Are you revealing too much about yourself on social media?

As you read this, millions of people have just shared some detail about their life with millions of others. Every second there are updates on social media that document our daily lives. But is all this constant updating healthy?

Woman lying with feet up and browsing on laptop perhaps spending time on social media

We are driven to share things with others and broadcast our lives on social media due to some fundamental psychological reasons. The most important of these is our sense of self. We need to know who we are as individuals, if we are to operate effectively in the world around us. Imagine if you woke up one day and had no idea whether you wanted a cup of tea or a glass of milk; or if you had no idea if you liked to eat bananas or not. Our sense of self enables us to know, instinctively, how to behave. We know whether to have a cup of tea, whether we like to eat bananas or if we prefer Bollywood to Hollywood.

However, our brain needs constant reminding of our sense of self. It tends to forget if we don’t feed it with regular information, confirming the kind of person we are. So, every day we do things that provide confirmation of our sense of self. When you are with friends, for instance, and your subconscious is thinking, “I’m a witty person”, you will make some comments that get a laugh. That laughter acts as feedback to your brain effectively saying, “I told you so, I am witty.” Throughout our daily life, our brain gets constant feedback to confirm our sense of self.

So, when we see the opportunity to get even more feedback on who we are, we grasp it with both hands. Tweeting, posting on Facebook, or adding a picture on Instagram all help us gain more feedback through comments, shares and likes.

In one sense, therefore, social media updating is a healthy pursuit as it helps us be more aware of ourselves.

The downside

But there are also downsides to all this self-broadcasting. Here are a few that you may identify with:

  • One issue appears to be that of envy. When we see many people posting holiday pictures or a Tweet saying what a wonderful restaurant they are in [again], we can feel somewhat deflated if our daily life is just “normal”. For some people, this can be a serious issue. Those individuals who are already suffering from depressive illness may experience a worsening of their condition, if they feel that their social media friends are having a more interesting life than themselves.
  • There is also evidence that when we have been using social media, spending time talking about ourselves, we are less likely to be thinking straight. This means that the activities we undertake immediately after a social media session could cause problems. For e.g. people tend to overspend after social media activity.
  • Woman crying sitting in front of a laptop, perhaps on social media
    Social media can dampen your spirits and worsen symptoms of depression

    We are more likely to use social media to broadcast our lives towards the end of the day. So social media activity, particularly from mobile devices, disrupts sleep. That, in itself, can have negative long-term health implications.

  • The self-broadcasting obsession that some people have with social media can affect relationships. Indeed, Facebook is now cited as an issue in a significant number of divorce cases.

What’s the way out?

So how can you gain the benefits of sharing your life on social media, without any of the downsides?

The answer is routine. One of the reasons why people constantly jab at their mobile phones in the hope that someone has sent them a message is related to survival instincts. If we don’t know when or if we are going to get food, then we just eat what we can and when we can. It is the same principle with social media—if we don’t know when or if we are going to get a message, we constantly look for them. However, by establishing a social media routine, you always know when the next batch of messages will arrive.

When people have regular mealtimes the same time everyday, they tend to remain the same weight. People who put on weight tend to have sporadic mealtimes. So their subconscious gets them to eat at any opportunity because it does not know if or when another meal may arrive. That’s why snacking leads to weight gain. Set regular meal times and you are much less likely to gain weight.

It is the same with social media updating. Set a regular time to do it every single day and your brain soon gets used to knowing that you will get your “fix” at 9pm tonight for half an hour—or whatever time you go online. Once you have a routine like that established, you also improve your relationships with those around you, plus you get better sleep as you are not constantly on your mobile until you drift off.

Setting a daily routine to deal with all your social media activity in one or two sessions a day will help you gain the positives while reducing the negative consequences.

EXPERTS SAY...

Maintain limits

It is not advisable that every detail of one’s life be broadcasted online as people may take advantage of the same. There is an element of privacy in every relationship that needs to be salvaged at all costs and cannot be made public. People over-share their life online to make others feel how good their life is. They may seek approval from people online and value that a lot more than the approval of family members, leading to deterioration of their personal ties.

Sharing details on personal events like new jobs, engagement or marriage can lead to people putting in negative words before the event happens and causing hurdles in the progress of such events. There is also an element where personal photos may be morphed and put on social sites with an aim to cause harm to the image of the person concerned.

Avinash De Sousa, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist, Mumbai

Controversial images are an absolute no

People have become so busy, that logging onto a website seems an easier way of staying connected than making a phone call or having a ‘tete-a-tete’ meeting. Through social media people can connect with others when feeling lonely, as it serves as a good support system. When you post a negative experience and others reciprocate with concern there is a feeling of warmth that you feel. A boy in his 20s shared with me that being on a ‘mood app’ [wherein people enter their moods at specific times] helps him to vent out as well as gain perspective when others comment on his moods.

The drawbacks to social media are that a person may get addicted, distracted from their priority tasks and it may also become a form of attention seeking behaviour. Like everything, it should be used in moderation. You need to review the reason why you are posting certain things [whether it is to seek attention, venting or it’s a façade] and start addressing those issues instead.

I had a case of an 18-year-old who would post pictures of the cuts on her wrists as a way of expressing her emotional pain and seeking sympathy from others. She continued this behaviour till her school found out and she was brought to me for intervention.

I also had a case where a young adult who was extremely shy, used social media to project a completely different picture of himself, that of being adventurous and happy. However, he came to see me for depression and loneliness. Neither his family nor his friends recognised this as they went by his updates on social sites. He had been successful at hiding the fact that he was suffering from low self-esteem and not feeling good enough to live in this world. This feeling was heightened when he would log on to Facebook and look at posts of other “happy and lucky” people.

One needs to be careful about the kind of information that appears to strangers. Restricting the view to “contacts only” can avoid dangers of being stalked online or in person.

It is important not to share private affairs such as a conflict with a loved one and posting provocative or controversial images should be absolutely forbidden.

Anjali Chhabria, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist, Mumbai

This was first published in the February 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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