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Social Media is Wasting Your Life and Sucking Your Time–Or is it?

This post was written by Jessica Castillo, founder of A Thriving Catholic.

“Well, if Jesus knocks me off my horse and tells me to open an Instagram account, then I will.” 

I was on a lunchtime walk with my husband about a year ago when I made this snarky remark. I had been officially in business for a little over a year at that point and was talking with my husband about how slowly my business was growing and how I couldn’t seem to find potential clients. 

He pointed out to me that I needed to be on social media.

That I should probably start an Instagram account.

Sound advice–but I wasn’t willing to hear it. 

Everything inside of me recoiled at the thought of trying to be some kind of “influencer” on social media. That just wasn’t me. As an introvert and a private person, I thought being active on social media would completely contradict who I was as a person. 

And besides, everyone knows that social media is a huge waste of time…right?

As a mom and an entrepreneur, time is easily my most valuable resource and I was just not willing to consider squandering it on platforms that I was convinced were frivolous at best and downright toxic at worst. 

For years I was the only person I knew who wasn’t on Facebook or any other social media platform. Whenever someone would ask to be Facebook friends, it was with a hint of pride that I would say I didn’t have Facebook.

It felt free.

I never had feeds to check. I could live in the present moment. I didn’t waste my time or fall into the comparison trap…or so I thought.

That’s when my husband urged me to consider how St. Paul and the Apostles used every means available to them to evangelize. How tireless they were in spreading the good news of the gospel. He assured me that St. Paul would definitely have an Instagram account if he was alive today. 

Groan. 

Which led to my rather snide comment about requiring some kind of divine intervention before I would be willing to come off my high horse of self-righteousness and consider starting my own social media accounts. 

Fast forward to today and I never saw a flash of blinding light, nor did I hear Jesus audibly tell me to get Instagram, nor was I suddenly knocked down from my preconceived notions about the “evils” of social media. 

Rather–as is often the case with the Lord–I experienced a slow and gradual softening of my heart. The scales came off my eyes little by little and over time I came to see more merit and value in social media–not just in how it pertains to business, but how it can be a powerful medium for evangelization and even for growth in holiness.

That being said, there are some almost universally acknowledged pitfalls to using social media and it’s important to approach our use of it mindfully. I think we can all relate to the fear of being disconnected from our real lives or the feeling of pinging alerts scattering our attention and sucking our time. 

In this article, I’d like to flesh out some of the potential “dangers” of using social media as it relates to our mental and spiritual health, and then I’d like to offer some best practices and strategies for how you can use social media in a really healthy way–in a way that might just help you grow into the saint you were created to be. 

Free social media prayer wallpaper

The Dangers of Social Media 

So what do we need to be on our guard against when using social media? I propose that there are 3 main ways that social media can be detrimental to your mental and spiritual health: 

1. It can erode your attention span

You may have heard of “The Goldfish Effect”.

This refers to research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the UK that claimed that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013—which is 1 second less than the attention span of a goldfish. The theory for why this is happening is that there is a causal link between “media multitasking” and attention deficits. 

In fact, an Oxford professor of synaptic pharmacology, Lady Greenfield, has argued that social media risks “infantilizing” the human mind. This risk seems to be most prevalent if you spend a lot of time jumping from one task to another while using social media or if you keep notifications on and instantly respond to pings or alerts. 

You may have experienced firsthand how difficult it can be to focus your attention in our extremely fast-paced world, and while social media is certainly not the only reason for this, it can be a contributing factor in keeping your attention scattered. 

2. It can leave you feeling anxious or depressed 

There have been a slew of studies in recent years that seem to confirm a link between social media usage and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

But why does this happen? 

I think that the most likely way that social media can leave you feeling anxious or depressed is that it makes it very easy to get trapped in comparison or competition. 

We’ve all played–and lost–the comparison game at some point or another. This is when we try to assess how we stack up to another person, and it’s a game that we can literally never win. Either we judge others harshly and start to think that we’re so much better than they are (the sin of pride), or we start to feel down about ourselves because we think someone else is so much better than we are (the sin of ingratitude). 

