Selfish Selfies Are Ruining The Environment…Are You Part Of The Problem?

Selfish Selfies Are Ruining The Environment…Are You Part Of The Problem?

Social Media is filled to the brim with gorgeous photos of places all over the world. Locations that are perhaps on your wish list ( I know a lot of them are on mine!), places you’ve never even heard of, and maybe even some places close to where you live. These photos are meant to make you want to see those spots. And they do! We want a chance to see those spots with our own eyes. For those of us who love to explore, there is always the allure of discovering somewhere new, long before social media came along. The joy of doing a long day hike to find a spot you never even knew existed. And once we find places we love, many of us also enjoy sharing those places with others. We want them to experience the same joy we felt, the same peacefulness. But what happens when you tell someone about your favourite spot, and then they tell five other people, and then someone posts it on their Instagram and 5000 other people see it?

Well, we’re starting to find out. There have been a growing number of cases of people sharing photos of a beautiful location on social media, but now with the speed and reach of information, some of these once secluded places are now being overrun by selfie-obsessed tourists. Some of these tourists are respectful, staying on designated paths and following posted signs. However, many tourists are not and it’s the environment that is paying the price for all of these selfies. Before social media, if you wanted to see a new spot, you needed to research, you had to plan, you had to hike and work for those spots. They weren’t simply handed to you with Instagram posts, hashtags, and geotagging. With social media on the scene, it is opening up these delicate and precious locations to a different kind of audience. Now, you don’t necessarily have to be an outdoor enthusiast to find those perfect spots. No more preparing, planning, exploring, getting lost, sweating, or effort of any kind. Social media has made the outdoors accessible to the lovers of instant gratification, where all you need to do is check out the latest social media feeds to discover a collection of these spots just waiting for you. With this new ability comes a new group of people who are now heading into nature with no real understanding or awareness of how delicate nature can be, or how lasting a person’s destruction of it is. These individuals often regard nature as more of their own personal playground rather than the sensitive and essential environment that it is.  

Thinking of opening your farm property up to visitors? You may want to think again…

Nature encompasses so many things, from hiking trails, to mountains, to oceans, to rivers, and so many other wonders! But we also have many amazing farms and land in Ontario, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to be allowed to experience some of those places. Sadly, it seems that social media is helping to ruin these wonderful opportunities. For instance, a Lavender Farm called Terre Bleu in Milton, Ontario had opened up to the public so that people could roam the lavender fields and purchase items from their farm store. However, as tourists began to abuse the privilege by detroying the lavender, the farm was forced to beg tourists and selfie seekers to stop trampling the flowers in their search for the perfect photo.

Lavender fields are delicate and are the livelihood of the farms that grow them.
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

People seem to get the idea that if you open your property to the public, it means you lose all rights to protect your property and you give free rein to the public to do whatever they want. Well, guess what? That’s not the case! That would be like you inviting friends over, and then being okay with them breaking all your things and ruining your house, because, you know – you invited them over, right? It’s a ridiculous notion to think we have some right to destroy the environment and someone’s livelihood for the sake of our own selfish interests.

A sunflower farm in Hamilton, Ontario had a similar experience, when the farm owners opened up their farm for visitors to come see the sunflowers. At first things started out wonderfully, meeting new people, about 150 on the first day and easy for the farm to manage. Everyone was respectful and careful around the flowers. And then eight days in, their farm was being tagged on social media, and the posts went viral. The farm owners were completely unaware of what was about to happen.

Woman standing amidst the sunflowers
Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

They had intended to allow viewing of the flowers for two weeks, but about nine days in, on a Saturday that they thought would like any other, there were approximately 7000 visitors in one day. 7000 people trampling the flowers, putting bags down on the plants, picking flowers to take selfies with. They were destroying the fields. The police ultimately had to be called, the main road was shut down, and everyone was eventually asked to leave.

Nature spots have also been forced to close for their own protection.

