Social Media Induced Disorder. Are you a sufferer of SMID?
Okay, so I made up the name of this disorder, but the effects on our mental health caused by our time spent on social media platforms are no joke.
Although many of us will typically steer clear of this subject, it is something I feel we desperately need to discuss freely and openly. Especially if we want to take full advantage of the wonderful opportunities provided through social media while holding tight to our emotional stability.
Let’s face it, when we choose any form of art (and yes, writing is an art form) as our career or passion in life, we are not only putting our art out there for public consumption, but we also put ourselves and particularly our mental health on the line.
Social media platforms aren’t going to disappear from this world of ours anytime soon, and we don’t want them to. Believe me, as an author myself, I understand how valuable social media can be for us all. It’s how we (or any business for that matter) sell both our products and ourselves in the 21st Century.
We want and need to make the most of every platform we occupy by taking advantage of all the ways social media helps us to reach our readers. However, we need to do that responsibly and with forethought and purpose if we want to make the most of what amounts to free advertising while protecting our mental health.
So, how do we do that? How do we navigate social media on a daily basis without allowing it to affect us in negative ways?
The first thing we need to acknowledge is that we are all human and, as such, emotional beings. We are vulnerable and sensitive (some more than others), and handling rejection, criticism, or any form of social interaction, for that matter, can be like walking a tightrope.
Let’s take “trigger warnings” as an example. Just like there are more things in life that can trigger someone than we could possibly list (a smell, a name, a word), even the thought of navigating social media can be triggering. And just like detecting or anticipating a trigger can be nearly impossible, so can avoiding them.
That word, that name or that gesture that triggers us can sneak up and smack us in the face without warning. Likewise, the signs of mental illness can be subtle and sneak up on us without our realizing we’ve allowed ourselves to succumb.
Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. If you can connect any mental health issues involving your mood, your thinking and/or your behavior to your interactions with social media, then you may be suffering from the effects of what I’m calling SMID.
Now, many of us have mental health concerns from time to time. I myself can fall into a pit of depression every now and then (lucky for me, it’s rare) that may last for a day or several. I imagine this is basically normal for the majority of us. And I will admit that every time this happens, I can connect the triggering effect either back to some name, smell, sound or even possibly a simple word that reminded me of some traumatic experience in my life or something having to do with my time on social media.
Now, I’m not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or any other type of mental health professional. In fact, I was never even a psychology major in school, so let me get that disclaimer out there right now. Everything you read here is simply my opinion as an editor, mentor, author and fellow human being. You can take it or leave it, agree or disagree. This is simply my thoughts and my advice to not just you but also to myself.
That said, I’m told by true experts that a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect our ability to function. Furthermore, a mental illness may make us miserable and can often cause problems at home, at school, at work, or in our relationships.
By having this discussion open and freely, my hope is to prevent not just myself but any one of you from allowing the pitfalls of social media to go that far. To do that, I’d like to touch on just the most prevalent pitfalls as I see them and, with any luck, help you to navigate them without allowing those mental health concerns to sneak up on you.
Algorithms – Oh, How We Despise Them
The platforms we utilize and the algorithms we love to complain about will constantly change and evolve. There is nothing we can do to stop that, and if you give it some thought, you’ll realize we shouldn’t want them to get stagnant in any case. These platforms are trying to stay relevant and perform at an ultimate level. To do that, they must be consistently aware of the changes and fluxes in the marketplace. We, as authors, also need to keep up.
So, instead of complaining and badmouthing social media companies for these consistent changes, we, as users of these platforms, should do our best to embrace the changes (or at the very least learn to live with them) and spend our time learning to evolve with them.
Besides, badmouthing these platforms and complaining will get you nowhere you wish to go. They have the upper hand, and they know it. You’ll get yourself put in “Facebook or Instagram Jail” or possibly even get your account closed down completely. Then where will you be?
