Wellness, Productivity, Balance for Graduate Students and Beyond

Mindful Social Media? a #MindfulPhD guest post by Rebecca Enderby

Rebecca Enderby submitted her PhD earlier this year, which looked at rural livelihoods, gender and the social and ecological impacts of small-scale biofuels in south India.  She is a qualified yoga teacher and teaches yoga in London and Bristol in the UK.  She is passionate about helping PhDs, academics and freelancers develop the tools to work, write and be well, using yoga, meditation and coaching techniques. She loves co-hosting #MindfulPhD.  Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @enderbyoga.

Social media is an emotionally tricky and confusing beast! As a recently submitted PhD and freelance business owner (I am a yoga teacher and starting out as a coach), I spend a fair amount of time working alone and using social media. It can fill me with anxiety, self-doubt and that dreaded illness - compare and despair. After all, everyone else looks more in control/further ahead with their PhD/doing better in their businesses/happier/healthier and so on. On the other hand, I have found it invaluable being able to connect with linked-minded people and not feel so alone in my PhD and business struggles. I have met new friends via Instagram and if it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t have joined the Self-Employed PhD community and met a wonderful group of supportive people that got me excited to be a freelance postac/altac. It connected me with Katy and I had invaluable PhD coaching with her. Of course, our #MindfulPhD Twitter chat, which I love, is itself reliant on social media.

How might we use social media more productively and positively, avoid compare and despair, or realise we’ve just spent hours on it and our neck hurts? As a yogini I think a key element is building awareness - of our habits, our thoughts, our reactions and what actually feels good - through slowing down a little and being mindful. Here are some thoughts and tips from someone in the process of figuring it out: (these are focused on engaging with social media rather than how you might use it yourself - that’s another blog post!):

1.  Remember – it’s all an illusion

Firstly, let’s remember that social media can be a type of illusion/projection. What you see is just one tiny snap shot of someone’s life, and a snap shot they want you to see/read/know about. When you compare and despair you are most likely comparing how you feel inside to how someone appears on the outside – two very different things. This is easy to say and even easier to forget, but is really helpful to come back to. Remember, behind the scenes is probably a complex and multi-layered story with ups and downs.

2.  Not all social media is created equal

Instagram causes me the most anxiety and the most cases of compare and despair. In the yoga world, you can get bombarded with images of people looking like they are ‘living the dream’ and #lovinglife.  There are also images of people that seem as though they are sailing through their dissertation or workload and are always being super productive. Twitter doesn’t have that trigger for me, but it definitely could for some.

Be mindful of how you react to different social media platforms and make a choice about if the anxiety/issues they might cause is outweighed by the positives it can bring. Can you spend less time on one and more on another? Can you reframe how you think about that platform?

I love Instagram - I love photography and visual imagery, and find many accounts really inspiring. It is an important platform for promoting myself as a yoga teacher so I will continue to use it. I am going to try to use Twitter more and Instagram less and more purposefully (e.g. see point 4 below), focusing on the positive elements of Instagram - the great photography and creativity, the travel inspiration and the really great work that people are doing with yoga and well-being.

3. Build awareness of your triggers and your patterns

If you think that social media causes stress/anxiety/feelings of self-doubt, can you build awareness of when this happens? As a yoga teacher, I want to say I have great bed time rituals, but often I don’t. When I do, I light candles and allow time to wind down and read, but I notice that I can get really sucked down the rabbit whole of social media at night, when I am tired.  This wastes time and is also when it can cause anxiety.

I now try to turn my phone onto airplane mode and not look at social media in my bed. I was recently talking to a friend who is doing the same thing and he says he is sleeping so much better.

It might be that looking at social media when you are anxious about your PhD or at a moment where you can’t focus or are filled with self-doubt, triggers anxiety or even more concerns over your thesis/work.  Is there something else you can do? A little yoga or meditation, or take a walk. Or can you be really mindful in how you engage with social media – rather than just scrolling through maybe follow/contact someone who you know inspires you, or get on Twitter and have a chat about your PhD/work block, or read an article that might inspire you.

4. Choose wisely and cull if necessary

Become aware of if and how you react to certain accounts. This might change over time depending on where you are mentally and emotionally.  Think about trying to build a community that inspires and supports you and you could get in touch with/chat via the platform. 

Take some time to listen to your feelings, notice triggers and also asses your values and broad set of interests.  On Instagram, I recently decided to cull several yoga accounts. I added accounts of people that seemed open and honest about their various struggles, and added more travel, photography, craft, feminist, social justice and coaching accounts, a few academic accounts, as well as several dog accounts and Parks and Recreation accounts, which always make me smile!  In some cases, this meant culling people I know, but that’s OK, it just wasn’t for me at that time.  (Of course, there might be a necessary balance here if you are also starting/ thinking of starting out as a freelancer or looking for work).

On Twitter, I fill my account with PhDs and academics talking about mental health issues, people discussing alternative academic careers, social and environmental issues, feminism, yoga teachers I really like – mostly people that I would love to hang out with! I see it as an opportunity to build a community that can support me and have found that when you connect people/accounts that really feel good, this also leads other connections, events and opportunities.

5. Create some sacred social media space

Linked to the all above I really like the idea of crafting out real time/space for social media., as I do for my yoga practice. This isn’t something I yet to, but it’s something I aspire to. I often struggle to sit and really engage with social media; I can just scroll through and engage as and when I see a post. I want to craft out time in my day to connect; to sit with coffee, tea or juice, perhaps light a candle, and then engage with others and read and repost in a more focused and mindful way.  I see this important to both creating deeper connections and also to help build my business in a more meaningful way.



What are your thoughts on finding balance with social media?