Opinion Pieces, Worklife Balance

Is Facebook bad for mindfulness?

May 7, 2015

Could social media anxiety come from the simple idea that Facebook is bad for mindfulness?

To some people, this may be a statement to dismiss. Others may be nodding their head accordingly, wondering at what kind of non-Einstein I must be to state the obvious.

In mindfulness and much of psychologically based healing programs, we’re told to leave the past behind; to learn from the mistakes, heal from the pain, move on from the problems and live in the now. We’re encouraged to chase happiness in our future as opposed to dwell on the sunshine that has passed.

Yet each day, millions of people log into a world that is never really interested in the future beyond events. That makes us angry, frustrated and surrounded by negative “in the now” events. And that shanks us to the past with a giant blue F shaped millstone.

How can anyone truly be mindful (in May or otherwise) when we use Facebook?

Facebook is all about history and amassing a sense of achievement by having a popular and peer-endorsed trail of evidence of you living your life. In fact, a 2013 study found that we’re checking and re-checking our phones up to 100 times a day, looking for that next bit of life to digitally transpire.

How can this honestly promote any of us to keep our heads firmly in the present?

What’s the real truth about Facebook and our heads?

The Pew Institute recently put out a study that said social media does not cause stress. The same study was also taken up by newsfeeds to reportedly reduce stress in women by aiding with coping mechanisms (which, if you read the original, was so minimal it wasn’t actually counted by the study itself- yay for journalism!) and to setup a “yes, of course social media causes stress!” response in others.

One study proved that people who often struggle with normal communication means find social media far more comforting a means of communication. Conversely, another study found teenagers who spend a lot of time expressing themselves on social media show higher levels of social anxiety when in a face-to-face setting.

Yet another still found that while people with lower self esteem found Facebook rewarding in terms of social validation, it also coached them towards sustained and growing negativity in their Facebook sharing through receiving more approval from peers for being negative.

Facebook is a communication model that creates another avenue for the shy, introverted and/or socially awkward to express ourselves. It can also be the same tool that makes us feel less in control, less happy and more concerned with our real world connections.

One Google search will bring up millions of articles written about the impact of social media in terms of the positive and the negative. We’re fascinated with social media’s influence on how we view ourselves, on how relaxed we feel, and how able we are to remove ourselves from work.

Yet no one really knows what impact and at what stages in life that impact is felt most keenly. And we don’t know this because we’ve only been engaged with Facebook for a little over a decade. Scientists are hard pressed to get a life saving drug out to the public in a decade for fear of side effects.

Yet here we are.

As psychologists and social scientists test and re-test the hypothesis, is there anything we can be certain of when it comes to Facebook and how we feel?

Facebook and mindfulness: an analysis of sorts (with no real answer)  

Facebook has long been associated with people coveting and inventing the perfect life.

The sheer volume of photos, shared memories, interlinked friends and public nature of Facebook gives any soon-to-be uncoupled couple a big old serve of the heebie jeebies.

Creeping when it comes to exes and their Facebook profiles are of real concern for your mental health (as well as theirs!). So too is inviting jealously through creeping when the relationship is still in progress.

Having to connect with friends, old workmates and family who you rarely see and have honestly (if you gave yourself the opportunity to reconsider) no interest in connecting with now hardly seems like a smart thing to do. Yet so many of us feel obliged to share the intimate details of our life, picture by picture, status by status, cause by cause, with relative strangers because we once shared a teacher or two.

Now, Facebook adds to its arsenal a feature of what you were doing on this day years ago. It offers the “your year in review” feature as the next year approaches.

And it breaks everything you do into popular highlights, so you can celebrate every piece of content you’ve shared that has garnered just the right amount of peer interaction and approval. Facebook is a popularity contest built on demonstrating you have “friends” who “like” your posts so much they want to “share” it with others.

Yet mindfulness is about living in the moment, not thinking too far ahead in the future, and moving away from judging others. It’s about removing the ranking, the longing and the lamenting so we can focus on what we need to do in the moment.

So how can constant historical reminder features, continual observance of information and constantly approving of other people (and other people of us) through likes, shares and general social endorsement actively aim to help us remain focussed on the now?

The bottom line on Facebook and mindfulness

The benefits of mindfulness on our psychological well-being are well documented. Applying a little examination and critical thinking to Facebook in light of what we know about mindfulness seems to show that the two are at odds with each other.

We promote our lives. We seek out people to like our witty comments and our pretty photos. Opening up discussions is often replaced with a magnification of our ideals and causes to the point of out and out recruitment. In fact, we fail to realise that our focus on a life crafted, a cause fought for and an event promoted can make us seem fake, fanatical or for sale.

And for any of us who have ever felt over-whelmed by a constant stream of negative news, continual conversation over issues and arguments with strangers, lamenting over the past, the minefield that is displaying yourself in front of hundreds of people on a regular basis and the sheer addictive nature of FOMO, it seems pretty clear that Facebook honestly doesn’t achieve much.

At least, not on the road to brain quietening mindfulness or instilling a sense that what we do in the world is worthwhile.

Or does it? We simply don’t know because the technology is too new and the results aren’t in.

So perhaps a mindful approach to Facebook, even if we don’t exactly know its impact on mindfulness is in order?

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