In the last decade, different forms of social media have pretty much taken over the internet – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit, you name it. Seems everyone you know has at least 1 of these accounts. In your busy, busy world, they allow you to keep up with the lives of people you know – see what they’re up to, see photos from their lives, comment on them, and make new connections everywhere. Today, because of social media, you can actually become “friends” – at least virtually – with people all over the world. And that’s a good thing, right? Well, experts say maybe not. Let me tell you why you may want to decrease time you’re spending with social media.
Does Your Virtual Life Trump Your Real One?
If you look at some people’s Facebook or Instagram pages, you’d think they spend every waking hour on them, constantly updating their whereabouts, what they had for breakfast, posting photos, musings, liking this, posting that, to message boards. It’s not hard for many social media users to have over 1,000 virtual friendships or “followers”. But they may have only a handful, if that, of real friends that they see regularly. The real truth is, according to researchers, many people may really be spending just about every chance they get checking their social media accounts and messages. Why?
One reason is that people’s lives in 2013 have become more and more complicated and busy. In today’s economy, you may be working 2 jobs trying to make ends meet, or as an older adult you may still have kids’ schedules to juggle and chauffeur, or elderly parents that you’re also caretaking, in addition to any of your own home responsibilities.
Another reason is too much time spent alone. Your kids may be grown and out of the house, you may be divorced or widowed, your circle of friends may have dwindled – retired and moved away, or deceased even. Your spouse may be working long hours, or their job requires them to travel a lot, your family members may live far away, or be estranged.
Yet a third reason may be to “escape” from real relationships. Maybe you find it easier to be yourself or talk about a particular subject with a virtual friend than your spouse, or a real friend. If that’s the case, you’re not just too busy, or isolated, you have some problematic relationship issues that you’re ignoring. Spending more time baring your heart to social media hookups is eventually going to put a major rift in your real relationship.
In all these scenarios, connecting to other people via social media is, in and of itself, a social outlet. Yet, at the end of the day, not a very satisfying one, says experts.
A recent study out of the University of Michigan says that, rather than being an effective outlet for loneliness, spending too much time on social media can actually wind up making you feel lonelier. You may be spending way too much time updating and keeping virtual “friendships” going and little-to-no time connecting with friends in person. They concluded that it would be better for you to spend more time trying to make new, in-person connections to real people and activities that can bring you happiness.
Another study showed that the participants we’re 50% happier, and laughed more, when talking to, and spending time with, friends in FTF (face-to-face) relationships. And, that people count their most satisfying relationships with only 1-3 people and an outer ring of about 10 people. The researchers concluded that “in person” relationships were the only ones that really count.
In addition, psychologists say that the “emotional touch” that comes in the form of just being in the physical presence of another person can’t be duplicated in virtual friendships. So, while your chatting with someone on social media may fill some idle hours, it’s better for your mental health, and for losing loneliness if you spent more time trying to make more in-person friends.
It’s an odd irony that as the world is more and more connected to each other through social media, loneliness is almost a social epidemic. As a Certified Empowerment Coach, if you’ve been spending too much time on social media, I’d like to offer you 4 ways to banish loneliness by learning how to re-connect with people in the real world and get back to living your life.
1. Wean off social media. Limit your time on social media outlets to 20 minutes a day. This is enough to check messages, say hello, and then get off. Start allocating all that other time that you used up viewing your accounts, or tweeting, to having a real conversation with your spouse, or call a friend on the phone.
2. Like yourself. One reason people may spend too much time with social media is they’re afraid “real” people will see all their faults and not like them. Remember, everyone has faults – even your virtual friends. Remind yourself of all your positive attributes frequently. When you feel better about yourself, you become more outgoing and friendly which draws people to you.
3. Join a group. There are zillions of community groups out there and I bet several of them are focused on something you, or even you and your spouse would be interested in and have fun with. It’s the best way to meet people you have some common interests with and would enjoy spending time with. It’s also a good way to spend some quality time with your spouse. You can find these groups through your church, community college, or adult education programs, through your local newspaper, or even “online” at Meetups.com.
4. Take the initiative. When you meet people at a social event/group meeting, let people know you’re there in a respectful way. Introduce yourself; ask questions about the group or the event, even if you’re shy, try to talk to at least one person. Similarly, out in public, wherever your day leads you, try to strike up a conversation with at least 1 person.
Although social media has its uses and advantages, spending too much time there can create distance, isolation and loneliness in your real life. Practice my recommendations above and pretty soon, you’ll be like that couple in the Toyota commercial whose out riding bikes and having fun with their “real” friends while their 20-something daughter is viewing virtual puppies and counting all her virtual friendships. What’s the message? Life’s too short – go live it in real time!
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Certified Empowerment Coach