This destruction of tourist spots and natural wonders isn’t just limited to businesses like lavender and sunflower farms. It has also been happening to what used to be cherished nature spots. One such location in Ontario are the Cheltenham Badlands. These were open to the public, however the location started making appearances in lists of spots to visit in Ontario, blogs, social media of all sorts. After dealing with increasing numbers of visitors walking on the badlands, ignoring and sometimes even vandalizing or removing the signs asking that visitors not walk on the badlands, they ultimately had to be closed to the public in 2015 for over three years, only reopening in September of 2018. Upon reopening, the badlands have been closed off for walking and viewing boardwalks and platform were erected to try to protect the formations against future tourists.  

The Cheltenham Badlands in Ontario
Photo via Ontario Trails

This isn’t just a problem in Canada, but worldwide.

While my examples thus far happen to all be in Ontario, this is by no means a Canadian issue and is happening all over the world. One international example is a beautiful canyon in Iceland. I went to Iceland about two years ago and since I’m a lover of waterfalls and all things nature, Iceland had a long list of spots that I was dying to see. Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon was on my list of must-see spots, close to the top!

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon in southern Iceland
Photo by Rudolf Kirchner from Pexels

I mean, can you blame me? Look at that photo! It’s an incredible canyon, absolutely gorgeous. Like something from a dream, really. However when we got there, they had signs saying it was closed. My partner at the time wanted to bypass the signs and go anyways, and we sat in the parking lot debating it for a good amount of time. But as much as I wanted to see it, I refused to disregard the signs. While I was desperate to see the canyon, my love of nature and desire to respect and protect it will always trump my urge to see something just because I want to, or because I want a good photo opportunity. This canyon is often closed in the spring due to delicate conditions, and is closed at other times due to various reasons, including increased tourism due to social media and a Justin Bieber video featuring the canyon. Ultimately, the canyon simply can’t handle the number of visitors that are now trying to see it. Fjaðrárgljúfur has announced that the canyon will be closed for all except five weeks out of the year, according to the Environmental Agency of Iceland. Iceland has many sensitive natural spots, and this is becoming a much more common issue there with the increase in tourism. Too many people walking through sensitive areas and tourists not adhering to the signs are destroying the delicate vegetation and ecosystems.

The environmental impact of social media: there’s good and bad.

This issue is a difficult one because posting photos of our natural wonders and beautiful locations can also have positive benefits. They can encourage more people to get out in nature and increase awareness of the environment and the need to protect it. Through social media, we now have the ability to reach thousands, sometimes even millions of people instantly, and place nature’s wonders right in front of their eyes. It can and has inspired people to lead initiatives and environmental movements, from garbage clean ups to tree planting. But on the other side, what may have been a hidden treasure, may now become a tourist hot spot in danger of being destroyed because the location can’t handle the number of visitors that social media can trigger. So what is best for the environment? Are we doing more damage by promoting these places on social media? We may never know.

The list of overrun nature spots is truly endless at this point. From Canada, to Iceland, to the beaches of Indonesia, it seems that we are doing more and more damage to these beautiful spots, in large part due to social media. As Damon Shaw, an outdoor photographer says “The result can be the backcountry becoming increasingly trashed by people who know how to “like” a place, but not know how to love it.”

Nature before Selfies!

I’ll admit, while I have a travel, outdoor, and mental health focused account on Instagram where I like to share photos of the places I’ve been in nature, I’ve become more reluctant to post photos of my favourite spots, for fear that it could  contribute to damaging them as I’ve now seen happen so many times. And this has become an emerging trend in an effort to stop the destruction of these spots. Travel influencers as well as nature and outdoor photographers, and others are no longer posting the specific location of the spot or geotagging where a particular photo is taken. But these travel and nature lovers have not gone unscathed by this move. They have to put up with angry messages and comments from those who want to go to the same spot, some extremely rude and threatening comments in some cases. This means that while people can still admire the photo, they can’t necessarily find the spot without doing some research or exploring. And personally, I think that’s for the best and I commend those standing up for the environment.

