Many people are justifiably concerned about the negative aspects of social networks such as the risks of addiction, manipulation by the platforms, or the potential to exacerbate mental health issues. But there’s also the potential to benefit from using the same services, and to learn how using social media can improve your wellbeing.
So many freelancers, consultants and the self-employed are required to use social media for professional reasons. And the majority of people in the UK are also logging in for personal reasons, with around 51 million users of Facebook alone in the UK, in a population of 67 million.
While digital detoxes have become increasingly popular, and various individuals have announced they’re quitting specific platforms or social media entirely, it’s tougher if your income or personal life is built around those interactions. If your best and most valuable client leads come from LinkedIn, or the services you offer include anything related to social media marketing, then can you really ditch everything overnight?
The good news is that some studies do suggest that using social media well can be positively associated with positive mental health, social wellbeing and self-rated health just as much as problematic habits can cause the opposite.
Set a plan and routine:
The main issues around social media comes from a lack of self-knowledge, and the addictive and self-reinforcing nature of the dopamine released when people respond or like your updates. Social platforms still make most of their revenue from advertising, which encourages them to try and keep you on their sites or apps by design.
Constant notifications and updates can distract you from deeper, focused work. And they can also lead you to compare your life, likes and responses with other people, leading to issues with FOMO (fear of missing out), Imposter Syndrome and anxiety. Especially if you’re already prone to challenges from these conditions or emotions.
In recent years, the term ‘doomscrolling’ has been coined to describe an excessive amount of screen time devoted to negative news, which can be amplified by the algorithms used to decide what to show you on each social media platform. A constant consumption of bad news can lead to higher levels of anxiety, depression, stress and even symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But this isn’t unique to social media, as earlier studies demonstrated similar outcomes from negative TV bulletins, for example.
So, the first step is to consciously think about how you’re using social media. By defining what you might hope to gain, setting time limits, and adjusting the settings and notifications for each network, you can achieve more positive results.
If you find yourself worrying about FOMO or feeling anxious after comparing yourself to others, you can try remindering yourself that everyone will tend to share their best, curated experiences online. Or take a break to connect with people in real life, read a book or take a screen break ffor a walk outside. And targeted use of social media can help you to avoid doomscrolling by consciously avoiding clickbait headlines or articles you know will annoy you.
Ultimately, social media can improve your wellbeing as long as you remain in control of it. You might not recognise the second that slips away a little, but as soon as you find yourself subconsciously meandering around articles and replies, it’s a sign you need to step away.
Taking a moment before you click on a link or write an angry response to consider whether it’s something you actually need to see or reply to. Or whether you’d be better to spend time supporting something positive instead.
And if you can avoid screen time for at least 30 minutes before your bedtime, and keep your phone away from your bed, it will help you get better quality rest without checking for updates and messages immediately before you try to get to sleep or when you’ve just woken up.
Helping to ease loneliness and isolation:
The benefits of social interaction are well known, so it can be a shock if you switch to freelancing remotely or running a business by yourself. Even if you don’t live alone, it can be difficult if family and friends don’t understand or empathise with the desire, risks and rewards of self-employment.
That’s been brought home to a much wider audience during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns, as a huge number of people experienced working from home for the first time in their careers. And while it shouldn’t replace physical interaction, using social media can help to alleviate some of the loneliness and isolation associated with freelancing.
This can come from sharing any struggles you’re currently having (even anonymously), or just connecting with people with similar interests or situations. And back in 2007, Louisa Reichelt coined the term ‘ambient intimacy’ for the experience of keeping in touch with people on a level of regularity and intimacy you normally wouldn’t be able to manage. While Twitter and Instagram have often been mocked for people sharing their breakfast or a new haircut, those types of updates can help maintain a bond with old friends, or help you get to know new people more intimately.
And it can lead to real world interactions. It can prompt you to meet old or new friends for a coffee, encourage you to sign up for new social activities, or even launch your own communities.
Inspiration for a healthier lifestyle:
Using social media to boost your physical wellbeing doesn’t mean comparing yourself to professionally photographed models on Instagram. This is leading to a real and worrying increase in mental health and dietary conditions, especially for teenagers and younger social media users.
But it’s possible to use social media as an accountability system or social support system. If you’re looking to ditch a bad habit or stick to a positive change, then having someone to check in on your progress can help you stay motivated and focused. And this can be done privately, or publicly.
Once again, setting realistic goals will help. Going from zero exercise to attempting a marathon overnight will lead to disappointment, and probably injury. But the positive reinforcement of sharing a new routine of regular short walks or a suitable exercise routine can help you stick to it, and might lead you to join a local walking group, or find a new sport via social media.
Especially as it can help you connect with people and groups you might have known existed, whether that’s Black Girls Hike UK, Japanese Taiko drumming, or even creating a new community around any sport or activity you’re interested in. Maybe you could get some friends together to try some new desk exercises?
Find solutions for professional and personal challenges
Everyone may be an individual, but the vast majority of the challenges we face in our work and home lives are shared with a huge number of other people. Sharing an issue that you’re facing can help your mental wellbeing, but it could also lead to a variety of solutions being offered by friends or complete strangers who are in a similar situation, or have tackled similar circumstances in the past.
It can be scary admitting that you’re struggling with a work or business task, especially if it seems like something everyone else can manage. But whether it’s managing invoices, dealing with client problems, or learning a new skill, you’ll usually be surprised how many fellow freelancers and self-employed people will respond with helpful advice and suggestions. Especially in groups dedicated to freelancing, like Creative Freelancers UK.
And asking on social media can save a huge amount of time if you’re struggling with a particular function in Excel, Photoshop, Google Analytics or WordPress. It can also help you make new connections with experts in those areas, who may become potential collaborators, or lead to referrals from them if your services are complimentary.
There’s also been a significant change in the growing openness of notable and successful self-employed and freelance professionals about the mental and physical challenges they’ve had to manage in their careers. And while you can certainly find good advice online about freelancing with a chronic illness, disability, social anxiety, burnout or procrastination, for example, it’s hugely reassuring to know that you’re not alone.
Obviously, if you’re dealing with physical or mental health, it’s important to verify any solutions offered on social media before following them. Potentially dangerous misinformation can easily be shared and repeated on social media. And treatments can have different effects even for people with the same condition. But it can give you some ideas to follow up with a medical or mental health professional.
Finding your own way for social media to improve your wellbeing
Ultimately, the way to use social media to benefit your freelancing and self-employment is about how you’re approaching it, rather than the specifics of using a particular network or the type of content you’re sharing.
Social networks are tools which can bring benefits or negatives, depending on how you use them, and the impact they can have on you. Being conscious and mindful of the potential benefits and risks can prompt a big change in how you approach them, and whether it’s a positive experience or not.
And if a particular social network isn’t working for you, or you’re having a bad experience, then don’t be afraid to use the mute or block features, or to take a break for a while. If something is really important in your work or life, you’ll find out about it regardless. And in most cases, finding out hours or days later will make absolutely no difference. The important thing is to experiment and find out what works best for you, and deciding for yourself how using social media can improve your wellbeing.