Alex looks up from her lecture notes at the Instagram ding. Her Smartphone screen glows with the notification: Trevor just uploaded a new Story. She scoops up the phone and opens Instagram.
30 minutes later, tapping through Stories that show exotic locales and lip-smacking delicacies, she finds herself feeling more and more detached from her friends and family. She is still sitting on the bed, and an overwhelming feeling of purposelessness and a sharp twinge of envy washes over her. She is too fatigued by that time to shrug it off, and turns off the lights, leaving her notes unattended for the rest of the night.
Thousands of people all around the globe feel the same way – every day.
With almost half of the world’s population on social media these days, it has become an alarming scenario for our mental well-being. Decreased attention spans and a flurry of content on social media contribute to what we talk about and ponder over. Social media affects our minds too. Check out the stats from recent times that show how social media has become an influencing factor for mental illnesses the world over.
And then read the rest of this post to understand how to use social media wisely without hampering your mental health.
Current state of affairs: shocking stats about social media usage
• The American Psychiatric Association found that more than a third of America’s adults perceive social media as a negative influence on their mental health.
• One in three young adults indulges in self-harm practices when they see the same on Instagram.
• Social media multitasking is closely linked to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
• More than 57% of young adults experience high levels of sleep disturbance due to increased social media usage.
• Social media usage weakens non-digital bonds among people (like spending time with children and friends), replacing the same with weaker digital bonds (like interacting with virtual communities online).
• Social media usage is also closely linked with young adults developing eating disorders that sometimes have long-term impacts on both mental and physical health.
• A York University study based in Canada reports that young adults (especially women) suffer from several body image issues that manifest into mental illnesses, if unchecked.
• Unflattering comparisons that give rise to envy is getting commoner among Facebook users, studies suggest.
• Screen apnoea, or shallow breathing when using social media, spark up health risks resulting from sedentary lifestyles.
• Increased screen time and social media usage also give rise to suicidal tendencies, as the University of Melbourne’s National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health has found.
Sounds alarming enough? Social media usage is seen to be leading to all sorts of complications around the world. Here are the steps that you can take before it gets the better of your mental health.
How to take care of your mental health while using social media
• Cut down on and limit your social media usage
Interrupting and interfering with personal and face-to-face communications, social media does more harm than good when it comes to establishing connections. You would be able to connect better and relate to their experiences much more if you did not pause to check notifications every two minutes. We often do this out of habit, even when there are no pending notifications to clear off from our phones.
Commit yourself to not checking social media when you are out with friends and family. You will also need to keep a check on the times that social media interferes with your work. It can pose as a major distraction, rendering your days entirely unproductive once you fall prey to the lure of hours of endless scrolling.
• Turn on the Do Not Disturb mode
Limiting screen time and cutting off the flow of digital communications can be difficult at first. However, the modern technological marvel of Smartphones helps you achieve that as well. Sure, it sounds like an oxymoron when you use your Smartphone to stay off the same. But making use of the resources at your disposal for a better way of life never harmed anyone, right?
Put your phone in the Do Not Disturb mode for the most part of the day. Frequently checking notifications, replying to emails and DMs, and scrolling through your newsfeed can take up more time than you may expect. So, set your phone to delivering notifications in batches, say, thrice a day. This not only optimises your social media usage, but also allows you more time to engage in other activities.
• Maintain regular social media detox periods
Yeah, this might seem difficult, at first. But once you get the hang of it, you will learn to appreciate the need to have regular detox periods from social media. Take a two-day hiatus from social media activities, for starters. Studies reveal that people who took at least a five-day or week-long break from Facebook felt much better at the end of the detox period, recording significantly lower levels of stress and higher life satisfaction.
If you are having troubles adjusting to this way of life, you can take the cheat-sheet. Dedicate ten minutes a day to Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also publicly declare the detox so that friends and family know how to reach out to you during those days. Another effective method to come out of the temptation of checking your social media accounts frequently is to delete the apps that you use the most.
• Take a mindful approach to social media
If you have the habit of checking Twitter the first thing in the morning, the chances are that you use it as a breather to face the day ahead. Do not just consume content on social media without asking yourself, “Why?” Sometimes, envy creeps in when we least expect it, and breaking news on Twitter can trigger a depressive episode.
Pause to notice if you get a craving to check your Snapchat feed every time you get a difficult task at work or school. If you wish to come out of the digital deadlock, you MUST be brutally honest with yourself on this front.
Take note of the times that you are slipping into older methods of prolific social media usage as a coping or escaping mechanism. Answer hard questions like, “Why am I doing this now?” or “What would I rather do now than check social media?” It is your life, at the end of the day, and you should be one to decide what you want it to be about.
• Be attentive to your feelings when on social media
To do this, you need to experiment with your social media usage. Varying times of social media usage, and experimenting with the various platforms for the same will also help you get a better idea about what makes you feel best. You may find that short spans of using social media are better than aimlessly scrolling through your feed for 30 minutes or so.
If you notice that you cannot help falling for that endless scrolling routine right before bedtime, it is advisable to limit the use of the same post 10 PM. In fact, what you do on social media also accounts for your mental well-being. Are you more of a passive scroller, Liking a post here and Double-Tapping on a picture there? Then you are likely to feel worse than the people who are more active on the platforms. Pay attention to what social media usage is making you feel, and customise the same accordingly.
• Learn how to filter your circle on social media
Over the years, you may have gathered a large number of followers and friends on social media, along with the scores of pages, groups and communities that you follow. While some are still interesting and bring you joy, others, not so much. Infuriating and annoying content on social media is the source of displeasure for a lot of users. And you can get rid of it all with the effective use of an Unfollow or Mute button.
A study also found that information about other people’s lives on social media had a negative effect more than anything on the minds of the users. So, take some time off to cut out people and pages from your profile that does not make you feel good. Instead, add a few motivational and positive pages and groups to your profile. Doing this will help you filter what you see on social media, and result in gradually decreasing the negative thoughts associated with the same.
• Do not EVER replace real life with social media pursuits
This goes out to all the procrastinators out there. Checking up on your niece over video calls and Instagram Stories is cool. But make sure you do not forget to pay her a visit every now and then. Social media should never take the centre-stage when it comes to interacting with people. Whenever you find yourself following a friend or family member on social media for months at an end without a real-world encounter, make plans to meet them.
Face-to-face and flesh-and-blood interactions still beat those on social media, as studies show. The connection and longing for inclusion, the one that you keep searching for in vain on social media platforms, is just a call away. Ensure to keep in touch with the real-world comfort and warmth people can provide in face-to-face interactions, and you will make the most of your life.
Summing it up
Dropping a dress size may not bring you joy, but digging into that glazed doughnut surely will. It is time you stopped comparing your real life to that of what people choose to display on social media. Instead of focusing on what others have and you don’t, shine the light on how the little (and big) things in your life make you all the more remarkable. Never let social media posts and check-ins get the better of you. So, I know exactly what you must be feeling right now. Take charge of your thoughts, and channelise positivity through every sphere of your life. Here is wishing that you get to see the light at the end of the tunnel soon. Godspeed!