Until we start to realize that each of us has an impact on the world around us, this will never change. Maybe you walking past that ”ecosystem regrowth: keep off the grass” sign doesn’t seem like a big deal, but what if someone else sees you do it, and they figure it’s okay to do it too? And what if 10 people see that person follow you? It’s a ripple effect, and we are all responsible. We aren’t just one person acting in isolation, we influence the actions of others. Until people start to respect nature, to understand the damage they can do to it and how difficult the recovery process is, we have a duty to protect these spots. Nature doesn’t owe us anything, this world doesn’t owe us anything – but we owe it to the world to protect it, not destroy it.

Have you ever found a new spot to explore through social media? Have you ever disregarded a sign to get a good selfie? Have you noticed any of your favourite spots getting busier? How have you experienced this issue, let me know your thoughts!

Facebook Promotional Post:

Are you destroying the environment with your selfies? Learn about the effect social media is having on nature and whether you’re part of the problem! https://cutt.ly/0tZoaW8

Twitter Promotional Post:

Are you selfishly ruining nature with your selfies? Find out how social media is impacting some of the world’s most beautiful spots. #leavenotrace #respectnature https://cutt.ly/0tZoaW8

Is Your Pet More Popular Than You? How Social Media Is Changing Pet Ownership

Anyone who knows me at all knows pets and animals are my passion. I work with them, I have my own, I love them all! So naturally, when I’m on social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook, I’m always drawn to the animal and pet posts. I was browsing through Instagram one day last year and saw an adorable photo of three dogs, one of the most adorable photos I had seen in a long time. That’s all it took, I was hooked! As I was gushing over the dogs and went to ‘follow’ the Instagram profile, I noticed the page was named after the dogs, Harlow and Sage.

One of the many adorable photos from the Harlow and Sage Instagram profile – who couldn’t love those faces!
Image from Harlow and Sage Instagram page

Then I absently glanced up at the follower count for their Instagram profile…

1.7 MILLION FOLLOWERS

What?! I mean, the photos were completely adorable but I’m not going to lie, it left me feeling more than a little inadequate. I was happy with my 300-400 followers for my business! So what makes us love these animal photos so much? How has social media changed the face of pet ownership? Let’s find out!

Sometimes we love our pets more than people…

So why have animals become so popular? The reason may come down to the idea that deep down, we kind of love them more than we love some people. A study published in Society and Animals revealed that people showed more empathy towards an injured dog than an injured adult person. They found that people didn’t really view the dogs as animals, so much as ‘fur babies’. This may have to do with the fact that in a society where we have to see so much pain and suffering, an animal we perceive as helpless or vulnerable can still tug at the heartstrings. Another reason we are so attached to our furry friends may be that dogs make more facial movements when a person is paying attention to them. So we are rewarded with more cuteness the more we pay attention to our dogs! There is also evidence that pets can help lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of loneliness, reduce stress hormones, release chemicals that trigger relaxation, and make it easier to make new friends. Having pets in your life just seems to make life better and healthier (both physically and mentally!). Our pets give us a type of unconditional love that isn’t quite as easy to find when it comes to people. So the next time your friend bails on you to hang out with their dog, at least you’ll know why!  

Want to make someone happy? Like or comment on photos of their pet!

I’m sure you’ve seen friends posting photos of their pets on social media. Pets are members of the family too after all! But how much are people actually posting about their pets? A survey of 2000 American pet owners who use social media at least twice a week, determined that about 65% of pet owners made an average of two posts per week about their pets, with 16% posting even more than four times a week. Do you ever get the feeling that you’re seeing more photos of someone dog more than their family? Well, you could be right! In that same survey, 33% of participants said they post about their pets the same amount that they post about their two legged family members, and 13% confessed they actually post about their pets even more than they post about the rest of their family!

