THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY OF SOCIAL MEDIA
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and, as you may have seen, I’ve recently returned to social media after taking a 4 month break. I wasn’t going to say too much about this but much like when I spoke about my experience with PTSD after cancer, I thought there may be people that feel the same way as I do. Some of you might identify with the following and some of you may not, but whatever your stance, I hope this helps you in some way.
It’s fair to say that I have a love/hate relationship with Social Media.
I love that it can connect people and help to inspire or raise awareness about important issues, but I don’t like that everywhere I look now, I see people more interested in their phones than the world around them.
I saw this an awful lot on my trip around the world. In every hostel, people were glued to their devices.
I was careful not to blog during a ‘thing’ on my list. All of my posts were written afterwards so that I didn’t miss out on the live experience around me. That’s not to say I was completely present during all of them.
Last year, I used this photo of me watching the sunset over Horse Shoe Bend in Arizona as my personal cover photo and a friend commented “you like you are so in the moment there Greig”.
She couldn’t have been more wrong. As I sat there watching the sun go down over one of nature’s most incredible sights, all I was thinking was whether I had put the timer on and if the camera was in the right position. I must have taken 7 photos to get the right one. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch the sun go down over one of the most awe inspiring sights in the world and the only time I was in the moment was when the sun had eventually gone down and I had put my camera away. I absolutely love my photos and I especially love sharing these photos and places with you guys but I now wish that I had perhaps limited my time taking some of them.
Social media can be overbearing. Studies shows that it’s linked to depression, increased loneliness and anxiety. The average person interacts with their phone a whopping 3000 times a day and spends 145 minutes using it. Researchers found that the majority of that time is spent on Facebook. It’s madness.
Comparing our lives to the filtered lives we see on Facebook and Instagram is so damaging to our well-being, and so too is our need to share every moment of our lives with the world. I have always been very careful in assuring others that a trip around the world doesn’t solve your problems. Travel and experiences most definitely inject fun and optimism into life but I would never want others to look at my trip or my life and feel that it is what you need to do to feel happy. As I learned on my trip, all I was really looking for was a feeling of peace and contentment.
I left social media at the start of the year because it was causing me anxiety.
My travels and blog have brought many new people into my life. I have made lots of new friends, received thousands of messages and did a lot of work for various charities along the way.
But coming back home I struggled to keep up to date with all of the charities, messages and indeed friends. My contact with real people became limited, and I felt like I was living a virtual life. I constantly felt like I was letting people down – both online and in real life – and that I wasn’t a good friend or person.
You may be wondering why this only happened when I was back in the UK and not when my story was in the press during my trip. When my story was featured in the world press I was in the midst of travelling around South America. I made a point not to have a sim card for my phone and only used the wifi network at the hostels I was staying at. As a result I rarely got time to be online, so my time spent on my phone or on social media was brief and functional. When I got home however, this all changed and I soon realised I was paying more attention to my phone than I was to the people around me.
My world also started to feel cancer-dominated. I lost two friends to cancer and my news feeds were all about cancer. It seemed like I couldn’t even turn on the radio without hearing about yet another celebrity who had died of the disease.
I initially made some smaller changes to my life and switched off notifications on my phone, transferred my social media apps to a separate page on my phone and gave myself permission not reply to every message straight away. But it didn’t feel like enough.
So, at the end of 2016 I decided my health came first and came off social media completely. I was partly inspired by hearing that the singer Ed Shearan had done the same thing. He came off social media for a year, for many of the same reasons. He even went so far as to completely get rid of his phone. When was asked at a party why, he simply said “take a look around”. When they looked around the room he said that 50% of the people there were looking at their phones. “That’s why I don’t have a phone”, he said.
Coming off social media felt like weight off my shoulders but it was also a very surreal feeling indeed. I came off at the same time I had moved to an entirely new area. My phone rarely beeped and I suddenly noticed how few phone calls I received. My world became a lot smaller. I was more engaged with the people and the world around me and I was present. I’ve found I have spent the past few months spending more time with my family, I’ve read lots of books, written even more of my own book and I’ve been enjoying so many amazing experiences without feeling like I should blog about them.
I’ve also spent a lot of time researching why I did indeed feel this way and, as ever, been learning to overcome it.
You’re probably wondering why I came back on to Social Media. Well, it’s because I realised that social media and my phone were not the problem – it was me, and how I was dealing with them. So I plan to deal with them very differently now. The truth is I would like my purpose in life to be to help others. Whether that be my family, my friends or those who are just going through a bad time. I have learned so much over the years about physical and psychological health and I would love to share this whilst at the same time sending out some much needed inspiration. Social media is an enormous part of our lives and if used the correct way it can be a wonderful resource of hope and inspiration.
I plan on using Social Media in a less all-consuming way. Notifications will stay off and I will check it when I want to rather than when it tells me to. I now put my phone away when I’m around others and it is no longer the first thing I check in the morning or last thing I check at night. When taking in an experience I will make sure that the quest for the perfect photo is limited to just a few minutes rather than throughout the entire event. And my hope is that my unborn baby boy will never see me staring at my phone instead of his face when he’s speaking to me.
Finally, please don’t read the above and feel you can’t contact me! I absolutely love getting your messages. The support I’ve received over the past few years has inspired and motivated me to keep going (I fully believe that support is part of the cure for illness). All I ask is that you don’t judge me if I don’t reply straight away!
Much love and thanks everyone.