How to use social media wisely
The average person spends almost 2 hours each day on social media, probably without considering its impact on well being and productivity.

By: Mind - Being Organized - 11/15/2018

The average person spends almost 2 hours each day on social media, probably without considering its impact on well being and productivity.  Social media can provide vital means to connect with each other, especially during deployments and times spent apart.  With frequent changes of station, maintaining a sense of connectedness to friends and family is one of the main reasons you might be drawn to social media.

You might also value social media for immediate access to news and current events, helping you feel informed and up to date on what is happening in the world.  If you have social anxiety, social media can enable you to reach out in a way that isn't as anxiety provoking as connecting in person.

While there are many perceived benefits to social media use, there also are downsides.  For some people, it can lead to increases in depression and anxiety.  Exposure to incivility can skew your view of human nature to be more negative.  Children can become victims or perpetrators of cyber-bullying—now a huge public health concern.  Feelings of isolation and loneliness can grow if you have a lot of "friends" on social media, but you don't have good-quality interactions with some of them or, worse, if you neglect other relationships in your life.

Social media impacts your attention and productivity by distracting your attention away from the task at hand.  For Operators, Enablers, and family members, social media can sometimes contribute and sometimes take away from well being and performance.  For Operators and Enablers, social media can also pose a threat to OPSEC.

How Can You Make The Best Use Of Social Media?

The following are some guidelines to help you be more mindful of how to get the best out of your social media use:

  • Set clear boundaries on how much and when you will use social media.  According to the American Psychological Association, 8 out of 10 Americans report feeling very attached to their devices, and 81% are connected constantly or often to at least one device.  Look for tools to block sites for periods of time when you want to remain present with family and friends who are physically with you. Work toward real conversations and more face-to-face time with people who matter to you.  Tune out social media during tasks that require high levels of performance so you can remain focused and attentive.

  • Comparing yourself to others can work for you or against you, depending on what you compare.  If you constantly think that your life somehow doesn't measure up to others, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy or envy.  Remember that people only post what they want others to see, and often you aren't getting the full picture.  Comparison can work for you, however, if you look for good things you can learn from others, motivating you towards positive change.

  • Curate your feed so you can actively control what you're exposed to.  Prioritize what contributes to your life, and filter out what takes away from it.  Emotions—positive and negative—are contagious.  Monitor how the things you see on social media impact your feelings, and use social media controls to be deliberate about what you're exposed to every day.

The quality of your interactions matter, so think about how you interact and connect with others on social media.  If you're depressed and look to social media for support, but you don't get what you are looking for, your depression might:

  • Get worse.  When you reach out and actively provide support for others, you're more likely to feel supported by others in return.

  • The words you use matter, because studies show that if you're struggling with depression, you probably use more negative language, focus more on complaints, and obsess about things that aren't going well.  You might be able to spot others who are struggling from the language they use on social media.  For you, the support you get from others when you share negative things can be helpful, but try to share something more positive once in awhile.  It might boost your own mood and help someone else.

  • Disconnect often and practice safe use of your devices.  Turn notifications off when you get behind the wheel so you're driving without distractions.  Also, exposure to the blue light from electronic devices such as your computer and phone can affect your circadian rhythm.  Turn off all devices at least 2 hours before you want to sleep to minimize their negative impact.  Late night cell phone use can lead you to start the next workday feeling drained and depleted.

  • Monitor what your children are doing on social media, and let them know that you know.  Discuss warning signs of predatory behavior or bullying that your children should alert you to, and set up guidelines for what kind of information is off limits to give out on social media.  For more tips, read the FBI's "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety."

  • Follow guidelines for military family social media use because these activities can have real consequences.  Active-duty service members can be disciplined for their conduct on social media.  Families need to know how to protect their service members by not sharing information that can impact operation security and mission success.  For more information on how to keep your Operators, Enablers, and yourself safe, download this Social Media Guide for Military Families.

Social media can be a great source of support, social connection, and strength for Operators, Enablers, and their families.  You can increase the benefits and reduce the risks to well-being and engagement by being mindful and intentional about how you use social media.

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