I think we all like getting some attention, praise, or approval in our lives – whether it’s someone thinking we’re doing a great job at work, raising our kids, in school, or how we give back to the community. But when it comes to social media and pets, apparently we really like when people love our pets! More than half of pet owners polled in a survey cared more about getting ‘likes’ and/or comments on posts about their pet than almost anything else they post, that even includes updates to their own profile photo. So next time you want to show your friend you care, or win a girl over, try commenting something sweet about their dog or cat!

Pets are people too! (And by that I mean they could be stealing your job as an Influencer!)

So we clearly love our pets, we love posting about our pets, and we love when other people love our pets! There are even social networks dedicated just to pets! Have a dog? There’s Dogster. Have a cat? Of course, there’s Catster as well! That’s just scratching the surface though. There are many others like Edgypet, LoveMyPets, and Kloof. There are even dating sites for pet owners. Pets have become such a big part of our lives that we want to share the love, we want to show them to the world!

Apparently, many of us think our pets are so cute that one in six pet owners have even created social media accounts just for their pets! Someone people just post about their dog on these accounts, and sometimes they post as if they are the dog. And it’s incredible how much attention some of these animals get! 50% of pet owners surveyed even said their pet gets more attention on social media than they do. From thousands, to sometimes millions of followers, free products, articles about them – it’s amazing!

Your favourite furry friend could make more money than you do

At one time, the only way that you could really make money by owning a pet would have been as a breeder or possibly someone who attended dog shows. But that’s all changed now with social media. Now, not only can your pet become more popular than you, they could also make more money than you! There are many pets today that have shattered the glass ceiling of pet stardom to become the ultimate social media goal – Pet Influencers! Much like human Influencers, pets can make hundreds to thousands of dollars creating content for various brands and products through their own websites and various social media accounts. And it’s not just companies selling pet related items like pet food, treats, vacuums, or cleaning products, but also fashion brands like Ralph Lauren and Roots, hotel companies, and even alcohol brands are cashing in on the pet craze too! Some of the bigger Pet Influencers (including the one I mentioned in the intro, Harlow and Sage) even have their own line of merchandise that they sell.

Does your pet have what it takes to be Insta-famous?

It may sound simple, but pet fame doesn’t come as easily as you might think. You can’t just have an adorable dog, post a few photos, and become rich and famous. It’s just like any other influencer or brand. You have to stand out in some way,  people have to be drawn to you for some reason. You have to post content consistently and it has to be quality. Loni Edwards, a pet marketing agency owner says ‘The way pets become famous is all different, but what they have in common is that they stand apart to develop a following. So either they’re very unique-looking or the copy is super witty — as long as there’s something, whether it’s that they are insanely cute or really not cute, that make people go, “Oh, my god,” and tag their friends.’

The animals that have gotten the most attention are those who stand out from the rest. Many of there Instagram and Facebook sensations, like Grumpy Cat or Josh the Doodle, often have disabilities. Marnie the Dog, whose Instagram has 1.8 million followers, has a perpetual head-tilt and a tongue that sticks out of the side of her mouth. This particular trend most likely ties into the earlier idea that our hearts are drawn to the vulnerable and helpless. We want someone to root for, we want an underdog story, and there is no shortage of them! As with Grumpy Cat, Marnie’s success on social media isn’t just a triumph for Marnie herself, but gives us hope for all the other underdogs, the dogs and cats waiting day after day in shelters across the world for their turn to be seen, to be loved.

Social Media is helping animals at shelters get noticed too!

With more outlets than ever now to share how our pets change our lives for the better and why we love them, pet owners are in heaven! But there are other positives that have come from this new trend in pet ownership. Social media isn’t just helping pets become famous, but it’s also making a real impact on the lives of shelter animals.

Larger animal rights groups, like the Toronto Humane Society are able to take advantage of their new ability to publicize their messages in more ways, much more quickly and easily. So now, if there’s an animal in particular need, if they need donations, or if an injustice toward animals arises, the organization can post about it and quickly gain the immediate support they need from their followers. With shares, posts like that can travel quickly and do a great deal of good!

