I Changed the Way I Use Social Media, and It Changed My Life

Stuides show that people who actively use social media report better overall well-being than those who just passively scroll through their feed. (Photo: nopporn/Shutterstock)

In my circle of friends, I'm considered an early adopter of social media. According to Facebook, I have been posting since October 2007, meaning I've been uploading vacation pics, checking-in, and making "friends" far and wide for the last decade. For the most part, I've enjoyed the time I've spent on the site, reconnecting with old friends and forging connections with new ones. But like a lot of folks I know, I was also starting to feel like my visits to Facebook were just a waste of time. And the recent surge in negativity on the site left me drowning in pessimism about the state of humanity. But a few months ago, I came across a post that made me change how I use social media, and it has absolutely changed my life.

Social media is such a fickle thing. We are drawn to it like moths to a flame — and often we get burned by it just the same. And let's face it, it can also be a time suck. For every motivating and enriching post I come across on social media, there are dozens of posts that I really didn't need to take time out of my day to see. (If I had a dollar every time someone told me about how they were policing themselves in an effort to limit their time on social media and avoid this time-wasting, I'd be writing this post from Ka'anapali Beach in Hawaii.)

To make matters worse, the 2016 presidential election came along and brought with it a new edge to the posts in my feed. I'm not one to shy away from controversial topics, and I have never "hidden" anyone on social media even if their stance on a particular topic didn't align with my own, but I will admit that the level of negativity coming at me on social media began to feel overwhelming. Even people with whom I agreed on various positions were slinging mud so hard in their posts that I felt dirty just reading them.

Of course, the obvious move here would just be to steer clear of Facebook and other social media sites. But as a writer, I use social media several times a day to connect with sources, verify stories, request photo rights, and poll other users on various topics. And once I'm in the site, it's next to impossible (for me at least) to ignore those notification flags alerting me to posts in my personal feed.

The bottom line was that I felt like I had to wade through the muck to find the one or two enlightening posts that made my social media feed worth the time.

But then I came across this post — on social media of course — by Melissa Hartwig, the founder of the Whole30 program.

It's lengthy, so I'll skip to the quote that jumped out at me:

"Don't act like social media just happens to you; make it work FOR YOU."

A eureka moment

This may seem obvious, but it really hit home with me, and I immediately set out to change the way I was using social media. I did this in two ways. First, I began to hide and unfollow groups and accounts that were not adding something positive to my life. I didn't stop to over-analyze, I just clicked my way through the feed.

I'm not burying my head in the sand. I continue to follow people whose opinions on various topics differ from my own. But when these folks post about controversial issues, they do so respectfully, and the conversation that follows is usually equally interesting, open-minded and civil.

The other thing I did was limit my interaction on social media unless I had something to say. That was prompted by a study mentioned in this video that found that passive use of social media has a detrimental affect on mood, whereas active use — sharing thoughts and commenting on others' posts — improved mood. In other words, mindless scrolling through my feed was likely bumming me out. But sharing pics and links and commenting on my friends' posts made my interactions more positive.

The result? It's been about two months since I made these changes, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that they have absolutely changed the way I view social media. I no longer dread getting sucked into a time-wasting vacuum because my feed is no where near as bottomless as it once was. Nor is it as negative.

My social media feed is now filled with posts, pics and links that feed my brain and widen the lens of my world view.

Now that's something worth posting about.