By Paula Meir, Author of Your Life, Your Way: A Practical Guide To Getting Your S**t Together .
Too much smoking, sugar, and not enough exercise are all bad for our health.
We know this from decades of research and received wisdom. In fact, it’s fair to say there are lots of things we grew up with that have since been identified as being bad for our health.
But what about Facebook?
How will history judge the impact on our health of this ubiquitous social platform?
But I’m not talking about our physical health….
I’m talking about our mental health.
Facebook can be a wonderful window on the world. It can raise awareness, raise money and be a wonderful advocate for wonderful things.
This week I have been awash with cute puppies and dogs (this is normal given my preferences and pages I follow), they cheer me up and make me smile.
I have friends going ‘lean and clean’, weight watchers losing weight with inspirational plates of food, somewhat contrasted by the Indian Kitchen showing how to make some delicious but calorie laden food.
I even get a daily dose of what Trump is up to from some of my American friends.
Most of all I’m fortunate that I have friends all over the world that allow me to see that window of their life that they experience and whilst we are miles away we are comfortably connected and can have some shared experiences.
The darker side
That serendipity however, can sometimes be disrupted by the darker side of Facebook; I know some feeds can look quite different. Instead of a breadth of the world’s window the feed can feel myopic, narrow and secluded, negative and destructive.
There are people out there with glasses half empty and feel a need to put the world to rights by persecuting others or groups of people.
These negative voices can be influential and persuasive, of course they can spark some good debate, but, opinions all too quickly can become truths and facts and a little bit of knowledge on a subject can indeed be a dangerous thing when we are unable to know or will never understand the full story. Other people’s feeds can get ‘filtered’, we may only see the ‘brighter side’ of what can look like a perfect life and we can start feeling envious or wonder where ours has gone so wrong.
That ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ feeling can be natural but not healthy and catching yourself thinking it is a good way to reset your own expectations and question the actual reality of what you are seeing.
I do however get most concerned about disturbing images that sometimes appear, that is a whole different kettle of fish for the brain.
On occasion, I get the odd disturbing image, I often I wonder how anyone could look at it themselves let alone share it (even though their intent of highlighting might be for the good) and I scroll away immediately.
Negative images can be very powerful at not only triggering our darker imagination, but can invoke an immediate negative emotional response.
Depending on whether we have seen or experienced something similar you can experience an even greater emotional impact on your brain and your body.
Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released into your body when the brain sees or decides a situation or visual is dangerous or disturbing. Visuals are sometimes harder for people to shift out of their mind, they can turn up in dreams or it can ‘bother’ us for some time, because of the linked emotions we attach to the image.
Fear Of Missing Out
You also may want to look at ‘how much’ you need to be connected, and whether your FOMO (fear of missing out) is having a negative impact on how much you need to keep viewing your Facebook feed.
We have all read how addictive phones can be, how we can feel like our right arm has been cut off, I know I can fall into that trap.
If you are repeatedly and I mean minute by minute looking at your feed, reading it whilst in bed instead of going to sleep, looking at it whilst you are meant to be in a conversation with someone or worried that you might be missing something (without consciously realising that’s what it is) you need to start weaning yourself off.
You aren’t going to miss anything, it will still be there in an hour’s or day’s time, get perspective life can’t be lived through a device of any kind.
Life is a mixed bag for everyone, some good, some bad and some that we would rather we never experienced again, you are never going to see all of that on Facebook.
So, what can you do to ensure that you have a healthy Facebook feed and can protect yourself from the darker side. Here are some tips:
- Always remember that what you see and read is a ‘filtered’ view or story of the greater picture. People are going through all sorts of ‘stuff’ at various times of their lives and what they post or say may well reflect that.
- Don’t be afraid to ‘de-friend’ people who don’t ‘add’ to your life or have a trend to display negative wording or images, life is hard enough without reading or seeing something you don’t have to. Don’t get dragged down by it.
- If you get disturbing images or the odd thing from one of your ‘friends’ that jars with you but you don’t want to ‘unfriend them’ use the option to either ‘hide the post’ or ‘see less from this person’.
- If you happen to see a disturbing image that you want to remove from your memory bank immediately look away. Do some deep relaxing breathing and think of one of the best happy images you have and attach all the good emotions to the image (feel what you felt and heard at that time). Replace it immediately.
- If your feed is looking and feeling a bit unhealthy, start adding some good into it. There are numerous pages you can follow on healthy eating, exercise, mind and body, funny videos/photos etc. Change it up and change it for the better, anything that makes you smile, laugh and feel better has got to be worth it!
- If you are concerned at how often you are needing to view your FB feed try to give yourself a time limit, or try leaving your phone outside of the bedroom (if you don’t already!). If you have the habit of checking FB whilst talking with someone just stop, now!