While it’s wonderful that social media can help the larger animal organizations attain much more support now, what I’m most grateful for is the amazing impact that social media can have on smaller animal rescues and shelters across Canada, the United States, and around the world. I have worked in dog rescue for a number of years, and I remember working as a Canadian partner rescue in collaborations with a few smaller rural shelters in the United States. One of the small rural shelters in West Virginia had just started having volunteers come in and take photos of the dogs to post online to try to help them get adopted. I was one of the first rescues to help by taking a dog from their shelter, and I remember how much they were struggling to try to save as many dogs as they could with very few resources. This shelter originally had a rate of almost 100% euthanasia, because it was such a rural area, no one really even knew the dogs were there. Once the volunteers started taking photos and videos of the dogs and using Facebook to tirelessly network the dogs online, they were able to drop the euthanasia rate and it is now almost a no-kill shelter. This is because of the amazing volunteers who took the time to help, and continue to help, but it was also possible because of the amount of exposure that networks like Facebook can give to these animals.

This is the first networking photo taken of my first rescue dog from the United States. This photo was taken the day before he was scheduled to die. What broke my heart the most was that you could see in the photo that he’s wagging his tail. Now he’s happy and living in Canada! This is the power of social media!
Photo by Cheri Capuano and posted with permission.

Pets have the incredible ability to make us smile, laugh, and cry. They give us unconditional love and they make us healthier. They give us so much and ask for so little in return. And now it’s their turn to shine. Whether you want to share how much you love you pet, want them to become famous, or want to help animals in need, social media is here for you and your pet!

How much do you post about YOUR pet? What do you think about pets with social media accounts? Would you make one for your furry friend? And finally the most important question, my foster dog Snowball thinks maybe he should have his own Instagram account and that maybe it would help him find a home – what do you think? (Really just a shameless plug to show off how gorgeous he is!)

Snowball, my current foster dog – potential future Instagram star!
Image by Cara Sicoly

FACEBOOK PROMOTIONAL POST:

Is your pet more popular that you? Find out why we love our pets so much and whether your pet could be the next star on social media! https://cutt.ly/0tIRiX9

TWITTER PROMOTIONAL POST:

Does your pet have more followers than you? Why we love our pets and how they’re taking over social media! #petsgetsocial https://cutt.ly/0tIRiX9

BLOG POST #2 – Social Media And Empathy: The Connection Between Social Media And The Bystander Effect

Have you ever seen instances on social media where someone has taken a video of someone in trouble, or a social injustice being committed and the video has gone viral? Chances are your answer is ‘yes’. We see these videos everywhere now, in a disturbing trend where even though we almost all have cellphones and could easily call 911, many bystanders now use their phone to record a situation on the sideline without helping in any way.  For instance, in 2018 there was a story on the news of five teenagers in Florida who saw someone struggling in the water calling for help, but instead of trying to help him, they recorded the scene on their phones while taunting the man, at no point calling 911. Sadly, the man drowned. While not all cases include those callous enough to actually taunt the victim, it’s a striking example of what we may be moving towards as a society.

Social phenomenon such as confirmation bias, compassionate fatigue, the bystander effect, and diffusion of responsibility are nothing new, but are they being reinforced by social media? Have we become hardened to the needs of others, or has social media only exposed a behaviour that has always existed?

What are Diffusion of Responsibility and the Bystander Effect?

Consider this scenario: You’re driving and you get a flat tire. Your cellphone is dead so your only hope is if another driver stops to help you – do you think it’s more likely that someone will stop to help you if you’re pulled over on a busy city road, or if you’re on quiet a country road? Psychology says the answer is a country road with less traffic! This is a perfect example of what is called Diffusion of Responsibility, which refers to the idea that people are less likely to help or feel responsible for helping someone if there are other people around that could also help.

