AND how it is making you feel is the key here. Remember too, this doesn’t mean an irrevocable decision to remove your source of stress from your life forever. You can always unmute, unblock, re-follow, or re-freiend when you’re feeling stronger if you want to do so. Those algorithms on social media are sneaky little suckers. The sponsored ads are the worst culprits in my Newsfeed for bullshit claims that focus on fast weight loss and promote unhealthy ideals of beauty. I’m aware of and sensitive to the ways that these companies hide behind messages of wellness when they are, in truth, commodifying our bodies and selling the manufactured yoga goddess image. While you cannot control when such triggerring messages slide into your Newsfeed, you can block the ad or, better yet, report it. This will not only get it out of your space, but tell companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that you are not interested in scams, propoganda, fear-based advertising, or promoting unhealthy/unsafe ideals of beauty attainable to the few genetically priviledged and harmful to the rest of us.
2. Be mindful about the message that you’re sending. I think that there is great strength that comes with authenticity representing the full spectrum of human experience on our social media profiles if it is connection that we’re seeking. Like the brilliant Brenè Brown says “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path”. Perfect lives don’t exist. When one has excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations, it’s like they can’t ever post their house a mess, or when they’re having a bad day, or even when life is just kind of meh. So, it’s always planned, staged, and edited to present this picture of perfection. Not only is this harmful for the person posting, but it is harmful for the audience. Perfectionism is not attainable because it feeds itself. Studies have shown that this type of behaviour online puts us at greater risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts because we can never achieve perfection because IT DOES NOT EXIST. Post your triumphs - I want to see them and celebrate them with you - but post your failures and hardships as well, so that we can better support one another and connect in a more meaningful way.
3. Follow people who feed your soul (and the ones that feed theirs). When you’re scrolling away and listening to that internal dialogue, cozy up to the people who inspire, motivate, and bring out the best in you. Follow them and, on their Page, set your settings so that their posts will always show up in your Newsfeed. Then, watch for the people they Repost and talk about and look into following those people. This is how you’ll start to surround yourself with influencers and transform your social media experience to one that elevates you and authentically aligns us on our paths.
3. Mute, block, unfollow, and unfriend. Not only can you choose who you follow, but you can limit the voices of people who are triggering you in a myriad of ways. Consider muting, blocking, unfollowing, or unfriending not only accounts who are outright harmful to your mental health, but also the people taking up too much of your time and energy. The people you care about shouldn’t be buried among the people you passively follow. Maybe your Great Aunt isn’t hurting you with all of her posts asking you to “Type YES if you agree”. Maybe you aren’t drawn into her goading you with “I believe a select few of my friends will post this …”. But, all her memes are definitely filling your mental headspace and, possibly, overshadowing the messages from the people you want to see, so why keep her posts on your newsfeed? Same goes for Pages that no longer represent your goals or interests. Be vigilant. Your social media experiences ought to be intentional, focused, and in service to your highest purpose.
4. Turn off your notifications and schedule in social media time. Here’s a big one. I recently turned off all my notifications for email, Facebook, Pages, Messenger, Twitter, and Instagram. This has freed me up from the compulsive checking over and over again every time I see a little red circle over the icon on my phone. Hand-in-hand with this leap to freeing myself from being a slave to the screen, I schedule time throughout my day for scrolling and social media. This idea was introduced to me from my brilliant friend Meaghan who doesn’t polarize her focus jumping in and out of social media every time her phone dings. She taught me to focus on the task at hand and, a few times a day (for a set amount of time), to give myself permission to scroll and distract myself with social media. This time limit makes the selection of who you follow and unfollow so much more important. Is this person going to take up your social media time and leave you depleted or inspire and enliven you? Do you know the average person spends OVER TWO HOURS A DAY on social media? Is that how you want to be spending your time? Maybe. If not, scheduling your social media time may be an excellent idea. Maybe time yourself on social media for a week or so to get a good idea about how much time, on average, you spend online and consider limiting yourself by even just an extra 30 minutes. You could use those extra 30 minutes to treat yourself to a long bath, read that book that’s been on your nightstand forever, call a friend, or catch up on whatever else you’ve been meaning to do!
5. Use that Do Not Disturb function. In your phone settings, you can set up Do Not Disturb daily at certain times. This function silences calls and alerts. Consider scheduling ‘off time’ everyday - maybe from 10pm to 7am. To give your brain a little break. You can adjust the settings to allow calls from certain people, allow calls when people call twice within three minutes, etc., so you’ll still be reached in case of emergency.
6. Don’t let your children see your phone unless you’re making a call. This is a big one for me. More and more I am reading about potential risks of screen media for children (especially children younger than 5 years-old). Most experts agree, in order to promote healthy habits for our children, their early media experiences should be minimized, mitigated, and mindful and this starts with modelling healthy use of screens. For our house, this means that I never want my daughter to see the top of my head. The phone acts as a phone, sometimes a camera (let’s be honest), but SHE has my attention more than the screen in my palm. The best feeling in the world was when she first came along and I would catch myself having no idea where my phone was because I was so present with my wee one. This is what living looks like!
7. Whether you have children in your home or not, set up ‘No Phone Zones’ in your home. Maybe it’s the kitchen table. Maybe it’s the bedroom. Consider the spaces in your home where you want to be fully present and make these spaces phone-free. Stack your phones at the door before entry to safeguard your sacred spaces.
8. (CHALLENGE) Once day a week - or a month to start - go COMPLETELY phone-free. I started to do this one day a week - usually on a weekend - after I upgraded my last phone. My husband took the phone to the store to trade it in and I felt panicked. What if someone was trying to reach me? What if I miss an important email? What if someone messages my business Page? I worked hard for that response rate badge and now it’s getting tossed out the window! After a few minutes, I settled down (not without hearing phantom dings and pings or reaching to my pocket for a phone that wasn’t there). Then, when he came home with my new phone, I was SO relieved and immediately checked to see that I had missed basically nothing. How humiliating. I felt so chained to this stupid piece of glass and plastic … You win Steve Jobs! That’s when I vowed to purposefully go phone-free one day a week. If I am travelling, I’ll just turn it off (in case of emergency), but if I am home, it just lives on Do Not Disturb mode upstairs on my nightstand. If once a month or once a week feels overwhelming, try it for even one day and you’ll gain such an interesting perspective on the world. Not only do you get the chance to actually look at people, maybe even talk to them, to be bored, and to wonder without the luxery of asking Siri to find every answer, but you’ll also see how the world interacts with their devices. Not until I was out of that zombie-like obsession did I see it: dead silence in a room full of people; people scrolling for HOURS and, when asked what they were reading, they were so disconnected from it that they say “Oh, nothing” because there is no substance to what they’re reading and/or they’re not reading in a mindful way; meals being eaten together, but separate with each family member on their own screens; I could go on. Nooooo thank you! I promise, you step away from that world for a day and see it for what it is and your relationship to that phone will be forever changed.
Again, I love social media. i don’t want it to sound like I am in my off-the-grid cabin judging everyone who participates online. I am VERY online and I love it; however, like everything else that we do, i think we need to be intentional in how we participate with it and mindful when engaging in order to ensure that this is a tool that is uplifting us and not one that is contributing to our imbalance and illness.
*Keep in mind that, because my professional life includes an active online presence, most of these rules don’t apply during business hours. These are the rules during my personal/family time, which will likely be most applicable to your life anyways unless you also integrate social media into your work. That said, some of these tips are still super relevant in order to be productive in our work and we still need to be mindful or else you’re in for another embarrassing Parent-Teacher Night.