Social media connects in ways that were never possible before but it also has some pretty significant drawbacks if you let it control your behavior. Social media platforms intentionally make their products as addictive as possible, which can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, and depression. At least two studies have found that Facebook, instead of making you feel more connected to friends and family, actually makes you feel more socially isolated, as if you’re looking in from the outside. Another study found that the comparisons social media invites make you feel worse, and that’s true whether you compare yourself to people who seem to have it better or worse than you. Clearly, these aren’t feelings you want to foster during recovery, when you want to feel more socially connected and better about your life. However, social media is addictive and can be hard to control. Here are some tips for keeping your social media use within healthy bounds.
Start by paying attention to your social media use patterns. Is there a particular time of day you go down a social media black hole? It is tied to some activity like waking up or eating lunch? Do you just fill every spare moment with some kind of social media? Do you run out of new posts on Twitter or Instagram, then switch to another platform? These are all useful things to pay attention to. After you figure out what you’re doing, see if you can figure out why. Are you just bored? Do you want validation for something you shared? Do you feel lonely and want some kind of contact with friends? Is social media a way to avoid feelings of sadness or anxiety? Once you have some idea why you’re using social media, you find something to address that need more effectively.
After you’ve analyzed your social media use, you should have a better understanding of when and why you reach for your phone, but that probably won’t automatically solve your problem of spending too much time on social media. You can try to force yourself to stop looking at it, but that creates a behavioral vacuum and your willpower will probably run out sooner rather than later. A better approach is usually to replace the habit with something better. For example, if you’re going to social media because you feel lonely, try calling or texting a friend or family member instead. It’s a more intentional and direct form of communication. And more importantly, you don’t get sucked into endless scrolling. If you’re bored at the DMV, bring a book. If you’re waiting at a stoplight, watch the stoplight.
Notifications are supposed to be for your convenience, but in reality, they are just a distraction. They’re meant to get you to look at Facebook or Twitter or whatever else when you should be focused on other things. If you have notifications turned on for even two different apps, you’re likely to get some sort of ping every five minutes. This keeps drawing your attention back to social media when your goal is to spend less time there.
Instead of responding to every alert from a social media app, set aside one block of time every day when you will look at social media. This is a completely different mindset from the constant engagement that most people are used to. You might say that for an hour after dinner, you’ll look at your social media feeds and that’s it. Having that time set aside later makes it a little easier to put it off for now. Also, many people don’t realize how much they get nickel-and-dimed by frequent social media use. Five minutes here and 10 minutes there can accumulate into hours of social media use every day and you might not even realize it. You may end up saving yourself quite a bit of time by blocking off your social media time, assuming you don’t cheat.
One characteristic of unhealthy social media use is using too many apps. One 2014 study of more than 1700 between the ages of 19 and 32 found that participants who used seven or more social media platforms had three times the risk of anxiety and depressive symptoms as people who used two or fewer social media platforms. The study was only able to establish correlation, but there are reasons to believe more platforms might lead to more anxiety and depression. For example, maintaining a presence on seven or more social media platforms means spending a lot of time on social media, which means more comparisons and social isolation, as noted above. Maintaining that many different accounts also fragments your attention, which studies have linked to anxiety and depression. If you want to stay on social media, it’s best to identify the one or two platforms you get the most out of and get rid of the rest.
When you’ve identified the low-priority social media platforms, it’s best just to delete those apps from your phone so you’re not tempted to use them. It might even be a good idea to delete all social media apps from your phone to deliberately make them harder to use. This makes it easier to block off social media time, as mentioned above, either because you have to use your laptop or tablet, which you probably don’t keep in you your pocket, or you have to reinstall an app every time you want to use it, which discourages casual browsing.
The best way to keep social media use under control is to spend time with people in real life. Most people use social media because they want social connection, but social media doesn’t provide real connection and sometimes it can even impede it. The best use of social media is to make plans with friends and family in real life. And when you’re with those people, be with them. Don’t spend the whole time looking at Facebook or Instagram to see what your absent friends are up to. Nurture real social connection by being present and listening.
Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Valiant Living offers "Expanded Recovery" to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Valiant fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463