Here's how to know if your social media use is negatively impacting your sleep, self-esteem or productivity and what you can do about it.
We all do it: Scroll through social media when we're planning a trip, decorating a room or brainstorming birthday gifts. We also do it when we're bored, lonely or trying to avoid eye contact on the bus. Social media has its perks, but it also can negatively impact our lives when five minutes of screen time melts into hours of digging for info on an ex.
A study published in late 2018 in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that limiting social media use to only 30 minutes per day significantly reduces feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety and fear of missing out (FOMO). The natural conclusion: The more you use, the more quality of life you stand to lose.
But does that mean you better detox, and quick? It depends on how many hours of screen time you accumulate each day and how you feel afterward.
Here are six signs it may be wise to cut back:
1. You feel bad about your body
A 2017 study found that more time spent on Facebook related to “more frequent body and weight comparisons, more attention to the physical appearance of others and more negative feelings about their bodies” for female students at U.S. colleges.
The perfect life doesn't exist, but it's easy to imagine it does when poring over photos of an Instagram influencer with visible abs, a gorgeous husband, cherubic children and seemingly endless access to every beachside cabana on the planet. Envy can be a positive emotion when it encourages you to go after things you want to achieve, but it can also be harmful if it means you resent another person's success or ruminate about the things you don't have.
It's one thing to be informed about world events and another to click on every Twitter link you can find about the latest mass shooting. A study in the U.S. found that 95 percent of adults follow the news regularly (possibly through links on Facebook or Twitter) and 56 percent say that doing so causes them significant stress.
Do you know how many hours per day you spend staring at your phone? Most devices record screen time in Settings, so with the click of a button you can discover exactly how many hours you spend on each of your apps. If the number is high and you frequently feel unproductive at work or like you never have time to read the book that's languishing on your coffee table, you may want to re-evaluate your phone habits.
Perceived social isolation is associated with higher death and disease and many people turn to their phones to reduce loneliness. However, a 2017 study found that social media use can have the opposite of its intended effect. In fact, young adults with high social media use actually feel more socially isolated than their counterparts with lower use.
Ask yourself: Do I feel lonely?
A 2016 study of young adults found that those with higher social media use had greater odds of also experiencing sleep disturbances. If you find that you often check your phone right before going to sleep (which reawakens your brain and suppresses melatonin) or that you wake in the middle of the night and check for notifications, it's likely that social media is the reason you're not getting quality sleep.
Ask yourself: Do I wake up feeling tired?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions and think that your social media habit may be negatively affecting your mental health and well-being, a social media diet is probably a good plan.
Here are a few suggestions for getting started:
What purpose do each of the handles that you follow serve and how do you feel when you look at the account's images, stories and messages? If you genuinely feel inspired, motivated or educated or they make you laugh or feel a sense of joy, keep them. If you end up feeling jealous, lazy, less attractive or worried about your future, say buh-bye. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
You might not want to delete your boyfriend's opinionated father or your boss who loves to show off her expensive designer purchases. And that's fair. But if a friend, colleague or family member posts content that make you feel angry, annoyed or less-than, mute them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They'll never know and your sanity will be preserved.
If your phone also plays the role of timekeeper and alarm clock, it's best to kick it old school. Wear a watch during the day so that you don't need to check your phone to see the time (and then get sucked in by notifications) during meetings, meals or when you work out. And if you're prone to checking texts and emails in the middle of the night, leave your device in another room while you sleep and rely on an actual alarm clock to wake you instead.
Social media isn't all bad, and you may enjoy using it to keep up-to-date with family, learn about cool trends or get inspiration for your next dinner party. But if your usage hours are affecting your mood or productivity, make new resolutions. For example, commit to never looking at your phone during meals, put it in another room to charge after 8 PM on weekdays or even plan a week where you have a full digital detox. And if you love the all-or-nothing approach, consider signing up for 99 Days of Freedom, where individuals attempt to go without Facebook for 99 days.
For more advice on helping your kids and teens disconnect and improving familial bonds, visit eMentalHealth.ca.