You may have created your Facebook profile at age 50, but there’s a good chance that your Facebook interactions might make you feel more like you’re 15 — venting about your feelings, wallowing in misery and trying to keep up with the “in” crowd.
For a decade before I became the editorial director at Nextavenue.org, I conducted research on teens and social media. Although the issues we experience online as adults are different, my advice for how to react to those issues is largely the same. Indeed, it may feel like Facebook (or Twitter or Instagram) is making you crazy. Here are three biggest pitfalls you may experience, and other than just deleting your account, how you can cope with them and not feel like you’re reliving your stressful adolescence:
1. Constantly comparing your life to others: Sociologists have studied the concept of “social comparison theory” for decades, and social media brings it to a whole new level. We all have friends who seem to relish in only publishing the most wonderful moments of their lives — their children’s fabulous destination weddings, their perfect violin virtuoso grandchildren, their 10-course dinners at the hippest restaurants on earth.
Remember, Facebook allows you to edit and present whatever life you like, and these friends are presenting only the best of themselves. If you need to see less of these kinds of people, click the little dots in the upper corner and just hit “unfollow posts.” It’s not as extreme as unfriending them. You just see fewer of their trips to Paris.
2. Posting because you need a reaction to feel better: Facebook can be an amazing way to battle isolation and loneliness. Log in and almost always, you will be able to see what your friends are up to, and you know that if you share something personal or painful (or happy for that matter), you will get a reaction. But logging in and sharing just to get that little “fix” can make you a little anxious. Plus, social media can allow for you to wallow in your own misery — or invite fellow wallowers to continue the cycle of sadness.
Next time you are tempted to share, ask yourself what you’re trying to get out of these interactions, and more importantly, whether you are feeling healthier for having posted. Also, track how many times a day/week/month you catch yourself doing this. Note if you feel especially sad when people don’t react like you want them to. It may be a sign that you have a deeper problem and should speak to a professional therapist.
3. Logging in to vent: Worried about climate change? Share an article and your comments on Facebook. Frustrated with politics? Facebook is your place. Annoyed by Millennials? Again, posting about it on Facebook might bring you great relief (they’re all on Instagram anyway). Arguably, a good vent on Facebook can relieve tension and feel empowering. You will notice that more and more of the people on your Facebook feed agree with you because the way the Facebook algorithm works tends to put posts that are similar to your own in your feed. You like those posts, and voila! You may feel empowered, but you also have created your own echo chamber.
Instead, why don’t you log off and volunteer for a cause you feel good about? Volunteer to canvas for a political candidate. Mentor a Millennial. Keeping up with your Facebook feed is time-consuming, and that time could be spent meeting people in person and doing good in the world.
As you would have said to the teenage you if you were locked in a room in front of a screen: Get out and get some fresh air.
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