This blog post was written by guest contributor Dr. Vania Manipod, DO.
Many of us find ourselves mindlessly scrolling through social media, and before we know it, hours have passed by, and we are often left feeling worse than we did when we started. Social media use in excess has been linked to several negative emotions such as increased loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Though most of the studies done thus far have been on the impact of social media on adolescents, adults are prone as well.
Even as a psychiatrist who is aware of the negative impact of social media on our mental health, I’ve struggled several times with comparing myself to others, and I’ve had several patients report similar issues. So, how do we put limits on our social media use in order to prevent these negative effects? The following are some helpful ways you can be proactive to combat the negative effects of social media.
1. Be mindful of your social media habits.
Being mindful means being more conscious and aware of our patterns. Since much of our social media use involves mindless scrolling, the best way to take control of our use is to first be conscious of how we’re using social networking sites in the first place. To start, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your pattern of social media use? For example, do you wake up and immediately start scrolling, do you scroll during breaks, before bed, etc.?
- How much time do you spend daily on social media?
- How do you use social media? Do you use it to see what other people are doing? Or do you use it to communicate and stay connected with others?
- Do you tend to feel better or worse when utilizing social media? Does it lower your self-esteem, cause you to feel depressed, or do you feel better after being on social media?
Once we know our patterns and the emotions involved in our social media use, we can then be more proactive on ways to counteract the negative effects of social media.
2. Set limits on the amount of time you spend on social media.
Studies have shown that the amount of time spent daily on social media is associated with negative emotions. A study by Kiera E. Riehms and colleagues published in JAMA Psychiatry found that adolescents who used social media for more than three hours a day may be at higher risk of mental health problems.
There are several ways to track, monitor, and block the amount of time spent on social media, including several apps. Last year, Instagram also added the “Your Activity” setting which shows the average time you spent on Instagram in the last week. Other ways to start setting limits on social media is to implement a few simple rules you can apply to your daily life. For example, two rules that I enforce daily is 1) no scrolling social media within an hour after waking up and 2) put my smartphone away at least an hour before bed. Other examples include putting your smartphone away when out with others or when eating meals with family. The general idea with this tip is to establish healthy boundaries with our use of social media.
3. Know when it’s time to stop scrolling.
A lot of our social media use is compulsive. After all, these networks are designed to keep us engaged as long as possible. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the addictive potential of social media sites. We may constantly check social media sites because of the psychology of FOMO and the power of likes. No matter the reason, the moment being on social media starts to trigger negative feelings is the time you need to stop scrolling. For some, that may mean stopping if they’re upset that their post isn’t getting as many likes as anticipated or noticing that they’re constantly comparing themselves to others. For others, it’s when they start feeling down because it appears others are doing fun things while they’re bored at home. We have the power to exit social media, and the moment we start feeling negative in any way, that’s the time to disconnect.
4. Use social media to connect with people who inspire you, share similar interests, and provide a sense of belonging.
A way to combat the negative effects of social media is to instead use it in a positive way that strengthens and maintains connections with others. As mentioned in King University Online’s Psychology of Social Media guide, the mental health advocacy organization Painted Brain has outlined ways that social media can positively impact mental health. Some ideas include providing support groups, strengthening relationships, and socially integrating with similar interest groups. If we prioritize using social media as a positive space for staying connected, then we will be more likely to filter out accounts, people, groups, and conversations that have the potential to infiltrate the positive networks we’ve created.
5. If an account stirs up negative emotions, then it’s time to unfollow.
Because our use of social media becomes habitual, we often forget that we can control what shows up on our feed. If certain people’s posts make you feel negative about yourself in any way, then it’s totally okay to hit the “unfollow” button. Social media can influence our mood, anxiety levels and self-esteem, so taking a few moments to eliminate toxic accounts can be a very simple yet empowering thing we can do for ourselves.
Today, social media is a part of our culture and daily lives, so taking steps to be proactive and mindful of how we use it and the way it makes us feel is crucial to avoid the negative effects it can have. Setting limits with the amount of time we spend and taking control of what we see on our feed can ultimately improve our mental health and wellbeing.
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Counselors, therapists, mental health professionals, and psychiatrists are increasingly focusing on social media’s impact on our mental health. One of the best ways to get ahead of this trend is by earning an online B.S. in Psychology, which can effectively prepare you to confront the psychological needs of a rapidly changing technological landscape. In only 16 months, King University Online can help you earn your degree through its flexible, affordable program of courses available year-round.
Dr. Vania Manipod, DO, is a psychiatrist, speaker, and writer in California. You can follow her on Instagram at @freudandfashion or on her website at freudandfashion.com.