Cool to be kind: Using social media ‘kindfully’

Cassandra Jovic and Dianne Lee
smart phone

Technology is opening our world up like never before. Our ability to connect and access information is almost limitless. While there are many great benefits, we also need to approach this new connectedness mindfully and keep some tools and strategies in our pockets to help us look after ourselves.
Social media is a great example of technology changing the way we live and interact with each other. The opportunity to link up with people and information is infinite but can feel overwhelming at times. Many of us may have had an experience that has left us feeling fatigued or upset.

A good rule of thumb when using social media is that you should be kind to yourself and other people. If more people lived that way our world would probably be a more pleasant place to be. But how do you do that?

Being kind to yourself

Left unchecked, social media can have a range of negative effects on your mental health, including addiction, sadness, jealousy, delusional thinking and feeling isolated.

Choose to be mindful on social media: prioritise your wellbeing and be kind to yourself. Self-kindness will help you moderate the way you use social media and how it makes you feel.

Next time you are scrolling through a news feed, remind yourself to actively engage with your feelings. Do you feel negative, jealous, unhappy or overwhelmed? We don’t need to be happy all the time, but you should be aiming for a balance that leaves you in a comfortable place. Consider ‘Konmari-ing’ your feed or even your devices — if people, accounts or even whole platforms don’t ‘spark joy’ you can mute, unfollow, block, or even uninstall altogether. You do not owe anybody your constant attention.

Perhaps you just need a few more positive accounts to add balance, having some accounts that give you a boost can help. A few that we like include:

Feeling Jealous?

If you feel jealous of other people’s lives, you are not alone. Social media can make it look like other people have all the luck. It’s important to remember that social media is not a complete picture of somebody’s life. It’s generally a carefully staged snapshot in time. Just like everyone else, social media ‘influencers’ have a messy corner in their house, they probably eat junk food and they face adversity like the rest of us.

Cassandra was recently at a café and witnessed the other side of ‘influencer life’. “I was at a place renowned for their croissants. You usually have to line up. I took a few photos along the way, but I really did try and enjoy the experience for what it was — a special treat with my partner. Meanwhile, another diner and her partner spent over an hour taking an incredible number of photos with her croissant.

She would pose in a very fake looking way. He would take loads of photos and then she would look through them and critique, bark some orders at him and then they would start all over again. I’m sure that in the end that they got an amazing photo, but what struck me is that the experience didn’t seem very enjoyable. In fact, it looked really quite stressful from the outside, and in the end, I’m not sure they even took a bite of their delicious-looking croissants at all!”

It should go without saying — no matter how glamorous it can look when people ‘do it for the ‘gram’, that life isn’t for everybody.

Being kind to others

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” — it’s an old saying, but it’s still a very good place to start.  

Another way to think about it is, if you don’t want to see it on the front page of a newspaper, you wouldn’t want your work to see it or you wouldn’t say it to your grandma, don’t say it online! Don’t even do it under an anonymous account. Very few things are truly anonymous on the internet and if you feel you have to go to that level to cover up what you are saying, it’s probably worth examining if you want to be doing it at all.

You should also know that digital defamation cases are not uncommon in Australia — 51% of defamation cases in Australian courts are digital, and only 20% of all defamation cases relate to public figures.

Now, we understand that in the face of a particularly vicious comment or passionate discussion of an important topic, restraint can be difficult to find. Try to ground yourself before you even start writing. Take a moment to bring yourself fully into the moment and examine why you want to respond. If it still feels like the right thing to do, really think about how helpful your response can be, try to channel “Dan from Optus” who became very popular a few years ago for his well informed and polite responses to difficult conversations online.

If in doubt

If you have any doubts about what you are going to publish just wait, keep it in draft and go for a walk, then re-read it later when you have had time to cool off. This can be a particularly good idea if you are intoxicated or exhausted — what seems like a good idea now might feel very different in the morning.

It can also be helpful to consider how it might come across to someone else. Nuance can be tough to convey in writing, especially online. While you can attempt to delete things that you say online, posts are cached or screenshot all the time and may never disappear.

Remember: you often don’t know the story of the other person at the end of a venomous post or comment. You can’t assume that they will ever see your side and unfortunately some people just like trolling others on the internet.

It’s possible the vicious stranger in the comments of a news article isn’t even a real person, just a fake profile carefully calculated to upset as many people as possible. The only way to deal with them is to ignore them.

‘Fake news’

We’ve all heard that fake news is now rampant on the internet, but we can still find it hard to spot. Studies have found that up to a quarter of us have shared a fake news story at some point. These stories are often inflammatory and can spark hostility with others. Before sharing a story, it can be a good idea to do a quick evaluation of its legitimacy — is it posted by a reputable news provider, such as ABC, The Australian, or The Guardian? If you Google the headline, can you find more articles by other reputable news organisations? Has a fact-checking site such as assessed its veracity? For more ideas on how to identify a fake news story, check out these tips provided by Harvard.

Your professional obligations

As a registered health professional, you are required to follow AHPRA’s guidelines for social media use. The policy has recently been updated and launched on the AHPRA website — we recommend that you have a read and make sure you understand your professional obligations.

It’s likely your workplace also has a social media usage policy. This may form part of your contract or code of conduct. Your manager or HR department will be able to point you in the right direction. It’s a good idea to check these out to avoid putting your employment at risk.

Problematic social media use

A number of recent studies have found that for some individuals social media can be significantly detrimental to their lives, including real-life relationships and academic outcomes. It has been observed that some users experience signs of addiction. If you: 

  • Spend a lot of time thinking about, or planning to use social media?
  • Feel urges to use social media?
  • Experience a ‘rush’ when hearing notification alerts on your phone?
  • Use social media to forget about personal problems?
  • Try to reduce your use of social media but are unable to?
  • Become restless or anxious if you are unable to use social media?
  • Use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your work, personal life or studies? 

If you answered ‘yes’ to all questions, you may have or be developing an addiction. If you answered “yes” to only a few questions, it’s more likely you are a habitual social media user. Either way, you could try some digital detox strategies that allow you to reduce the amount of time spent on social media.

Cutting down

If you are concerned you use social media too much there are a few ‘digital detox’ strategies you could try.

  • Download an app that helps you limit your amount of time on socials.
  • Use the greyscale mode on your devices as it is less stimulating. You can usually find this mode in your accessibility settings. 
  • Mute your notifications and only check them at specific times throughout the day. 
  • Leave your device in another room while you sleep or work. 
  • Buy a basic device that can’t access social media.
  • Uninstall, unfollow or mute things that make you unhappy.

Enjoy, and be kind

cat dressed as a nurse memeRemember that social media can be a wonderful and powerful place. Just try to navigate it mindfully and in moderation — don’t forget, there can never be too many cat memes.

Most importantly, if something isn’t fun for you anymore, you don’t need to do it! If you need to talk, we are here to support you. Just call 1800 667 877 anytime.

Author Bios

Dianne Lee is a registered general and psychiatric nurse (also a registered psychologist and marriage celebrant). Dianne has worked for almost 48 years in public and private hospitals and clinics, community health, universities, criminal justice and forensic mental health settings.

Cassandra Jovic is a Social Media and Online Communications Officer at Nurse & Midwife Support. She helps look after our website, newsletter, Facebook and Twitter pages. She is passionate about helping nurses, midwives and students look after their health.