Homeless person the the sidewalk begs for money while group of four people ignore her nearby
A homeless person begs for money, while a group of people look the other way.
Photo by James Frid from Pexels

This is connected to another psychological phenomenon called the Bystander Effect. The Bystander Effect takes things one step further and suggests that the more people that are present to help in a situation, even an emergency, the less likely it is that one of them will actually help. There are two main factors that come into play in the Bystander Effect. First is the potential diffusion of responsibility (are there other people around?) and social influence (if others are present and not acting to help, we often see this as evidence that there is no reason to intervene). It may seem counter intuitive, but people are actually more likely to help if they are the only witness or there is just one other person. What’s worse is that in the age of social media, the Bystander Effect not only diffuses responsibility, but also allows bystanders to go beyond that to actually watch victims suffer while filming it, so they can post on their social media.

How does social media reinforce the Bystander Effect and a lack of empathy?

Even though the Bystander Effect is not a new concept, there are aspects of social media that can intensify it’s effect and increase our lack of empathy. This means that things like confirmation bias and compassionate fatigue can become more pronounced and start to impact and erode our empathy, particularly on social media platforms. Confirmation Bias basically refers to a person’s tendency to only pay attention to, believe or expose themselves to ideas or opinions that echo their own personal set of beliefs. This often means we can more easily relate to people who agree with us, but we find it difficult to see past our own beliefs and empathize with people who don’t share our beliefs. When we see something on social media that we don’t agree with, we label the person, who we typically don’t know, as an ‘other’. Once we accept that mindset, it becomes far too easy to attack, belittle, or even threaten other people. Our belief that this person isn’t like us acts as a shield, allowing us to view the other person as simply a name on the computer screen. We start to see that person as just that one belief or action, instead of seeing them as a whole person with many different qualities, beliefs and feelings. This can cause an inability to empathize with them in any way.

Unfortunately, in today’s society because of social media and online communities, we are often bombarded by an ongoing stream of depressing, violent, and anger inducing photos and videos. This can lead to something called Compassion fatigue, which refers to the mental and sometimes physical exhaustion that can come from excessive exposure to suffering and violence, causing a lowered ability to empathize with others. When we are constantly faced with these videos and photos of terrible things happening to people, to animals, to the environment, we become numb to it. We burn out. It’s too much for our minds to handle, and so we start to block these images out, to ignore them. It doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t care, but that we can’t emotionally cope with the amount of negative information we’re being forced to absorb.

At the end of the day the combination of things like compassionate fatigue, confirmation bias, diffusion of responsibility, and the bystander effect can absolutely be reinforced by social media and lessen our ability to empathize with others.

Is it all bad news when it comes to social media and empathy?

I know I’ve painted a bit of a bleak picture of how social media may impact our empathy (or lack of). But that doesn’t mean we’re doomed, or that we don’t intrinsically want to help! We are often simply trying to weigh various aspects of the situation quickly, such as safety and social cues, but we just can’t decipher the situation and risks fast enough to help in time.

While there are some definite issues when it comes to social media and empathy, social media does have some positive contributions as well! In some cases, social media has been able to aid law enforcement in solving crimes by identifying the attackers and confirming details of certain situations through videos bystanders have taken of events. So sometimes those videos do help!

According to a recent study, the idea of safety in numbers may also be making a comeback! A study done in 2019 by Richard Philpot and his colleagues collected CCTV footage from various countries and showed that in 9 out of 10 real-life incidents in urban locations, at least one bystander did do something to help and the more bystanders there were, the more likely at least one bystander would help. So perhaps we can conquer the Bystander Effect after all!

If you’re worried about how you might react in an emergency situation, one way to try to mitigate the Bystander Effect could be to expand your knowledge about it. The average person doesn’t necessarily realize why they may be prone to the bystander effect or other similar reactions. But being aware of why you may be hesitant to intervene can help you overcome those feelings in the moment, before it’s too late to help someone. The more aware we are of how our brains works, the more control we may be able to have over our behaviour. This comes into play in real life situations, but also in cases of online bullying.

