Well, it looks to me like social media may be here to stay. I thought it was just a fad but I’m now getting the impression it’s permanent.

Okay, clearly, I’m being facetious. But kind of like the monster in the closet in a horror flick, social media is a beast that needs to be tamed before it takes over your life.

Of course there’s a positive side. Social media provides a platform to stay connected with friends, family, and business associates. It’s a great way to advertise, form prayer chains, and perhaps even, effect social change. Leveraging the power of social media wisely can pay big dividends, especially in business.

As a therapist and a business owner I have conflicted feelings about social media. When running any kind of a business these days, it’s a necessary evil. You simply have to have a presence. But as a therapist, I see that this necessary evil can be just that—an evil. The illusion of “friends,” the temptation to affairs, the easy access for bullies, and lurking predators are all serious problems that we need to manage. The sheer amount of time consumed by social media is staggering. A quick check on Facebook can easily turn into three hours, with little to nothing to show for it.

There are plenty of articles detailing the downside of social media and its very real connection with increased depression and anxiety. This virtual world can create an unrealistic perception of life, of others, and even of yourself. Although in many cases it may not actually cause depression or anxiety, it can certainly exacerbate those problems if they already exist.

I’d like to offer some practical tips on how to use social media positively while keeping it from taking over your life. Like a train barreling towards you, you can’t stop it. But, you can decide when and where to cross the tracks and how long you stay there.

If I were to sum up an effective strategy with one word it would be this:

Intentionality.

Deciding your reasons for using social media and how and when you use it is key to remaining in control and using it to your advantage. So answer a few questions.

Why are you on social media?

Maybe you have had a Facebook or Twitter account for years so this may seem like an odd question, at least at this point. But it’s one that needs to be asked. Do you have a good reason for being there? What do you hope to get out of it? What do you want to contribute to it?

Answering these questions will help you evaluate if you really need to be on there, and if so, what you should be doing when you log on. Indiscriminately reading your news feed for hours and hours for fun may not qualify as a good enough reason for being there, especially if it’s impacting you negatively or taking time away from more productive activities—you know, like spending time with your spouse or kids.

Is social media your main source for news and information?

Studies say that’s the reality more and more. And if that’s the case, then answer this: how reliable is the information you’re getting there? There are tons of fake news stories as well as downright lies being circulated through social media—

so beware. Consider isolating the sources you trust and going directly to their pages, rather than being dragged through the gutter of lies and gossip so prevalent on social media today.

Do you use social media to stay in touch with friends and family?

Many people do today and it can be wonderful to see pictures of kids and to share special memories, especially with family and friends living at a distance. But are all of your “friends” really friends or just others connected to your newsfeed? Sure, some real friendships can develop online, especially for those who share your values and causes. But it’s no secret that many profiles and people are phony so be extra careful about what you share and take what you hear with a grain of salt. I’m not trying to be cynical here—just practical. If you want to keep up with certain people, then go straight to their page and check in at set intervals, rather than surfing your newsfeed until you find something from them.

Do you schedule your time on social media?

Wow, that sounds odd…isn’t social media what we do for fun and to pass the time? Perhaps. But if it’s taking over your life or you’re experiencing ill effects, scheduling time and sticking to the schedule can save you a lot of and heartache and free up time for better things. There’s nothing wrong with using social media per se but, like anything else in life, it really helps to schedule in the things you want to do. I guess I’m making a broad assumption here that there may actually be other things you would like to do…or at least I hope so.

What are your boundaries?

It’s astounding to me how much private information many people share on social media. You may think it’s private as you’re only connecting with the people you know and approve, but think again. Once it’s out in cyberspace, it’s out. You never know what may be shared with others or what can be hacked. Be prudent.

Decide what is appropriate and what is off limits to share. Discussing a relationship problem should be taken offline into a private forum. Period. There’s little to be gained airing dirty laundry or sharing private details with the world. It will nearly always come back to bite you.

What are your rules?

It’s easy to connect with old friends and colleagues on social media…and easy to fall into trouble as well. What are your rules for say, chatting with an old flame? A polite hello or reply may be fine but be warned…many people who would not otherwise be looking for trouble get pulled into a problem on social media. It can start out innocent but may not stay that way. And even if you’re happily married and faithful, consider how your spouse or theirs may feel about your connection.

It’s particularly dangerous to chat with an old flame or an opposite sex “friend” when you’re experiencing a relationship difficulty. It may seem to fill a void or they may seem to be a great counselor for your situation, but the risks are just too high for trouble. Be polite but put the brakes on early when old friends, or new, initiate conversation.

By taking some time to think beforehand on how you will use social media, setting some rules and boundaries and scheduling your time you can save yourself a whole lot of heartache…and maximize whatever positives you get from social media.

Intention—that’s the key.