You might know the feeling. Do you, for example, find yourself preoccupied with what you’ll post on Strava or Instagram while you’re riding? Or are you spending far longer than intended checking out rides or stories uploaded by others? There’s nothing wrong with sharing your accomplishments and celebrating those of others but it can also get to a point where social media features more heavily in our lives than perhaps is healthy.
And, like with most things in life, there isn’t a simple answer. There are indeed some benefits that using social media can bring but we are also learning that cutting down on social media can have profound mental health benefits for some of us. At the very least, it is something to be aware of. With that in mind, let’s look at a few strategies for ensuring your relationship with cycling and social media doesn’t bring you down!
Know that you’re being conditioned to want more
‘When engaging with social media, we receive rewards in the form of comments and likes, and over time, our brains learn to associate social media use with a rewarding experience, which explains why the behaviour is maintained,’ Dr Daria Kuss explained in a recent article detailing some of the ways social media can contribute to stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The key here is to be aware of how the platform works and understand that you need to set limits for yourself if you spend more time on the platforms than you’d like. Maybe that means using a timer or committing to not checking any social media accounts until several hours after you wake in the morning. Find what works for you and stick with it!
Take advantage of the fact that you are in control of who you follow and what you see
You determine what accounts to follow and engage with. Despite this, according to Jessica Abo, author of Unfiltered: How to Be as Happy as You Look on Social Media, many of us find ourselves in increasingly unhealthy relationships with our multitude of social media accounts. “We tend to go online and fall into the compare-and-despair trap,” says Abo. “We get consumed with what other people are doing, buying, eating, etc.” For lots of us cyclists, this means fixating on the trips, gear, bikes, and rides of others. It can quickly become a pretty depressing exercise if not approached carefully.
Instead of letting this content get us down, though, Abo advises that we try spending the time following people who can help us improve things about ourselves and make us feel inspired. That would mean following cycling accounts that provide tips, advice, and motivation – essentially, content that can help you live your best life and achieve your goals on and off the bike.
Train the algorithm to surface more healthy content
Related to the above point is understanding how algorithms work. Be mindful that social media algorithms show you more of what you interact with, and latch onto the fact that we tend to interact more with things that make us angry or upset. The more you interact with these things, the more you see (toilet time counts too). Of course, there is no way to tell an AI-powered application what you like and don’t like, so you have to inform it by being very purposeful with your interactive behaviours.
Be aware that social media can contribute to exercise addiction
Compulsive exercise doesn’t get much attention, even though it is a relatively common and severe condition. Unfortunately, social media use has likely exacerbated the problem. In a recent study by McGill University, researchers from the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education analysed nearly 1,000 social media posts, images, and discussions on 13 social media sites over a year. Their findings illuminate the lived experiences of those who engage in compulsive exercise and serve as a reminder that it is essential to continually evaluate how we relate to exercise. If you find yourself slipping into problematic territory, such as forcing yourself to do workouts when your body is already sore and begging for a rest or beating yourself about taking a rest day when you were too exhausted to ride, know that it is time to take a step back and get help.
Understand that it is OK for people to have different ideas but you don’t always have to engage with them
Social media can also become toxic when it results in futile engagements with people who have different views than our own and are looking for an argument rather than a discussion. Susanne Reid, an active cyclist in Kells, Ireland, explained how she has recently been demoralised by the anti-cycling rhetoric on social media. As she describes it, “Any time there is an accident involving a cyclist on a news page, the comments are so depressing, either blaming the cyclist or having a go at cyclists in general. It feels like social media dehumanises cyclists by lumping as all under a group.” She has found comfort by sharing her concerns in supportive like-minded groups and resolving that it isn’t worth engaging with those determined to promote negativity, “It’s just about not engaging but that can be hard as you want to educate them as well as defending what we do and enjoy. Nevertheless, it’s the only thing that works.”
Don’t forget to celebrate the success of others
In a recent piece for We Love Cycling about finding motivation after failure, Kasia Niewiadoma explained how she has been able to reshape her thinking to benefit from the success of others:
“It is important not to focus exclusively on your own success. I get inspired by people around me all the time! I love being surrounded by individuals that strive to be the best. Success is a combination of devotion, hard work, visualisation, trust in the preparation process, faith and a tremendous amount of luck. Once all the factors align, that’s the moment when the magic happens.”
This can be a helpful strategy for approaching social media posts that might make us feel inferior or demotivated. If you look at something and feel resentment rather than inspiration, you’re probably looking at the wrong content.
Experiment with taking a break
Speaking of, the aforementioned feelings may also be a sign that it is time to take a break. Stopping social media use can be challenging but it’s an excellent exercise to help you understand how it makes you feel. Set yourself a timeline and resolve to log out from your accounts for a full day, a week or even a month. If this seems impossible, you can even have a friend change your password, so you don’t feel tempted. By logging off, you will be better equipped to understand how social media impacts your mental health and determine the best course of action going forward. It will also allow you to remind yourself that even rides you don’t record on Strava count. And who knows? You might just realise that you enjoy them even more!