People may also be inspired by seeing videos of people who do help, so that next time the viewer is in a similar situation, they may think back and draw on those positive videos to give themselves a push to help. There is also the possibility that social media could inspire people to help more, if not for the sake of their own morals and empathy, perhaps for the approval of their peers and the rest of society. If helping were to somehow give people more approval, more ‘likes’, more acceptance than simply posting a bystander video of something terrible happening, perhaps people would be more willing to help. I have even seen more evidence recently of a growing backlash against those who simply post videos or photos of disturbing situations, as often in the comments sections, you can see more people saying things like “Why are you recording this instead of helping” and similar comments. This shows the poster that they would actually gain more approval for actually helping rather that just recording the event.

Despite the eyerolls from family, I spent 15 minutes feeding sugar water to this tired bee. Empathy comes in all shapes and sizes!
Photo by Cara Sicoly

It’s also important to kids about things like the Bystander Effect and empathy. In an article by Huffington Post, Dr. Greenwood suggested that youths may be more vulnerable to something like the Bystander Effect, because of the importance that peer approval plays at that stage of life. This means that it’s extremely important for teachers and parents to talk to their kids that it’s not acceptable to watch and record someone who needs help just for the sake of likes and attention on social media. We can talk to them about what it means to be an active bystander. Try to get them to imagine themselves in the place of the victim, and think about what they would hope other people might do to help. There are also bystander effect intervention programs being started at many colleges to try to change the social norms around there incidents.

At the end of the day, while social media may have an impact on how we make our choices, we are still responsible for those choices. So be the change you want to see in the world!

Have you ever seen an example of the Bystander Effect or been a victim of it in your personal life? Do you think we’ve lost some of our empathy with the rise of social media? Let me know your thoughts!

FACEBOOK PROMOTIONAL POST:

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you saw someone who needed help? How would you react? You might be surprised! Learn how social media may be contributing to our sense of empathy and how we react to those in need. https://cutt.ly/HtmLNIi

TWITTER PROMOTIONAL POST:

Is social media killing our empathy? Find out why we often don’t help those in need and how social media can make it worse!  #thebystandereffect https://cutt.ly/HtmLNIi

Is Social Media Holding Your Happiness Hostage? 3 Ways Social Media Could Be Affecting Your Mental Health

Recently a few friends of mine were complaining about social media and how negative it can be. They had decided to take a break from it to gain some distance and recharge. At first, I kind of scoffed a little, thinking it was an overreaction. But then I began to wonder, did they have a point?

Social media platforms definitely have their advantages, giving us more avenues to connect with people on varying levels, creating opportunities for businesses, and allowing us the chance to bond and interact with people across the world that we might otherwise never meet. But there is also a dark side to using social media platforms, and using them too much or in unhealthy ways can leave you feeling depressed and isolated. 

Many of us check our phones multiple times a day, sometimes even per hour, to take a peek at what everyone else is up to. Come on, don’t pretend you haven’t looked at your phone when you’re on the toilet, only to realize you’ve been sitting there for 30 minutes! We’re faced with a relentless stream of flawless photos on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, sometimes at the expense of our mental health. Have you ever been cruising your social media and see someone post photos of a party, or a trip, and wonder why you aren’t doing as well as they are? If so, you aren’t the only one! Here are three ways that social media may be hurting your mental health, and how you can regain control over your happiness.  

1. Social media can hurt your self-esteem.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have our quirks and insecurities, whether we want to admit to them or not. It’s easy to get distracted browsing other peoples’ photos, and to get hung up on their ‘perfect’ trip, looks, relationship, house, or kids. We are prone to “upward social comparison” and jealousy on social networks, according to one German research paper.

Woman standing in front of waterfall holding sign that says "I'm here you not."
Narcissism and jealousy are two unhealthy aspects of the social media environment.
Image by Artem Beliaikin via Pexels

These feelings of envy can easily spiral into deeper feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, leaving you questioning or downright regretting your life choices. Many of us unfortunately gain some sense of self-worth based on how we are doing relative to other people, and when we do that, we begin to put our happiness in someone else’s hands.

