Social Media and it’s effect on emotional outlook

This morning, Ian sent me this article from The Economist – Facebook is bad for you. Get a life!. Its timing is interesting as I have just completed a 1 month experiment with my own emotional state by removing social media entirely from my life.

I have been struggling with emotional problems for a while now, culminating most recently in a severe episode that left me barely able to get out of bed in the mornings. I felt utterly overwhelmed, and I would often feel as if I was struggling to breathe, almost suffocating. I am very introspective person, and when I have had emotional problems in the past, I have easily been able to diagnose the cause and make changes that have resulted in a change for the positive. This time, however, I was left at a loss as to the cause and that added to the misery as for the first time I had no idea what to do to change things around.

So I embarked on a series of experiments. I had my contraceptive implant removed, in case the mood changes were hormonal. I pulled out of all my upcoming speaking gigs, abandoned all my personal projects and pulled out of events that I had agreed to attend or contribute to. I reduced my life to the bare minimum, work and home, and even though these things helped, I would often end the day emotionally drained, irritable and miserable.

Around this time, Twitter was going through another of its periods of TwitStorms. Everyone in my feed was talking about gender discrimination, rape threats and injustice and I noticed that after reading my feed, I would feel worse than I did before. I realised that this feeling was common. I would reach for Twitter almost as a compulsion and come away feeling emptier. By returning again and again through the day, I was compounding that effect.

So I decided to quit social media for a month, just to see what would happen. I expected a slight difference, but didn’t really think it would have that much of an effect. I was wrong.

Within one week without social media it was if the sky had finally opened up and there was sunshine again. I smiled and laughed unprompted. I felt lighter, as if the weight that had been dragging me down all these months had lessened. But maybe it was just the novelty value, perhaps when I had got used to it, the darker feelings would return. I continued for the rest of the month.

Now, at the end, the experience has been a revalation. I have made greater progress in returning to what I consider to be “myself” in the last month than in the previous six. In retrospect, I realise that I had been judging myself daily through the eyes of the 1400 or so people who follow me on Twitter. I was permanently “on”, networking even when I was socialising, evaluating every tweet to see if it gave the right impression. I needed to connect with my friends, impress my peers, appear professional to my colleagues and potential employers and maintain the reputation that I had.

This led to the placement of great significance on certain tweets, which if they did not receive the desired response, would lead to feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and insecurity. This pressure I place upon myself on behalf of others, added to the stream of bad news, argument and invective that forms a significant part of my Twitter stream these days, and it’s no wonder I was having troubles. Removing myself from that world stopped all that.

I have decided to return to Twitter, but on very different terms. I have removed from my feed everyone with whome I do not have a personal relationship and moved them to themed lists which I will browse using Flipboard, like a curated themed magazine where I can keep up with the latest news in my field. Twitter will become what it once was to me, a purely social forum where I connect with what my friends are up to.

I will give this new way of interacting with Twitter another month, and again monitor it’s effect. If I notice a decline in my mood again, then I am afraid the game is up for my use of the service, at least until I feel I am back in a good place again.

And if you too feel like social media is draining your mood, maybe you should try having a break from it and seeing what effect it has on you.