Oh no, not again...
And before I knew it, I was stood in my bedroom, holding my phone, one hour from midnight. My legs ached, my eyes were sore, my head hurt a little too. It was becoming a familiar feeling. “How did I get here?” I asked myself, as I stifled a yawn. The answer: I’d been on Twitter.
There are so many brilliant things about #edutwitter: hearing a range of opinions from a diverse group of people; being able to empathise with others’ struggles and discuss yours with an audience who understands; and sharing ideas and resources with talented colleagues. Connectedness is important for us, and increasingly we’re seeing how social media can help us with this in a time where we can't connect so much in other ways.
But, at the same time, when I stopped and reflected on my social media habits since starting WELL a few weeks ago, I saw some unhealthy patterns starting to develop. To stop the situation above from happening (again...) I came up with three ground rules for myself and how I’ll be engaging with social media: mainly to enable me to stay connected while guarding my own mental health. Maybe it’ll be food for thought for you too.
I won’t worry about likes. Often we judge the worth of a social media post by how many likes it has, or the importance of someone’s opinion by how many followers they have. We can apply that same thought process to our own posts too, and sometimes we check and check to see whether the numbers have gone up, out of compulsion rather than mere curiosity. We can even find ourselves writing something we think others will want to hear, rather than what we actually want to say. This mindset is unhealthy, and is damaging to our self-worth. Instead of this, I need to remind myself to just post what I hope is good quality content, and not be driven by external affirmation.
I won’t miss opportunities in the real world by being glued to my phone. Occasionally this is unavoidable, but if it becomes habit, things can get out of balance. I don’t want to miss my child’s laugh, the smell of freshly cut grass, or the texture of my carpet on my feet because I’m too engrossed in the virtual world. It has its place, but let’s not miss out on the physicality of the moment right in front of us, or the connections we can deepen there. It’s no good connecting online if it causes us to disconnect with people offline who, when we step back for some perspective, we remember that we actually care about more.
I will switch off. Using social media to interact with other teachers and school leaders has its benefits, but it leaves us in danger of doing more thinking work by using our free time to discuss topics related to our work. This means we may not actually switch off from the issues at our own school with our own pupils or colleagues, and we absolutely need to take a break for the good of our mental health. There’s also a danger that we get emotionally burdened by the problems others have that we’re actually powerless to solve (beyond a kind word of encouragement, which can certainly go a long way). But setting limits is important for healthy habits. This could be a time limit, and once that’s elapsed you stop. Logging out is a good idea here; it stops it being quite so easy to quickly check for likes and find yourself getting drawn in again as you slide further down the slippery slope away from the limit you couldn't quite stick to. It’s hard to switch off from social media news feeds as there’s always more posts coming in, and we feel like we have to read every single one so we don’t miss out, so this takes some intentionality and willpower.
I've also decided that if I’m finding I’m not able to keep to my rules, or just that my head is spinning with thoughts of social media alongside everything else I’m juggling and it’s causing me stress, I’ll switch off completely for a while, perhaps a day or two, perhaps longer. I'll get some perspective in the real world; remember what’s most important; and try again with these habits when I next log back in. And if I start to feel like I have to post on social media or that I have to check again how many likes my post has got, or how many new followers I got in the last minute, rather than it being something enjoyable, I’ll do the same.
I think all this boils down to two questions which I should keep asking myself:
1. Am I enjoying this / is it helping me?
2. Is my interaction in social media taking the place of something better?
I wonder, do you have any ground rules like these? How does social media affect your mental health, both in a positive or negative way? Do you feel happier and more free without it? And could social media even be adding to your workload? It’s so important to reflect on your social media habits, and be mindful of the possible negative impacts as well as the positives.