Becoming more aware of the amount of time you spend scrolling through other people’s online profiles could help you focus more on yourself and boost your self-confidence. In addition to simply spending less time on social media, try to pay attention to what you’re thinking about when you scroll through your social media feed. Are you taking what you see at face value? Make sure you’re not putting others on a pedestal, because what people post on their social media is generally not a realistic portrayal of their daily life. For instance, on one of my Instagram accounts I post a lot of travel photos, and sometimes people will message me saying things like, “Oh I wish I could travel all the time like you”. What they don’t realize is that I love photography and I take a lot of photos when I travel. But that trip I’m posting photos from? It was 5 years ago, and I haven’t been on a trip since then. When I have a rare day off (I’m self employed and often work 3-4 months with no days off), I often go exploring and the photos I take during that one day, are the photos I might use on social media for the next month or two. So not everything you see on social media is an accurate depiction of someone’s life. Don’t become preoccupied with what other people are doing – do what makes you happy!

2. Sleep and social media don’t mix!

I don’t know about you, but I love sleep! But like most people I also wake up periodically during the night, and chances are you do too. Do you find yourself checking your phone if you wake up in the middle of the night? What about when you get up in the morning? Do you have a shower first, breakfast, or do you check your phone first thing in the morning? I know what my answer is, and I can’t say I’m proud of it!

Woman sitting on couch looking at cellphone at night.
Looking at your phone before bed can be hard on your eyes and your mind!
Image by Mikoto via Pexels

Processing information and potentially becoming wound up with frustration, stress, or envy from what we see on social media keeps the brain overstimulated, keeping us from falling asleep. In addition to being overstimulated, according to the National Sleep Foundation, the blue light from our phones and laptops can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep cycle. Want better sleep? Stop cuddling your phone and try to avoid using it for at least 30-60 minutes before bed, and see if you start sleeping more soundly!

3. Social media is distracting.

Last but not least, is the impact social media may have on your attention span. If you’ve read this far, there’s still hope for you! While we now have large amounts of information readily available to us thanks to social media, it also means that people have become much more easily distracted. Social media gives us almost instantaneous distraction and entertainment whenever we want it. That is, unless you live in the country like me, and spend half your time staring longingly at the progress wheel, contemplating selling a kidney if you could just watch one funny dog video on Youtube.  

Because of the amount of information being presented to us now, we have to focus on more things, but we are focusing on them for shorter amounts of time. While we still need to study issues like this in more depth, a study was published in Nature Communications by the Technical University of Denmark with results showing that our “collective attention spans” have shortened over time. This is a layered issue and social media may not permanently damage your attention span, but keep in mind that it does provide a regular and easily accessible distraction from undesirable responsibilities, which could become a habit over time if not properly managed.

As an exercise, especially if you find you can’t even go a few minutes without checking your phone, or you use it to procrastinate – try pushing yourself not to look at it for a certain amount of time. It may be hard at first, but it will get easier over time!  

Stay true to yourself and live in the real world.

Interaction, communication, and deeper connections are important for all of us to be healthy and content. When we have a phone or computer wedged between us and the rest of the world, true connection can become rare. When you start learning about the lives of your friends through their Facebook or Instagram accounts instead of by talking to them, you know you have a problem. Some social media connection can be great, but it can’t replace actual human connection. Make an active effort to be present when you’re with your family, friends, and coworkers.

Two happy young women and two happy young men having picnic on plaid blanket with tent and guitar.
Social media should never replace your real relationships with family and friends.
Image by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Do you think using social media has affected your mental health? Have you ever tried a hiatus from social media? Tell me about your experience in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you!

PROMOTIONAL POSTS

FACEBOOK: Is social media making you depressed? Find out three important ways social media could be affecting your mental health and what you can do about it! https://cutt.ly/Atd2xjE

TWITTER: Discover 3 ways social media can sabotage your mental health – and how to fix it! #mentalhealthmatters https://cutt.ly/Atd2xjE