Most of us are familiar with social networking sites such as Facebook, twitter, myspace and Instagram. It’s easy to get caught-up in the virtual social world, me included, feeling instantly connected to people that I may not have spoken to in years. Hours of our time can be spent witnessing our “friends” family vacations, children’s momentous occasions, birthdays, weddings and even our “friends” difficult life transitions such as divorce, sickness and deaths. Although social networking relationships can have a positive effect on us emotionally, numerous studies have been conducted and articles written linking social networking to depression, social isolation, eliciting feelings of envy, insecurity and poor self-esteem. On the contrary, other studies indicate that social media sites can be positive for people struggling with social anxiety and depression.
With all these conflicting reports, it may be wise to understand our own personal reasons for using social networking sites and to evaluate whether or not our use of them is helping or hindering our sense of connection to others as well as our overall emotional health. Once we understand what the psychological needs are underlying our use of these sites we can then adjust our expectations to meet these needs. For example, if we are using these sites to build friendships, it’s important to be aware of their limitations in order to avoid disappointment. When we find ourselves feeling left out, inadequate, irritable or jealous after reading stories or viewing photos of our friends’ activities we can assume our cyber relationships are not meeting our emotional needs. We can all agree that viewing a friend’s vacation pictures and posts will not be as gratifying as when we have the chance to talk to our friend about his/her vacation in person or even during a telephone conversation. After all, most social networking users will not post vacation pictures and stories that convey the difficult moments they might have had on their vacation. Having a balanced perspective and realistic expectations about social media networking can prevent feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, depression and social comparisons.
It is also important to assess the quality of our non-virtual relationships. This can be done by taking a hard look at the amount of actual “real life” time we spend with the people who are important to us such as our girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, children, extended family and close friends. It’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to replace the feelings of connection that manifest from having personal, genuine relationships. This is not to say that social networking is all bad or that our relationships from these sites are not genuine, instead it is important to keep in mind their limitations so we can adjust our expectations accordingly.
Below are a few tips to help you balance virtual relationships and “real-time” relationships:
1. Ask yourself why you are using social networking sites. Is it to build relationships, for professional networking purposes, to connect to old friends or to stay connected to those that live far away. Once you determine what you are looking for you can then set realistic goals.
2. Limit your time on social networking sites. This will help with controlling the amount of time you are spending in the virtual world.
3. If social networking sites cause you to feel disconnected, depressed or lonely consider “upping” your interactions with people by sending them a private message or even a text message. This level of virtual communication is more personal and intimate than communicating in an open forum.
4. Make sure to schedule time to see your friends and family beyond the virtual world.
Having positive, secure relationships is strongly associated with high levels of self-esteem, resiliency, fosters feelings of connectedness and decreases depression and anxiety.
I would like to hear from you. Do you use social networking sites often? How do you balance your virtual relationships with your “real life” relationships? Do you feel the same type of social pressure from social media sites that you may feel in your non-virtual social life?