A close cousin of comparison is competition.

This is the drive to be better than someone else that causes us to resent the accomplishments and successes of others. We seethe with envy when we see the good work or achievements of other people and instead of feeling motivated to make positive changes to achieve the same results ourselves, we tend to want to tear down or detract from the other person. 

While we can all get trapped in comparison and competition in our normal day-to-day lives (even if we’re not on social media) the temptation is greater on platforms where we are constantly seeing filtered versions of reality and everyone is sharing their successes.

It can be easy to get a skewed perspective and find yourself feeling anxious or depressed. 

3. It can take way too much of your time 

If you listen to any modern time management guru, they’ll likely calculate the amount of time the average person “wastes” on their phone every day and tell you that you could’ve written the next great American novel, or learned a foreign language, or done any number of more “high-value” tasks in the time you’d save if you just quit using social media. 

In fact, one of the most common responses I would hear in the years that I didn’t have social media was, “Good for you! I wish I wasn’t on social media.” While anyone could delete their account at any time if they wanted to, what most people were expressing to me was a feeling that they were spending too much time on social media and that it was starting to take over more of their lives than they wanted it to. 

That’s because social media platforms are designed to be addictive.

They have a dopamine stimulating effect that keeps people reaching for their devices. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical, but your brain can become desensitized to it, which means that you’ll need more and more “hits” of dopamine to remain satisfied.

The good news is that recognizing these potential problems with social media is a big step toward finding ways to mitigate them. 

So while these dangers exist, we also shouldn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater” as I did for many years. Yes, abstaining completely from social media means that you might avoid some of the above pitfalls, but the truth is that we don’t need social media to have fragmented attention, struggle with comparison and competition, or waste our time. We’re all prone to doing all of those things–whether we have a Facebook or Instagram account or not. 

What I’ve come to realize recently is that I was missing out on a lot of the really good and beautiful aspects of social media by eschewing it altogether. 

Here are some of the positive aspects that I’ve discovered, and that I think make it worthwhile:

Four Benefits of Social Media

1. It’s a great way to connect and build community with like-minded people 

Facebook groups in particular offer an amazing opportunity to connect with people who share your values, goals, and interests. As the famous C.S. Lewis quote goes, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” 

This can be especially important for Catholics in an increasingly secular world.

Social media offers us the opportunity to find groups of people where we’re not weird for practicing NFP, praying the Rosary, or talking openly about our faith. You are not alone, even if you may be the only practicing Catholic on your street. 

2. It can be truly inspiring 

St. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things”. 

I’ve been humbled, moved, inspired, and awed by the good, true and beautiful things that I’ve seen posted on social media that I may not have had any exposure to otherwise. While certainly not everything on social media is worthwhile, and there are a lot of things that may drag us down, we have a lot of control over how we curate our feeds, and we can choose to let them lift us up. 

Two Catholics who post encouragement on social media to help others grow in faith.

Are you using social media to inspire other to practice the Catholic faith?  If so, consider joining our community!  Click here to apply!

3. It’s an opportunity to be of service and be merciful to others

Social media gives us an excellent opportunity to show support to each other and to offer prayers and words of encouragement. It’s so easy to type a quick comment and to show another person that they are seen, heard, and valued. 

Jesus told St. Faustina that he was giving her three ways to be merciful: in deed, in word, and in prayer. While we may not be able to perform deeds of mercy to others on social media, we certainly have the chance to use our words and prayers to impact people that we may never meet on this side of heaven. 

4. If you have a business, it’s a great way to reach people that you can serve 

This, of course, was the original reason that I finally became convinced to start using social media myself, and there is a lot of truth in the sentiment that you have to go where the people are.

But this isn’t a bad thing. If you’re a business owner, your business exists to serve people in some way–to provide some good or service that will help them. Somewhere there is someone out there who would love to have what you offer–but they’ll never know about it if you don’t put yourself out there! 

If you own a Catholic business that promotes prayer and faith, we’d love if you joined our community!  Join here: Apply today!

