mental health physical health internet social media

Nurturing and celebrating our offline selves

Reflections on an evolving sense of self in the age of social media and COVID.

It’s pretty ironic to write a blog post about my love/hate relationship with the Internet, but here I am. Here we all are, thanks to the pandemic… In some ways, the Internet is a wonderful communication tool; we can connect with friends, family, and colleagues nearly anywhere on Earth. I can connect with you, who I may have never met before. However, Internet use (especially on social media) can have some serious negative effects on our health. For example, social media use has been correlated with depression, anxiety, irritability, and can become an addiction [1]. I’ve felt these effects, particularly anxiety about how the Internet does not lend itself to personal, emotional, or intellectual growth. It can be quite unforgiving. I am growing, learning, and updating my perspective and opinions all the time. And so, I’ve become conflicted about my Internet use and presence.

If I withdraw from these public arenas and keep my interactions confined to private conversations, somehow I still feel isolated, guilty, and nervous. If I don’t post, ‘like,’ comment, or reply right away, am I still a good friend/family member/colleague/community member? When my online presence is small, I feel small. Why do I feel this way? How can I use the Internet to engage with people in a healthy way?

The other day, I went for a jog on a cold and sunny morning. I caught a glimpse of my shadow projected onto the golden trees. I don’t think I have paid my shadow any particular attention lately, but this time it struck me. It reminded me: You are more than your presence online, more than your profile, more than your CV, more than digital data. You are a human, full of life – nutrients, minerals, bones, muscles, fat, and skin. You have ideas, thoughts, and feelings. These ideas, thoughts, and feelings are real and valid even if you choose not to share them online. And importantly, with effort, the relationships you truly value can survive and thrive outside of social media. And one relationship that is especially important to nurture is the one you have with yourself - your tangible, offline self.


Figure 1. My morning shadow. Source: A. Fowler

I end with reminders to myself and others for self-care in the digital age, especially during the pandemic. First, get out of your house and move your body! Feel the sun on your skin and appreciate your shadow. Second, seek out the dynamic and forgiving experience of a live (not text) conversation. Third, use social media with the intention to create meaningful and authentic connections with others, but don’t forget to close the screen and connect with yourself.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts about this topic and if anyone else feels this way. Do you have any suggestions for maintaining a balanced life on and offline?


[1] Meier and Reinecke. (2020) Computer-Mediated Communication, Social Media, and Mental Health: A Conceptual and Empirical Meta-Review. Communication Research.

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