They say there’s nothing like losing something to make you realize how special it truly is to you. Many of us experienced something similar during a recent outage on Facebook and Instagram—those trusty little “friends” suddenly disappeared for a few hours, and many people quickly realized how integral social media is to our lives.
They’re back now, but what can we learn from that brief time when they went offline? I think we can actually glean quite a lot.
Let me begin by saying that after a long time of personally resisting it, I’ve come to appreciate social media for its potential. I’m also a psychologist on a mission to help people channel distress into energy for self-care. So I’ve put together the three main categories of reactions I noticed people having in my personal and professional life amid the outage—along with a few tips on how to grow from the insights of each type of response:
1. You felt lonely.
Many of us have gotten closer with social media over the pandemic, as social media has filled the void that social distancing and lockdowns created in COVID’s wake. Even pre-pandemic, social media had grown from simple posts into true social interactions, including direct messaging, Facebook groups where like-minded people can converse, the chance to “go live” with your community, and many other ways for us to connect online.
Pressing pause on all of this was startling for those of us who have actually forged some pretty meaningful relationships with social media buddies, or for those of us who rely heavily on it to stay close to our friends IRL.
What to do about it:
If you noticed loneliness was one of your primary reactions, let me start with the positive: This could suggest you’re actually getting some truly enriching social connection through social media.
However, the loneliness you felt might be guiding you to make sure you connect with your social media buddies in other ways, such as a voice-to-voice call while you’re both doing some other activity, like going for a walk. Assuming you live in different locales, it can be fun to both briefly share a moment of video showing your surroundings so you can both learn a bit about each other’s non-digital life. And if you do live in the same locale, maybe even consider hosting a phone-free meetup or happy hour.
2. You felt fidgety.
Our busy hands and minds sometimes just need something to do, whether it’s physically fiddling with the phone or mentally dabbling on little bits of information. While the constant whir of social media can be a stimulating and harmless way to nibble on bite-size moments of engagement, we may also benefit from building our skills of connecting with stillness and/or with the (often slower-moving, non-scrollable) world that’s actually around us.
If you felt restless and unsure of where your mental or physical attention could “land” or “settle” during the outage, it might suggest you could benefit from learning to reconnect with your immediate surroundings and/or learning to release mental energy in ways that don’t involve a digital screen.
What to do about it:
Walking can be an amazing way to “scroll” the IRL environment around you because your surroundings will naturally change as you walk past buildings, trees, people, or other scenes around your path. Studies have shown that the physical movement of walking, and the ever-changing surroundings it brings, help the brain to process information differently—you literally get a fresh perspective on things. Plus, your body is enjoying the chance to get fresh air, burn off extra adrenaline, and reduce cortisol.
If you still feel fidgety during your walk, try planning a catch-up phone call with a friend while you walk, listen to a podcast or audiobook (just fyi, my recent book on anxiety is available as an audiobook!), or do a common walking meditation technique where you silently name the colors, animals, and objects you observe as you walk (this helps connect you with your surroundings and build your attention span). All of these activities can give your body and mind something nourishing to do if you ever find yourself “fidgeting” on social media.
3. You felt just fine.
Did you basically feel fine and even a little relieved for a short break? This could indicate that your relationship with social media is pretty much under control. (Even if you did feel a bit excited when IG and Facebook were back.)
What to do about it:
It might be helpful for you to check what your current social app usage time is, so that you can benchmark this healthy level for yourself and check in periodically to see if it’s going up or down. There was a time when I always felt that “less is more” when it comes to social media—but as I mentioned earlier, I’ve truly come to recognize it as a helpful way to expand my social horizons and interact with people beyond my immediate social sphere. It also helps me to stay in touch with loved ones who live far away. Plus, I’m honestly having a blast making my blogs into vlogs, noticing (and sometimes participating) as new hashtags trend around the world, and a ton of other unique ways that social media opens doors of connection. I truly believe that social media can be a positive in our lives, as long as we keep a handle on it.
Of course, these are just the reactions I personally observed, and as always, I’m curious to know more about what others experienced—part of the beauty of social media is that it allows us to instantly and easily connect with each other. As a psychologist, I love using life’s “hiccup moments” to see what they can reveal or teach us about ourselves. I hope you’ll feel free to share more with me about yourself or your experiences on…(wait for it)…any or all of my social media channels.