To make matters worse, by trying to fight the system, you’re only stressing yourself out. Plus, once you find yourself dealing with being banned, whether for a day, a week or forever more, you run the risk of letting any number of mental health issues smack you down. Why put yourself in that position?
I’m not in any way saying to just sit and take it, but I am saying to choose your battles wisely. Think smart and figure out how to work around whatever system they’ve put in place that isn’t working for you. Work with other authors, join forces and help each other.
If you have a good idea that you think might improve the platform, share it and just maybe someone in the back office will take that idea and run with it.
Like anything in life, we must learn to adjust. Learn to discover what works for us individually in every aspect of our lives and figure out how to navigate the system, whatever that system might be.
Whether it’s work, school, home, relationships, or even a recipe, learn to adjust. Bob and weave and walk that tightrope with expertise, avoiding any possible hits to your mental well-being.
Selling Yourself and Your Work
Speaking of change, keep reminding yourself that change is a good thing, and in this business, or any business, really, it’s essential.
Now, I’m not talking about changing your genre or even about varying the genres you choose to write. But it goes without saying (or should) that if in book after book, all our leading characters have the same personality, just with different names, and all our stories have the same tropes and plot but take place in differing locations, our readers will quickly become bored.
By the same token, a stagnant advertising campaign will ultimately give your readers the impression that the product has also grown stagnant. That’s why large corporations are not only consistently looking to either improve their product or add to their product line but also consistently creating new advertising campaigns and sometimes even changing up who they use to create those campaigns.
So just like one day, it’s live events on social media that are the way to get that algorithm working for you, and the next thing you know, it’s reels or videos the algorithm wants, instead of stressing out and allowing yourself to get overwhelmed or excessively frustrated, step back and come up with a new strategy.
Marketing is damn hard, especially for those of us who haven’t passed Marketing 101 or even stepped foot in the classroom. Talk about ever-changing. The world of marketing seems to be a huge circle of constant change, with the same things coming back around every now and then.
Did you ever see that Tootsie Pop commercial with Mr. Owl? I love that commercial! I think it’s originally from 1970, then came back around in 1982, 1996, and it’s back again. Just like tie-dye and bellbottoms, everything old becomes new again. Of course, in today’s world and particularly on social media, marketing is much faster moving. Thank the marketing gods!
So never throw those campaigns out. Save them and always be watching for the newest trend. Be prepared, and as I said before, adjust.
Most of all, when you feel that frustration over your marketing strategies setting in, remind yourself that every other author out there, I don’t care what their numbers say, is fighting the same battle as you are with marketing. Their frustrations may look different or show up in different ways, but believe me, no one finds marketing easy.
You Like Me, You Like Me Not
Never forget the purpose of social media—the reason you’re there in the first place. You’re there to get noticed—to find your audience. You’re there to get the word out.
As discussed above, we are not only selling our product but also ourselves. As such, we should never forget that every post, every reel, every video, and likewise, every single word, picture and image we put on social media is a reflection on both us and our work.
This point takes us back to my earlier comment about navigating social media responsibly and with forethought and purpose. Always be conscious of what you’re putting out there, and be sure it represents how you want yourself and your work to be perceived.
Don’t fall prey to doing what others are doing just because it’s working for them. If it makes you uncomfortable, then it’s most likely not right for you or your image.
If you stick with this philosophy, you’ll have no regrets and no need to apologize for anything you put out there.
That said, unless you’re writing nonfiction and your work particularly deals with political and/or social issues, stay away from anything in those realms! Save the crusading for your personal accounts, or better yet, keep it personal.
When I see an author posting about social issues and/or politics, I immediately cringe on their behalf. It’s a sure way to kill the success of any book you’re about to release or have released in the past. Do it and watch those follower numbers shrink.
Touching on political and social issues could easily drive away half your audience—particularly the half whose views don’t match yours. And do you really want to limit your audience in that way? Is saying your piece truly worth throwing away all the hard work you’ve done?
If so, if you choose that political and/or social issue over your work, stand by that choice and accept the consequences. Don’t get upset, frustrated or depressed when your marketing strategies go nowhere and your product sales go down.
