Feeling overwhelmed by social media? Take back your power.

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A few nights ago, after a bedtime story and tucking my son into bed, I picked up my laptop and settled onto the couch. I’d been planning to answer a few emails before bedtime and sort out my to-do list for the following day, but I found myself clicking over to Facebook instead. (Facebook: it’s like a magnet for sleepy people who should probably just go to bed! It’s so hard to resist its alluring pull!)

I began scrolling through my feed, peeking at photos and updates, catching up on various people’s lives, thoughts, and adventures. It was the usual smattering of baby pictures, vacation shots, latte foam art, cooking videos, parenting articles, business announcements and luminous updates from those who seem on top of the world in every conceivable way. But there were also political rants and a few sad stories.

I kept clicking around for a few more moments. I could literally feel my mood sinking downward with every click; feeling self-doubt and a wee bit jealous. That little mean voice said, “I’m not crafty enough; I don’t cook as often as I should; I need to be an even better parent; I should have reached out to her when she was going through that; I wish I were going on a vacation to the beach.”

At a certain point, I simply had to close my laptop and decide, “That’s enough.” To be kind to myself, I needed to log out.

While the Internet and social media are unbelievable tools, I also know how easy it can be to get overwhelmed. That’s why, if you are going to be active on social media on a regular basis, it is important to have self-nurturing policies and boundaries in place. You’re in charge, always. It’s up to you to “take back your power.”

Here are five ways that you can lay down boundaries and create a healthier, saner relationship with technology and social media:

1. Use the 15-minute rule & make a plan. 

Numerous social media experts recommend setting a time limit for your daily social media usage and then creating a specific plan for how you intend to use that time.

For example, on Sunday, you might say to yourself, “I’m going to take 15 minutes to pop over to Facebook. My intention is to send a message to Grandma, check out Sally’s wedding photos, and post a quick update about the new workshop I’m teaching at the local community center. After that: I’m done!” Set a timer to remind you.

Creating a plan for your social media usage makes a huge difference. It’s like going into your job and saying, “Hmm, OK guys, uh, what are we doing today?” versus going into your job and having a clear to-do list, ready to roll.

2. Use privacy settings.

Most social media platforms have a privacy setting that allows you to restrict who can view your profile. You could set it so that only your closest friends and family have access to your feed, for example. If you feel uncomfortable giving the entire Internet permission to read about (and comment upon) your life, this can be a good way to reduce stress and protect yourself from people you don’t wish to engage with.

3. Deactivate profiles that you dont use or enjoy. 

So many social media networking platforms have popped up over the past ten years, and if you’re like me, you created a new username and profile for every single one! Because, who knows? You might need it someday!

My advice: clear the decks. Deactivate profiles that you don’t use often. At the very least, delete the tabs from your browser and remove the apps from your phone. Give yourself a little more breathing room; it feels so good!

4. Make a classy exit.

If you decide to bid farewell to a particular social media site, for a temporary break or a permanent one, but you don’t want to just vanish with no explanation, you can make a classy exit.  My friend Alex posted a cute note to announce that she’s leaving Instagram. I had other friends who gave up Facebook for Lent.

This is an opportunity to be creative and to use social media for its original intended purpose; to express yourself and connect with others. You could post a goodbye video, a drawing, a photo, or even a short poem to say to your friends, “Thanks for the memories. Bye for now! Feel free to call, text or write me a letter.”

5. Focus on less screen time overall. 

Many of us are quick to blame social media for sucking up so much of our time and energy. An even bigger issue, though, is the fact that most of us spend an average of 75% of our waking life glued to some sort of digital screen, be it a computer, phone, tablet, reading device, TV, or gaming system. You don’t have to be a physician to recognize that’s not healthy.

I know it can be hard, especially if your work requires you to sit and type at a desk, but do your best to trim your screen time down to the absolute minimum required. Get in, do your work, connect for 15 minutes or so on your preferred social media site, then get out — and get on with the rest of your day!

Even just reducing your screen time by 30 minutes a day, and then using those 30 minutes to take a brisk walk outside in the fresh air could transform your whole day.

The next time I’m feeling restless or bored at the end of a long day, I might pop over to my favorite social media hangout, or I might not.

A great book, a quiet walk, journaling, baking, a funny movie, or a phone call to chat with a friend can all provide the feeling of entertainment, inspiration, and connection that I’m seeking without any of the adverse side effects that can accompany excessive social media usage.

Regardless of how you choose to engage with social media – 15 minutes a day, 2 hours a day, once a week, or never at all, the big lesson to remember is that you are in charge. Your relationship with technology can be anything you want it to be. And if your current relationship doesn’t feel good? You can change that. The power is, quite literally, at your fingertips.

Dr. Sue

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