When social media arrived at our doorsteps, we welcomed it in without hesitation. Reconnecting with old friends, cat videos, memes – what could go wrong? 

Well, about that… researchers have found excessive social media use has been linked to depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, impaired sleep and lowered academic performance. 

This is because social media exposes us to everyone’s highlight reel, making it easy for us to compare ourselves negatively to others, and fear that we’re missing out on a lot of cool life experiences (also known as #FOMO, or “Fear Of Missing Out”). It can also expose us to negativity from trolls and cyberbullies.

More users are beginning to realize that, if left unchecked, social media can wreak havoc on our wellbeing. 

According to a report by We Are Social, more users are beginning to seek out more positivity and authenticity in their feeds. Social media companies are also responding to this demand, for example: Instagram introduced a ‘close friends’ list so that users can express themselves freely to their pals.

Despite these handy new features, we can take several steps ourselves to use social media in a positive way. Here are some ideas that will help you do just that.

1. Unplug

This one is a no brainer: if it feels like a drug, it’s time to unplug. You don’t even have to leave it completely! A study found that participants who limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day over the course of three weeks reported reductions in their level of depression and loneliness, compared to those who used it as usual. 

You can uninstall the social media apps on your phone altogether, or limit your time on them using apps like Forest. If you’re on your computer, download Google Extensions such as StayFocusd to block any website you want.

2. Use Social Media Mindfully

Our feeds expose us to a constant barrage of information and notifications, making it harder for us to live in the present moment or be “mindful”. As a result, this can negatively impact our wellbeing. What we can do is try to bring back some awareness into how we use social media to avoid the mind-numbing, zombie-fying scroll. 

Here are some practices to try, as recommended by researchers:

Be conscious of who you decide to follow.

Whose posts makes you feel angry and cynical about the world? Who makes you feel insecure and envious? Take a moment to go through the list of people or accounts you follow, and notice your gut feeling towards each profile, whether they are news platforms, influencers or friends. Mute or unfollow accounts that spread negativity, and make space for more positive accounts.

Set your intentions

Before you automatically click on that app, pause and ask yourself why you are going to check this site and how you expect to react to the posts you’ll see.

This will allow you to notice when you’re trying to distract yourself by relieving a negative emotion with social media, or if you’re going online to engage positively with others.

Observe your thoughts 

As you scroll through posts and pictures, notice what pops up in your mind. Do you create a story behind what you see? Are you judging someone based on that story? On the flipside, is that story making you feel insecure?

Ask yourself what you feel and why you feel the way you do. Even if unpleasant thoughts and feelings surface, try to be curious and patient with them. 

3. Learn how to deal with negative comments

Posting up your thoughts, pictures or even creations can be scary. There’s always a chance someone will judge you or leave a negative comment.

Whether they’re trying to rile you up with cruel words or simply disagree with you, there are ways to approach them calmly and tactfully:

Try not to take it personally

Most of the time, negative comments are more reflective of the person who left them, not you. You may feel bad about yourself, but remember that they are going off based on their own feelings, beliefs and worldviews.

Take a step back and take a deep breath before you respond. Then, ask yourself if there is any truth to what they’re saying. If the comment provides a valid critique, you may be able to learn something new. On the other hand, if they seem determined to nitpick, argue or say something negative, it’s perfectly okay to ignore them.

Respond with facts

Reply with a logical, fact-based opinion, and do so kindly and patiently. You won’t win any argument by responding angrily or offensively anyway, so don’t get sucked into an emotional argument. It’s okay if they refuse to accept your facts or points. You’ve made your case, so you can leave it at that.

Pay attention to the positive

It’s easy to zero in on one negative comment and forget about all the ones supporting you. You won’t be liked by everyone – in real life and online – and that’s okay. As long as you feel your post generally benefits you and your followers, believe in it.

4. Practice empathy online

We all have a part to play in creating a positive online community. Here are some ways we can create a kinder and more empathetic presence online:

Genuinely connect with others 

Use social media with the intention to get closer to others. Despite its bad rep, many meaningful conversations can take place online, as people may feel more comfortable sharing about themselves behind the safety of a screen.

Leave your friends supportive and kind comments on their feed. If someone posts something sad, reach out to them with concern and empathy. Let them know you’re there for them, if they need to talk. 

Ask before uploading

If you have pictures or stories of your friends you would like to post on social media, ask them before you do it. Sometimes, you may unintentionally embarrass them or share something private of theirs, so it’s best to check in with them first.

Social media is no doubt an amazing tool, if used wisely. We hope our tips have helped! Let us know if you have your own tips and tricks to use social media positively.