How to Use Social Media to Grow in Virtue and Holiness 

So you may be convinced that there’s merit in social media, but how do you use it in a way that avoids the dangers and maximizes the benefits? Here are a few suggestions: 

1. Set clear boundaries on your use 

Decide how much time you’re willing to devote to social media each day and when you’d like to use it as well as when you absolutely will not pick up your phone. You can schedule these blocks of time and feel guilt-free that you’re devoting however much time you’ve decided is right for you to catch up on social media. 

This will help you avoid the “time suck” and “the digital distraction” pitfalls because you won’t be trying to multitask or constantly check your feeds whenever there is a lull in your day–in fact, you’ll be very clear on the times that you won’t engage with your phone. 

As an example, I avoid my phone before my morning prayer time, at all family meals, and in the hours leading up to bed. Setting clear boundaries for yourself is a chance to grow in the virtues of prudence and temperance while protecting your mental health.

2. Turn off your notifications and resist the urge to check your feeds outside of scheduled times 

This goes along with number 1 above, but if you’re finding that it’s too enticing to check your social media when you get alerts, turn off all notifications and make it harder for you to check your phone by keeping it in another room when it’s not your scheduled time to use it. 

How to Be a Good Catholic on Social Media Course

3. Become a cheerleader on social media 

Actively look for ways to encourage others on social media. This smashes through competition and comparison and allows you to love your neighbor as yourself and celebrate their victories. 

It was a huge turning point for me on social media when I stopped thinking so much about what I could “get” from it and instead decided to focus on ways that I could give back and actively encourage others. You can “like” what others are sharing, write an encouraging word, share a post, or even send a direct message. Not only will this lift the other person up, but you’ll feel really good too. 

4. Carefully curate your feed 

You’re responsible for guarding your own mind. If something or someone is constantly dragging you down, delete or mute those accounts. Let your feeds become a source of inspiration and encouragement for you by focusing on whatever is good, whatever is true, and whatever is beautiful. 

5. Balance social media use with real-world interactions 

No matter how great social media can be, it doesn’t replace a real-life friend or activity.

Sometimes social media can inspire FOMO (a version of comparison) if we aren’t actually getting out and doing interesting or fun things with real-life humans as well. Challenge yourself to nurture relationships outside of social media to balance this tendency out. 

Plan a “prayer party” or a full day retreat with this guide!

6. Train your attention in other ways 

While having clear boundaries on when and where you’ll use social media will help mitigate the detrimental effects it has on your attention span, it’s still a good idea to train your attention in other ways. 

Try reading a book, or really drawing your attention back to the mysteries of the Rosary when you find your mind wandering while praying it.

You can also focus on “single-tasking” as much as possible throughout your day. This is as simple as giving your full attention to one thing at a time as best as you are able. This will help ensure that your attention stays directed where you choose–and not all over the place! 

While you may not have required as much coaxing as I did to embrace social media, I hope that this article gives you some food for thought on how social media may be impacting your mental and spiritual health and some ways that you could use it to maximize both. 

What has your experience been with social media?

Has it helped you, is it a necessary evil, or do you avoid it altogether?

Let us know in the comments!

Article written by Jessica Castillo, who founded A Thriving Catholic to integrate the truths of our faith with the current science on nutrition, exercise, sleep, productivity, psychology, and habit formation–my mission is to glean all the truth I can from various fields and share it with you in a way that will help you to optimize your life.

Jessica Castillo is an integrative nutrition health coach and the founder of A Thriving Catholic.  

 

Her mission is to help busy Catholics develop the high-impact habits of body, mind, and soul that will give them the energy and vitality they need to do the important work that God has created them for.  

 

Through her online courses, group, and 1:1 coaching, Jessica helps Catholics combine their love for Jesus with taking great care of their bodies and minds.  

 

She offers authentically Catholic coaching to help you reach your highest potential–and start living the thriving life you were made for. 

 

Find out more at: www.athrivingcatholic.com 

www.instagram.com/athrivingcatholic  

www.facebook.com/athrivingcatholic 

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