Personally, anyone who wants to buy my books is fine with me. I don’t care what your beliefs are, and honestly, it’s none of my business.
Also, remember that not everyone is going to like us, just like not everyone is going to like our work. We all have different likes and dislikes. “To each his own” is a mantra we should always keep in the back of our heads.
Some won’t like our genre, a certain character or a particular trope. Some may not like our writing. Some want more heat between the sheets, and some want less. Whatever their reason for not loving your book, you need to be okay with that. You need to learn to accept it and move on. It’s okay. To each his own.
I’ve seen authors cry for days and fall into a deep depression over bad reviews or criticism, whether online or given in a more personal setting by a beta reader, critique partner, or even an editor or mentor. Sometimes this criticism or that review has some valid truth to it, and sometimes not.
There will always be trolls out there, too, those nasty people spewing hate and infecting us with bad vibes simply because it makes them feel better about themselves or gives them some sort of high to know they’re making someone else miserable. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
How many times have you heard an author say they are giving up writing because of something someone said? Maybe you’ve fallen into that pit of despair yourself.
Furthermore, I have heard more authors reference “imposter syndrome” than I care to count. We are truly our own worst enemy. No one knocks down our self-esteem and self-confidence more than we do ourselves and on a regular basis.
Stop listening to those voices, whether they come from someone else or from inside your own head. Stop beating yourself up. Stop telling yourself you can’t, you won’t, and you’re not good enough.
If you’re going to put yourself out there, if you want to be a writer, and if this is your passion, you must learn to deal with negative feedback, whether real or false. You need to teach yourself to weed out the difference. Learn to completely ignore the false, the fake, the trolls, and don’t allow any of it to affect you. It doesn’t exist, it’s not there, and you don’t see it. If handling negative reviews is hard for you, stop looking at them! And never ever respond to them. Never give them the satisfaction of seeing you try to defend the indefensible. Because lies are just that.
Also, train yourself to accept any negative feedback that is honest and dissect it. Even if the feedback is honest, that doesn’t mean it is correct, partly because what is right for someone else may not be right for you and your story.
Learn everything you can about writing and build up your confidence. Soak in the knowledge. Build your writing chops so you will be able to decide if that feedback is helpful or hurtful to either your author voice, your writing style or the story you’re telling. And believe it or not, this feedback can be an asset. As we weed out the feedback that is of no use to us at all, this weeding out helps us grow and become more confident because we are able to tell the difference.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and as I always say, we improve with every page, every chapter and every book we write. So keep writing, keep learning, and keep growing as a writer.
Giving up or beating yourself up is not the way to do that. Take that criticism and turn it into a positive by learning from it. Never forget that your first draft is only better when it becomes a second draft and a third… Editing and revisions make us and our stories better.
So instead of allowing that criticism to affect your mental well-being, use it to strengthen your confidence and your writing chops.
Winning That Popularity Contest
Success can be fleeting and is often hard-fought. However, it’s important to always keep in mind that success looks different to everyone and different to us personally at differing times in our lives. So never judge your success by what others are doing.
Obsessing over how many followers they have, how many reviews, and how many books they claim to have sold will only get you down, never build you up. Even if you are comparing yourself to someone whose numbers aren’t quite as good as yours, that gloating will eventually bite you in the tush.
Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to another author, even if that author is writing in the same genre as you are. We are not each other’s competition. We should learn from each other, work together and complement each other by spreading the word about other authors whose books we love.
Finding friends among your peers can only make you better. And it will put you in a better light among your readers too.
When I hear well-known, best-selling authors are good friends with other well-known, best-selling authors, it warms my heart. It gives me hope. They don’t look at each other as competition but as comrades. We should take a page from that book (as the saying goes) and find those friends in the writing community who are just waiting for us.
Remember, too, that there are many levels of success, and we must always remember to celebrate every step we take toward our goals, whatever those may be.
