Due to a combination of reasons I have been quite reflective about the role of social media in my life over the past few months. The main reason was time – becoming mum naturally means my time has been taken up by a very important person! At the same time I’m regularly feeling conflicted about social media platforms, and in particular I have felt for a while that I can’t answer the following question:
How can I justify using a platform which causes so much harm – particularly to peoples mental health and well-being?
So I took a step back over the past few months. I didn’t completely stop posting or using social media, I just consciously, in the moment, took note of why I felt the need to use various platforms (I mostly use Instagram but also Twitter & Facebook a little). What I’ve learnt has been interesting:
Patterns of behaviour – I have noticed that, particularly when I feel stressed, I follow a pattern. I scroll without purpose. I visit accounts which do not ‘spark joy’ usually news pages (both on Instagram and their webpages) and after doing this for a short while I feel like I’ve wasted time. So I feel more stressed. When I don’t feel stressed I usually head to a particular page with purpose, to find something out or see what a particular person is up to. Once I’ve fulfilled that purpose I move on from the platform. I quite like this behaviour as it somehow fulfils a need.
Sense of community – reducing my time on social media made me realise that, when I did use a platform (usually Instagram), I felt connected to a community. In particular I experience this feeling through the military spouse account I’ve set up. Sometimes things feel a bit overwhelming, military spouses don’t follow usual patterns of life. In fact we almost do things the opposite way round – when we marry a serving military person we are often uprooted from a fairly stable situation and thrown into a life of constant change. There is no ‘marrying, finding a stable job, settling down, finding a forever home and having kids’. We are basically flying by the seat of our pants through house moves, keeping in touch with family and friends, making a job work (if we’re lucky) and deciding whether bringing kids into the mix is a sensible decision. I found myself looking to others in the military spouse community I’ve found on Instagram to give me a boost of confidence – I would come away from visiting certain pages thinking ‘if she can do it I can do it!’. I also find military spouses to be particularly open about the pitfalls of life, rather than presenting a rose tinted Instagram view.
Insta-pals – I realised above all that, if used wisely, Instagram can enable you to make friends. This is particularly useful as a military spouse as you may end up being posted in the same place at some point. In fact at the moment there’s so many people in Shrivenham that I only know through Instagram, who could have become pals IRL I wish they had been there when I was there!
So in short being more conscious of why I use social media has made me realise that I do need the community aspect my military spouse account allows. This will probably mean I’ll use my personal account less, and engage more with the online community I’m connected to via my military spouse account.
Now in answer to the question “How can I justify using a platform which causes so much harm – particularly to peoples mental health and well-being?” I am now learning that, when I engage with platforms in a way that adds value to my life it can have a positive affect on my own mental health and well being. It’s my responsibility to check myself from unhealthy behaviours. Overall I’m excited about the new connections I could make in the military spouse network by being smart about how I use my time to build connections in this community.