Understanding Social Media Use and Balance

Social media can be a fun way to stay connected to the people in our lives. But the more time we spend on social media, the less time we are likely to spend connecting face-to-face with friends and family, enjoying our hobbies, and paying attention to work or school. Excessive social media use can have negative effects on our physical and mental health, so it’s best to cultivate healthy social media habits that balance time online with in-person connections and healthy hobbies.

How Social Media Use Can Impact Our Mental Health

It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to others on social media. We may feel a pressure to appear “perfect” in what we post publicly, no matter what we’re struggling with inside. As we see our friends or family members post pictures of fun vacations or major life events like graduations, we may feel a “fear of missing out” (or “FOMO”) on events or milestones. While it is enjoyable to check in on what people we follow are doing on social media, it can sometimes feel easy to assume that someone else’s life is better or more successful than ours because of what they are sharing. This is natural, but can take a toll on our sense of self and wellbeing.

Using social media to compare ourselves to others, can negatively affect mental health by increasing risk of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. In some cases it may even lead to issues with body image and disordered eating. Feeling stressed about social media can also have an impact on our physical health: research shows that higher social media use—especially when the interactions are negative—is linked to difficulty with falling asleep and staying asleep.

Spending less time on social media can decrease these risks, and free up time for activities that are good for your mind and body.

Social Media Use and Cyberbullying

There is also a link between cyberbullying and internet usage, including constant social media usage. Research shows that half of teens who are near-constant internet users say they have been called offensive names online, significantly more than their peers who use the internet less frequently. Cyberbullying can have serious negative consequences for our mental health, so being balanced with social media usage can help us avoid getting into conflicts online and cope with the negative effects of cyberbullying.

How Do I Know If I Need Social Media Balance?

Healthy social media use differs for everyone depending on your personal circumstances. You may depend on social media to maintain professional connections for your job or to connect with peers for a school project. You may be involved in community groups that meet online, or you may want to keep up with family members who live far away from you.

While social media can have a place in our lives in these ways, checking social media while we’re at work or in class, can have a negative impact on performance. And being on social media at the family dinner table or while we’re out with friends can hurt our relationships. If you find yourself in the habit of checking social media when you shouldn’t be, it may be time to consider a more balanced approach.

Quitting social media altogether is also an option, but has pros and cons. Many people who stay away from social media report having better communication with their friends and partners. Taking breaks from social media can also decrease the risks to mental health that come from social comparison. But quitting may not be the best option for everyone—some people feel “out of the loop” on important events, and others feel they would miss valuable networking opportunities, especially as virtual learning and working become more common.

For most of us, it’s best to find a balance that emphasizes the good and minimizes the bad of social media.

Can Social Media Be Addictive?

Social media addiction isn’t classified a true addiction the way a substance use disorder is. Even so, people do report feelings similar to an addiction, like the urge to constantly check or use social media and experiencing discomfort or anxiety when they can’t access it as often as they want.

If you’re experiencing any discomfort or anxiety around social media use, or if you think your mental health is getting worse because of your use, it’s a good idea to keep track of how often you use social media and notice how using it makes you feel. If you notice you’re anxious when you’re away from your phone, it’s a sign that it’s time to start limiting your social media use.

Tips for Finding Social Media Balance

Once you’ve decided to create healthy social media habits, a great way to start is to set goals that are attainable and use tools to help you stay on track.

How to Limit Social Media App Usage

  • Use an app tracker to track the amount of time you’re spending on social media apps. Some apps have built-in timers that can help you track your time and set reminders to exit the app.
  • Set your phone to grayscale. Phone apps are meant to be eye-catching and exciting. Changing your phone settings to grayscale during times you’d like to stay off your phone is a quick and easy trick.
  • Delete social media apps from your phone to make it harder for you to access them at all times. If you don’t want to delete apps entirely, moving them into a folder or away from your main home screen can help decrease your time on them.
  • Turn off push notifications. Notifications are designed to get us to check apps, which increases the likelihood that we start scrolling. Turning them off can help you stay off apps.
  • Create “No Phone Zones” in your space. Make rules based on the use you’re trying to cut down. For example, no checking your phone in bed at night or first thing in the morning, or no phones at the dinner table.

How to Spend Your Time Differently

  • Start small. Starting with a goal of decreasing social media usage by 30 minutes a week will give you 30 more minutes every week to do things that are good for your mind and body.
  • Prioritize face-to-face connections. Any time you choose to spend time talking to a friend or family member face-to-face over scrolling through social media is a step in the right direction.
  • Stay informed. If you typically get your news from social media, expand your media diet by subscribing to trustworthy publications or watching TV news.
  • Exercise. Walking, running, swimming, or even stretching are great ways to stay active and spend time away from screens.
  • Get outside. Get fresh air and stay off your phone with a picnic in the park, a nature hike, a day at the beach, or even just a walk around the block.
  • Find your creative side. Explore ways of expressing yourself like journalling, creative writing, painting, singing, and dancing.

Once you have a comfortable balance with social media, you can combine your hobbies with your social media use. For example, if you work out with a screen by following workout videos, turn off push notifications. If you take a hike with friends, take photos to share your memories. If you see a new dance making the rounds on social media, give it a try yourself!

Finding balance between social media use and activities like these will help you take care of your mental health and set you up to maintain healthier habits for online interactions in the long term.

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