Two stories about being ‘addicted’ to social media have cropped up in the media over the past couple of days. Men’s Health Magazine has some key pointers about how to tell if your use of social media has gone too far. ‘Social media’ is a wide term so I will use it in the context of the sites that I use myself; Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.

This whole ‘addiction’ thing has been on my mind for a while – I had lunch with someone the other day who was genuinely quite downcast with her Instagram feed because everyone she followed seemed to be having so much fun, and she didn’t think her life compared. I was shocked, to be honest, that she felt that way. I was also shocked when someone else confided that her relationship was under strain because of her all-consuming use of social media.

Men’s Health (HERE) flag up four key indicators to social media addiction.

–     Using social media instead of completing an important task.

–     Frequently staying on social media longer than anticipated.

–     Neglecting real life relationships in favour of spending time on social media.

–     Using social media to make you feel better about yourself.

For someone whose life pretty much revolves around social media channels – as a pro-blogger you can’t do your job without it – all of these things ring true. In a conversation with a friend recently, I said, “the thing about giving up my blogs (should I ever decide to do so) is that I don’t know what my life would look like without them.”

And, the point is, I don’t. I’m so used to being connected on-line (I drop my activity significantly at the weekends) that I have no idea how I would fill that empty space if I decided not to be present here. Maybe it should be a cause for celebration – a whole white space of nothing to fill with exciting things, but actually, it’s more a thought of dread.

I don’t know if that means I’m addicted to social media  (it’s a different thing, I think, when it’s your job) but I do know that too much social media isn’t helpful. It’s just far too easy to feel fulfilled by what are effectively strangers or very loose connections, and neglect your real-life friends. Or, just stop making real-life friends altogether. If there is one piece of advice that I would give to anyone starting on social media is to take a weekend off. And if you find yourself with absolutely nothing to do and nobody to talk to, then it’s time to reassess how you reliant you are on your laptop.

Endlessly scrolling through Instagram to see what everyone else is up to while you are up to absolutely nothing yourself isn’t helpful. I use weekends as downtime and family time (I have two children) and I do know that the thought has occurred to me that I should probably put something on Instagram so I look like I’m having an interesting time, rather than reality of lounging on the sofa and catching up with the washing! A total reality check for me was realising that my dogs didn’t sit on my lap anymore because there was always a laptop on it – something that I’ve made a conscious effort to rectify.

It’s just a bit too easy to create a glamorous life on social media, when the reality is often quite different. Pretty much everyone can put a spin on their lives – be seen how they want to be seen, and pretty much everyone can be drawn in to those lives as they’re presented, not as they truly are. If you’ve got a dose of Insta-Envy, the cure is to take a break. When I go on holiday, I am not even tempted to Tweet or Instagram. I very rarely do any pictures of my downtime, even if I am having a lot of fun. I’m cautious about what I want to give about my real life. I don’t think, for example, that I’ve ever sent out pictures of my children or Mr BBB. Or my house, other than some very bland kitchen shots. Holding stuff back is sometimes a very good way to keep reminding yourself that there are two lives being lived here.. one on social and one in reality. It’s when the two completely merge that I think things become unhealthy.

The internet is an easy place to manipulate and be manipulated – and I don’t mean that in any underhand way – it’s as natural to run your pictures through a filter as it is to Tweet your breakfast, but have a think about all the ‘positive’ or ‘strong’ messages or life statements (dying to be able to think of my own!) sent out on social media – do they make you feel empowered or do they make you think the person who sent them is powerful? Because there’s a way difference. One of the best things I ever discovered is Twitter Mute – you can silence anyone that makes you feel unworthy or jealous without causing offence or drama. Managing all your channels so that you only have the people you genuinely like and want to communicate with is crucial. You might feel that your life isn’t nearly glamorous enough in comparison to others, but you are at least in full control of what you see that makes you feel that way.

It’s about understanding nuance on-line, about not taking it all at face value, about realising that whatever you’re doing, it’s not less or of less interest that anyone else. It’s a question of presentation. But please be careful about what you give and why you give it and take great care not to let social media make you feel small or lonely because then you have the very least of the enjoyable aspects of it.

Less is often more.

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