Consider this scenario: One minute you’re happy and content, thinking that your life is going pretty well. You have a few minutes to spare, so you open up Facebook and start scrolling…
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First, you see a post from a friend announcing she just accepted her dream job.
Then you read an overly political rant from a coworker.
You keep scrolling and watch a video of your neighbor on some amazing, tropical vacation.
And now, your cousin just posted a before and after picture that makes you want to hide your thighs forever.
The next thing you know, you’re second guessing your career, feeling angry about politics, wondering why you can’t afford a vacation and Googling the next diet you’ll go on.
For some people, social media has turned into an emotional roller coaster of comparison, perfection and opinions. So how do we stop the ride if we’re not having fun anymore?
Behavioral health therapist Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd, RCHES, ACHT, discusses how to have a healthy relationship with social media, plus signs it might be time to take a break.
How much social media time is healthy?
There’s no denying that social media is a huge part of modern-day life and there can be a lot of positives and upsides to it. Plus, it’s good to be connected, especially with those we don’t see on a regular basis. But we also know that social media can be a slippery slope for depression, loneliness, anxiety and low self-esteem.
What’s the healthy balance then?
According to one study, keeping social media use down to just 30 minutes a day can lead to increased mental health and well-being. Participants in the study reported decreased depression and loneliness when they reduced their time spent on social media, which seems ironic. After all, it’s called social media for a reason, right?
The trouble is, there’s large amounts of comparison happening on these social platforms. It can be hard for people to see past the filters and witty captions.
“Social media pulls us up into our heads,” says Ehrman. “We’re judging, comparing and daydreaming about what we’re seeing online, so we’re not fully living our own life. Instead, we’re caught up in a virtual world that might not be exactly the way it appears.”
But the benefits of limiting social media don’t just happen overnight. According to the same study, it takes about three weeks to start noticing the advantages of limited social media time.
So rest assured you don’t have to go cold turkey when deciding to set boundaries with social media, but taking a break or doing a social media detox might be something to consider.
What is a social media detox?
A social media detox is simply just a break. You define how long it is and what it includes. You can choose to announce it on social media or just simply step away.
Maybe your detox includes removing one of the apps or unfollowing accounts that make you question your self-worth. Maybe you want to stay off all social media platforms for one month. Or perhaps you just want to get down to the recommended 30 minutes a day.
“Stepping away from social media is a great way to get a better picture of reality,” says Ehrman. “It’s good for our mental and social health, but it doesn’t have to be forever. The whole idea is that you’re just more aware of it.”
8 signs you might need to take a break from social media
Not sure if your habits are healthy? Check these signs:
- You can’t stop comparing. It’s often said that social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives, but it shouldn’t make you feel inadequate or dissatisfied with your own life. It’s not common to post about divorce, sadness and hardship, but those things are still happening. If you’re having a difficult time remembering that nobody’s life is perfect, despite what they post, it might be time to take a break.
- You start scrolling without realizing it. There’s something about social media that is comforting to us, says Ehrman. It’s become the new smoke break. But if you’re ending up on social media without even realizing it, it could be an indicator that you’re becoming too absorbed.
- You notice you’re annoyed by everything you see. From politics to oversharing, you find yourself angry or annoyed at what you see on your timeline. Maybe you’re even stressed out by what you’re seeing because you’ve taken doomscrolling too far.
- You freak out if you can’t check your timeline. Can you make it through a meeting or trip to the grocery store without experiencing separation anxiety from social media? Are you itching to write a Tweet or post a status and can’t think about anything else?
- You spend A LOT of time scrolling. Little sessions here and there seem harmless, but it adds up. One study found that people interact with their smartphones a whopping 2,617 times a day. (That’s scrolling, clicking, texting – you name it.) Take a clue from those around you. Ask your spouse or friend what they think of your social media habits.
- You can’t enjoy whatever you’re doing without posting about it first. You can’t put your phone down at your friend’s wedding without posting a picture about it. Then, you spend half the evening checking to see how many likes it has.
- It’s the first thing you check in the morning and the last thing you check at night. One study found that 80% of smartphone users checked their phone within 15 minutes of waking up. This habit has been linked to increased stress and anxiety, not to mention it hijacks your time and attention (and probably makes you late). Looking at your phone before bed has also been shown to stimulate your brain, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Social media just isn’t fun anymore. Being active or even having an account is not an obligation. Social media platforms were designed to be fun, interactive and a way for people to connect. If it’s lost its luster and joy, maybe it’s worth stepping away from.
Sometimes, your timeline can feel like a giant celebration of all the great things other people are doing. It can be hard to step back and remember that nobody’s life is exciting and fun 24/7.
“If we’re not careful, we can get caught up in feeling like our life isn’t nearly as good as other people’s lives,” says Ehrman. “But you never know what goes on behind closed doors or when the video isn’t rolling.”
How to be more mindful about social media (and your phone in general)
We need to make sure that we’re using social media with intention and purpose, Ehrman advises. Here she recommends tips for keeping your social media and phone habits in line:
- Track your usage. Download an app or change your settings to alert you of how much time you’re spending on social media each day or week. Identify what platforms you’re using most and set an allotted time for each one. Having a baseline for the time you’re spending will help you determine how much you need to cut back.
- Schedule specific time to look at social media. Set aside time each day or week when you’ll allow yourself to look through social media. Maybe you decide that every Sunday morning you’ll check your favorite accounts and see what your friends have been up to. Or maybe you decide that you can check social media for 10 minutes every day at lunch.
- Put a rubber band around your phone. This trick not only helps you be more mindful about social media, but it helps you think more about your phone habits in general. Every time you pick up your phone, there’s a physical barrier to remind you to be intentional about phone use.
- Swap out your lock screen. Create a lock screen that serves as a prompt for being more mindful about your phone. Try picking an inspirational quote or picture that reminds you to look at your phone with purpose, not just when you’re feeling bored.
Health and wellness providers can’t stop talking about mindfulness – and for good reason. Practice mindfulness when using your phone and social media so you can do less scrolling and more living.