News • 20 Oct 2020

Social Media and your Mental Health

While many of us enjoy staying connected on social media, excessive use can fuel feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation. Here’s how to modify your habits and improve your mood.

At this time of physical distancing and isolation, social media can be an invaluable tool for keeping you in touch with friends, loved ones, and the wider world.

But be mindful of how it makes you feel. If spending time on social media exacerbates your stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, take steps to limit your engagement. And always check reputable news sources.

The role social media plays in mental health

Human beings are social creatures.

We need the companionship of others to thrive in life, and the strength of our connections has a huge impact on our mental health and happiness.

Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life.

On the flip side, lacking strong social connections can pose a serious risk to your mental and emotional health.

Ironically for a technology that’s designed to bring people closer together, spending too much time engaging with social media can actually make you feel lonelier and more isolated.

If you’re spending an excessive amount of time on social media and feelings of sadness, dissatisfaction, frustration, or loneliness are impacting your life, it may be time to re-examine your online habits and find a healthier balance.  

Modifying social media use to improve mental health step 1:

Reduce time online

It is recommended to limit your social media use to 30 minutes a day to levels of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and sleep problems.

But you don’t need to cut back on your social media use that drastically to improve your mental health. While 30 minutes a day may not be a realistic target for many of us, we can still benefit from reducing the amount of time we spend on social media.

For most of us, that means reducing how much we use our phones. The following tips can help:

  1. Use an app to track how much time you spend on social media each day. Then set a goal for how much you want to reduce it by.
  2. Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as when you’re driving, in a meeting, at the gym, having dinner, spending time with offline friends, or playing with your kids. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom.
  3. Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge.
  4. Disable social media notifications. It’s hard to resist the constant buzzing, beeping, and dinging of your phone alerting you to new messages. Turning off notifications can help you regain control of your time and focus.
  5. Limit checks. If you compulsively check your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 15 minutes. Then once every 30 minutes, then once an hour. There are apps that can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.
  6. Try removing social media apps from your phone so you can only check Facebook, Twitter and the like from your tablet or computer. If this sounds like too drastic a step, try removing one social media app at a time to see how much you really miss it.

Step 2: Change your focus

How many of us reach for our phone to relax, whilst were lying in bed in the morning or purely out of habit? By putting focus on what your scrolling through, can help you improve your experience and avoid the sometimes-negative aspects of social media.

If you’re accessing social media to find specific information, check on a friend who is in COVID-lockdown, or share new photos of your kids with family, for example, your experience is likely to be very different than if you’re logging on simply because you’re bored, you want to see how many likes you got from a previous post, or to check if you’re missing out on something.

Next time you go to access social media, pause for a moment and clarify your motivation for doing so.

Are you using social media as a substitute for real life? Is there a healthier alternative than your social media use? If you’re lonely, for example, invite a friend out for coffee instead. Feeling depressed? Take a walk or go to the gym. Bored? Take up a new hobby. Social media may be quick and convenient, but there are often healthier, more effective ways to satisfy a craving.

Step 3: Spend more time with offline friends

We all need the face-to-face company of others to be happy and healthy. At its best, social media is a great tool for organising real-life connections.

Set aside time each week to interact offline with friends and family. Try to make it a regular get-together where you always keep your phones off.

If you’ve neglected face-to-face friendships, or are emerging from post-lockdown measures, reach out to an old friend (or an online friend) and arrange to meet up. If you both lead busy lives, offer to run errands or exercise together.

If you don’t feel that you have anyone to spend time with, reach out to a neighbour or acquaintance. Lots of other people feel just as uncomfortable about making new friends as you do—so be the one to break the ice. Invite a co-worker out for lunch or ask a neighbour or classmate to join you for coffee.

Step 4: Express gratitude

Feeling and expressing gratitude about the important things in your life can be a welcome relief to the resentment, animosity, and discontent sometimes generated by social media.

Take time for reflection. Try keeping a gratitude journal or using a gratitude app. Keep track of all the great memories and positives in your life.

Practice mindfulness. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to live more in the present, lessen the impacts of the ongoing world chaos, and improve your overall mental wellbeing. Some good apps to look at are HeadspaceSmiling MindCalm, or Stop. Breathe. Think.

Volunteer. Just as human beings are hard-wired to seek social connection, we’re also hard-wired to give to others. Helping other people or animals not only enriches your community and benefits a cause that’s important to you, but it also makes you feel happier and more grateful.

Whilst social media is important at present for keeping in contact with people whilst we are going through the ongoing pandemic crisis and some areas around Australia are still facing social isolation and lockdown measures. It is important to keep check of how much you are relying on social media and to ensure that you get your news from reputable sources and to avoid the 24/7 new cycle.

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