Three Ways You Can Use Social Media to Cultivate Resilience
We are spending more and more time on social media. But how is it affecting our well-being? Try these tricks to boost your happiness and well-being while using social media.
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One problem that's emerging now is that social media’s algorithms often show us things that get us anxious, angry, or upset because this content is what keeps us engaged and clicking. This means that the news articles we see may be the most outrageous, the posts we see may be the most stressful, and the ads we see may be the ones that get us the most riled up. So spending more time online just might mean we feel more negative than ever.
But, negative experiences do not necessarily result in negative outcomes, like depression or anxiety. Some people exhibit resilience—in other words, they maintain or improve well-being in the face of stress (Want to test your wellbeing? Take the well-being quiz). This may (at least in part) explain why social media doesn't make everyone feel more negative. So what are these “resilient” people are doing differently? And how can the rest of us use social media to cultivate resilience?
To get you started, here are 3 science-based ways to cultivate resilience on social media.
1. Reframe your experience
The ability to regulate and manage our emotions crucially affects how we experience negative emotions, and therefore, how resilient we are. One strategy, in particular, has been shown to boost resilience, even in the face of stress. This strategy is cognitive reappraisal—or reframing a stressful event in order to change one’s emotional response to it.
Cognitive reappraisal is not only a useful strategy IRL, but it can also be used in response to stressful events that we experience online. For example, if you find yourself getting upset, you could ask yourself: What might be some positive outcomes of this situation? In what ways might someone benefit from this? Or, what could I learn from this? By reframing the experience, you can shift your negative emotions to be a bit more positive.
2. Take an outsiders point of view
These days, we are so immersed in our experiences—what we feel, what we think, what happened to us. As a result, we may get mentally stuck in our own negativity. But it turns out that emotionally distancing yourself from your own experience (i.e., looking at it from an outsider’s perspective) can help you feel better and be more resilient.
So next time you find yourself getting riled up about something you read online, take a step back and look at yourself from an outsiders’ perspective, or like you are a “fly on the wall”. This approach can help you get unstuck from your own emotions a bit and see your experience in a less intense way.
3. Practice time travel
There is so much happening every day, every second, every time you scroll on social media that the present moment can feel overwhelming. That’s why another strategy that can be helpful is to look at your situation from another point in time. This technique helps dampen your emotions and boost resilience because you can start to see that your current negative emotions are not permanent—they will end, and this can make them feel less intimidating.
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These three strategies can help you manage negative emotions associated with social media while also helping you build resilience. If you regularly practice these strategies, social media may even help you boost your well-being—a sort of training tool for helping us build skills that improve our lives.
Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and social psychology review, 5(4), 296-320.
Rutter, M. (1999). Resilience concepts and findings: Implications for family therapy. Journal of family therapy, 21(2), 119-144.
Rideout, V., & Fox, S. (2018). Digital health practices, social media use, and mental well-being among teens and young adults in the US.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.