I used to hate social media.
I loved it, then I loathed it.
It consumed my life, then I got rid of it.
It was like that unhealthy relationship that you know is terrible for you but you can’t quite let go of. It sucked me in, spat me out, then lured me back in only to drive me insane. After over a decade of messy boundaries and hard-learned lessons on how to handle this relationship, I have finally firmed up my boundaries and healed the wounds. And now I appreciate the incalculable benefit it has brought to my life.
My own social media saga began over a dozen years ago, when I first joined Facebook.
Life was officially forever changed.
An over-thinker and perfectionist by nature, life became a perpetual tug of war—should I share this or not? Do I post too much, or am I anti-social for not posting enough? I have gone through phases where social media completely overwhelmed me—I was distracted and fell prey to the constant comparison to the perfectly manicured versions of everybody else’s lives. I would scroll through and feel worse about myself.
But I didn’t want to miss anything.
Due to work, due to other relationships, due to other life things, I became perpetually stressed out. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. I didn’t know I was facing complete burnout—but I was. Ditching social media was an obvious part of the solution. I would go off for days on end and weeks at a time. Just a quick check on occasion in case there was something important, like birthdays.
Otherwise it was a forbidden fruit kept deliberately out of reach.
Beyond the privacy and over-sharing issues that arise with being on social networks, there is now a slew of legitimate research to back up the notion that social media can have a damaging impact on the psyche. Isolation is on the rise, as social media can lead to a false sense of connection to the point where we spend less time and energy on meaningful relationships. Cyber-bullying and shaming have spread; people are increasingly distracted and decreasingly productive; misinformation and fake news are increasingly shared.
For me, all that life stress and exhaustion and anxiety and feeling like sh*t came to a head.
I was diagnosed with cancer.
This explained so many things. But it also opened up a deep gorge of uncertainty. At first I was hesitant to share my situation publicly, and throughout the diagnostic process only told people on a need-to-know basis. But then the news began to trickle out and social media became my unexpected savior: it was the easiest, least stressful way of keeping people updated.
And I quickly found that sharing my situation opened so many doors—I received invaluable recommendations and connections to help me on my healing journey.
The outpouring of support from people near and far was overwhelming.
They say it takes a village to raise a child—well, it also takes a vast network to help someone diagnosed with cancer or another life-threatening illness. Social media helps to keep that network together.
Since then, I’ve gone through a complete 180-degree transition on social media. My activities have ranged from keeping it at a distance to posting multiple times a day, every day, as part of the Elephant Academy. Through embracing elephant journal’s mission of being of benefit, completing the coursework and keeping myself personally engaged, my perspective and understanding of social media has completely evolved.
I’ve learned not just how to make the most of its technical uses, but more importantly how to use it to add value both to my life and to the lives of others.
Social media is no longer my enemy; it is now one of my biggest allies.
When I was struggling in life, I had deliberately limited my exposure to social media to limit being distracted and overwhelmed, but what I also did was limit my world. There are so many channels of information these days, but what we seek isn’t information. More than anything we seek community and connection.
Once we get past the pitfalls of the online world, we can actually find immeasurable benefit hidden on the other side. Once we start exploring and engaging and utilizing these tools with positive intention, we may actually find that rather than limiting our engagement with life and disconnecting us from others, social media can expand and connect us like nothing else can.
We might just find that we need social media.
In conclusion, here are some of the benefits I have personally found in the realm of social media:
If we use it right, social media connects us in ways never before possible. We have the ability to create new connections and maintain old connections with people from literally all over the world. I am still connected with people I met when living in Japan, while doing yoga and meditation in India and studying for my graduate degree in London.
I am Facebook friends with a few people I have met randomly in coffee shops and with whom I struck up unexpectedly intriguing conversations. Would I have exchanged phone numbers with them? Probably not. But Facebook or Instagram? Sure! Social media lowers the barrier for connectivity. I now have a vast international network. Do these connections replace my close friendships? No, but they leave the door open for further connection down the road, and you never know who might step up and surprise you—as I found this year.
Social media can help you find your tribe. This takes connection to another level. Through social media, I have been able to connect with groups of people that just get my vibe.
More pertinently, I learned about the elephant journal writing and social media apprenticeship through social media. Engaging with the course has not only honed my craft and deepened my knowledge but has connected me with an amazing group of similar-minded individuals. Members of such a community become our support network, even if we never meet in person. They just get it.
With the community and connection comes the potential to forge new bonds and develop new relationships—in real life, too. One of my best friends met her husband on Facebook—they lived a half a world away at the time. On Instagram, I have connected with complete strangers who inspire me and have been contacted by now-no-longer strangers who have thanked me in return for inspiring them. Facebook also connected me with my chemo angel.
Beyond the literal global connections I have made, I have learned of retreats and workshops and baking classes and parties and events through social media—events that expand both my network and my horizons. I’ve learned about places I never knew existed: festivals, events, and wonders around the world, as well as local gems and resources.
Increased engagement with life.
Yes, when used correctly, social media can actually increase our engagement with life. Because of the exposure we have to events and opportunities that we may not otherwise see, we can take action on these opportunities and choose to engage. These days my life is full of new experiences, many of which I find through social media.
Creativity and self-expression.
We can mold our online presence to be a reflection of our personality that doesn’t typically get expressed in our day-to-day lives. For those of us with full-time jobs and families, social media can be a window into our souls—an expression of creativity longing to spring forth. For those of us who engage in creative pursuits for a living, social media enables us to share our work far beyond what would otherwise be possible. Expressing our own creativity makes us happier, and sharing beauty and inspiration with our networks benefits all.
The power to curate your life.
I think one of the critical factors that allows social media to be an ally and not an enemy is the power we have to control what we see on our feeds. My Instagram feed is a carefully curated world, filled with healthy, inspiring posts shared by individuals I admire and love. I choose what to share of my own world, striving to be genuine and of benefit to others. I share the good in an effort to inspire but I also share the reality in an attempt to be authentic.
This approach is highly empowering as it forces us to take a step back and think about our why—our purpose. This not only benefits others but it benefits us. Our thoughts create our reality. What we post not only shares but shapes our lives. What we see and read on our media feeds perpetuates.
Awareness and activism.
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for information sharing. As with anything, this power can be abused, but mindful messages can empower individuals and encourage action when it matters most. My network rallied behind me when I was diagnosed. The Standing Rock protesters won because people stood up to support the cause and shared through social media. Whether we are sharing fundraisers to assist people in need or spreading awareness about political developments, we have the power to increase the content that matters.
The crucial factor in whether social media rules our life versus proactively using it as a tool is the intention behind our engagement—not only why we are engaging, but if we are doing so with purposeful intention.
When we approach social media with mindfulness and authentic intention, it can serve as a powerful tool to enhance our lives and benefit our world. If we consider our screens as a window illuminating the vast world around us and our profiles as an extension of our genuine selves, then social media can fill our lives and our souls with purposeful action and creative inspiration.
Author: Amanda Kelly
Editor: Callie Rushton