It isn’t just graduating from high school that should be celebrated, but every grade level it took to get there. By the same token, congratulate yourself every step of the way toward finishing each and every story you write, from outlining to finishing that first draft to publication and selling your first copy.
Never chastise yourself for not meeting a deadline or achieving a certain goal in the timeline you gave yourself. That only brings on stress and anxiety. Remember what I said about being your own worst enemy?
If you tried your best, then that is all you can do. It in no way means you should stop trying and just give up. If it is a deadline or timeline you gave yourself, then show yourself some grace and simply move the date.
There are many things in life that are more important than reaching those goals in the time we set out for ourselves. Our family, our friends, our health… There is much that will and should come first, and many times our writing will need to be pushed onto that proverbial back burner. This, in no way, should discourage us from moving forward.
Again, give yourself grace. Allow life to get in the way without allowing anything that interferes with your goals to get you down.
WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING FOR ME
Here’s my final cautionary tale, which deals with possibly the most common social media pitfall.
We’re all busy and spending all day on social media is the last thing we have time for. I get it. Believe me.
Still, in talking with a number of authors, I’ve learned that a majority have a standard modus operandi. They open up their social media page, and the first thing they do is check to see how many “likes” or comments they’ve gotten since the last time they were there. They then immediately start obsessing over those numbers that are lower than they would like to see. And while that negativity begins eating away at their self-esteem, they upload another reel or video or post, then immediately sign off and spend the rest of the day wondering what they are doing wrong, only to begin the same process the next day or whenever they have scheduled their next post.
Is this you?
Then there are authors who have hired a social media assistant? They pay them to create those social media campaigns and post regularly on their pages. Their numbers may go up initially with more followers, more likes, more views, but eventually, they reach a plateau, and the next thing they know, those numbers start dropping again. And they just can’t figure out why.
They ask themselves, why are so few people seeing my posts all of a sudden or liking them? Why is no one commenting? And yet, instead of trying something new, they do the same thing over and over again.
Maybe you fall in this category?
Another commonality is the author who consistently asks for help. They ask for others to share posts about their books, buy their books, post reviews, and like and comment on their posts. Meanwhile, they don’t even think about returning the favor and then wonder why those who helped them before don’t have the time now.
I’m willing to bet you’re familiar with someone who fits this profile.
If we’re going to have any hope of surviving our use of social media with our emotional health intact, we must remember to not only give ourselves some grace but extend that grace to others as well.
Live by the philosophy of treating others the way you wish to be treated. Do unto others as you wish for them to do unto you. That single piece of advice is the best advice my mother ever gave me, and I live by it.
You must interact with others if you want them to interact with you. Be sure to like their posts and reels, and videos. Comment on their posts as much as you can. Congratulate them on reaching their goals, and help them promote their books by sharing for them on your page.
And please, if you read their book, write a review or, at the very least, give their book a rating. However, if you can’t give it three stars or above, don’t say anything at all. Be kind!
If they don’t automatically return the favor, and let’s face it, most people won’t, don’t get discouraged, depressed, and down on yourself for trying. Don’t stop being the better person and living that philosophy of treating others the way you want to be treated.
It’s hard, I know. Believe me, I feel and fight it every day myself.
I don’t want to have to ask, and I don’t ask. I want others to want to return the favor, so I wait and hope that, eventually, my good deeds will come back to me. And if they don’t? Oh, well. In the meantime, I know I’ve done the right thing by liking their posts, commenting on their posts, writing reviews, giving them kudos and sharing their books.
Still, I sometimes ask myself why. Why don’t they see what I’m doing for them and automatically return the favor? What am I doing wrong?
Then I remind myself that the fault is not with me but with them. I am doing what I know is right. I am giving of myself, and I take pride in that. I feel good about myself just knowing that I am helping someone else.
Perhaps my one added number to their likes or comments, or reviews put a smile on their face, and that thought puts a smile on mine. And that’s what counts. That is what is important.
Spread the smiles, spread the kindness. And most of all, be kind to yourself.