While it can be argued that social media serves an important role in our modern lives – after all, the level of connectivity that social media provides does help to bring people together and keep them connected – it’s also safe to say that there’s a fine line between just the right balance and social media overload.
Too much social media can easily lead to compulsive behaviors that disrupt your everyday life. Just think of all the times that spending time on social media has gotten you riled up, or even caused you to feel a little down about your own life because everyone else’s looks so perfect.
Just like we should take care in cultivating other healthy habits, being mindful about our approach to social media is becoming an increasingly important element of self-care. Take for instance that it’s currently estimated that 210 million people suffer from an internet or social media addiction, and that teens who spend more than 5 hours a day checking their phones are more than two times more likely to show depressive symptoms. It’s possible to see why some mental health experts are weighing in and saying enough is enough.
But, with social media being such an integral part of our lives, what does being mindful about its use really mean? The experts offers us their opinions and some advice for taking it down a couple notches and developing healthy social media habits.
Social Media and Emotional Well Being
Research regarding the effects of social media use on our mental health has been gaining steam over the last decade – which just happens to coincide with the beginning of the era of the iPhone. One study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at how social media use, more specifically Facebook, affected well-being. What they found was rather discouraging.
For example, something as simple as not getting enough clicks or likes was enough to produce self-reported negative effects on mental health. Another study compared two groups of social media users and asked one to take a week long break. Their results showed that those who took a break reported greater happiness and a higher level of satisfaction.
Does this mean that social media is essentially damaging our mental health and emotional outlook? The general consensus seems to be that social media has many strong points, but that it’s when we start to trade off real life, in-person socialization for the interactions that occur on the various social media platforms that problems seem to arise.
Is the solution to give up social media entirely? For some people it might be, however the fact is that for the rest of us going cold turkey is near impossible, especially considering how many of us are required to participate in the social media landscape for work related reasons.
Instead, experts advise that we work toward developing a healthier relationship with social media, which includes looking at our current habits and how modifying them can lead to an overall improvement in happiness and life satisfaction.
Becoming Mindful in the Age of Social Media
We hear a lot about mindfulness these days, yet many of us don’t really understand what it means or even what the fuss is all about. In a nutshell, mindfulness is about being completely present in the moment, giving yourself completely and being engaged in the present. Purposeful mindfulness prevents us from becoming preoccupied with the past or investing energy in worrying about the future.
Those who practice regular mindfulness report an overall greater level of satisfaction with their life. They’re happier, more fulfilled and experience less depression and anxiety. One of the problems with too much social media use is that it tends to interfere with one’s ability to be completely mindful and present in the moment.
Take for example, the image of a family gathered around the dinner table or a group of friends hanging out with every single person looking down at the device in their hands. One could say that as a society, we’ve become more invested in what’s happening on a small screen than what’s happening directly in front of us.
It’s possible to enjoy social media and practice mindfulness, but the two aren’t easy partners. Before you can be truly present in your own life, you need to learn how to separate the present moment from what’s happening on social media. This means taking steps to develop healthy social media habits. If you’re ready to break free of the cycle of social media addiction and experience a greater level of personal happiness in your own life, here are 10 tips that can help.
- Start with a Small Break. You might hear that giving up social media completely is the only true way to beat the habit. This isn’t true, and in fact, it can lead to a serious rebound phase. Instead of closing all your social media accounts for good, start by taking a short break. Maybe pick one day each week to not engage. As you grow more comfortable, increase that to a two day period and eventually work towards the goal of taking one week away from social media every month.
- Leave Social Media for Later in the Day. Resist the urge to log into your social media accounts first thing in the morning. Instead, pick a time of day as the earliest point that you check in. It could be your lunch break or maybe after work, before dinner. Instead of reaching for social media, focus on being more mindful during your daily routines. Instead of not even tasting your morning coffee, sit and savor each sip and enjoy your surroundings.
- Track How Much Time You’re Spending on Social Media. Many people simply aren’t aware of how much time they’re spending on social media and how big of an impact it has on their life. For an entire week, track each minute you spend on social media. This means every quick check in and every response to messages. Chances are you’ll be surprised at how quickly it adds up.
- Set a Time Limit. One of the best ways to learn how to gain real value from your social media use is to set a limit on the amount of time you can spend on social media, either per session or a limit for the entire day. This one step will help you learn to focus your social media use on activities that provide the most personal value. Maybe this means you spend that time messaging with friends, or you skip over all those click bait articles that suck up your time. Either way, you’ll develop healthier habits while reducing the amount of time you spend on social media each day.
- Leave Your Phone Behind. I know it seems insane but consider just leaving your phone behind when you head out to certain special events. Of course, you can bring your phone along and keep it in your car in case of an emergency, but there’s no need to bring it along every minute. But, what if you want to take pictures? Consider a regular camera or a phone that doesn’t have any apps installed that will eliminate the temptation to check in on social media while you should be enjoying the moment instead.
- Find a New Bedtime Habit. If you’re accustomed to checking social media before bed each night, now is the time to break that habit for a number of reasons. First, study after study has determined that the blue light that emits from our phone screens is detrimental to forming healthy sleep habits. Secondly, something that you see on social media can elevate your emotional state right when you should be focusing on putting your mind into relaxation mode. Instead of checking social media, head to bed with a book, meditation or any other calming, nighttime ritual.
- Change Your Notifications. We all know that distracting ding of a social media notification. Changing your settings so that you don’t receive a notification from every app for every action on your social feeds can help you learn to disconnect, especially if you’re accustomed to grabbing your phone and checking each time a notification goes off.
- Delete Your Apps. This step is for those who are ready for a hardcore detox from social media. Deleting your apps doesn’t make it impossible to access your social media feeds, but it does make it exponentially more difficult. When you actually have to visit the site, enter your log in information and wait for everything to load, social media suddenly becomes less appealing than it is when your feeds are no more than an icon click away.
- Stop Using Your Phone for Everything. Part of the process of cutting ties with social media is also learning to not be so dependent on your phone for everything. Try writing down your grocery list on paper instead of having it on your phone or ask a person for directions instead of asking Google. These small steps will help you realize that you can live without your phone, especially when going about small daily tasks.
- Find Different Ways to Connect with People. While social media has been important in helping us connect with people, it’s time to realize that it isn’t the only way of engaging with the people you care about. Instead of turning to social media, try reaching out to people in other ways. For example, call and ask them out for coffee or lunch or maybe even sit down and write an old fashioned letter and just image their surprise when they open their mailbox.
Is Social Media All Bad?
The short answer to this question is absolutely not. Social media has helped us connect with family and friends and foster a sense of belonging that many people wouldn’t have without it. There’s also the fact that social media has become a major platform for people to stay connected to their favorite news networks and keep up on trending stories. There’s plenty to love about social media, it’s just important to make sure that it’s a healthy love affair rather than a toxic one.
If it were possible to sum up the secret to a healthy relationship with social media in one sentence, it would be to focus on self-care. Commit to routines that help take care of your body, mind and spirit. Eat healthy, exercise, get a good night’s sleep, take good care of your skin and foster the relationships that are most important to you. With balance and a commitment to the important things in life, a healthy approach to social media just naturally falls into place.