How to enjoy real life (aka get off social media)
… from someone who works three jobs in social media.
Before I set out, I’d just like to state that I love Instagram and all it has done for me, but am writing this because I think it’s important that we are all aware of the potential impacts it can have on our lives. I hope you enjoy it!
When was the last time you left the house without your phone? Spent a day ignoring all all social media? If you can’t remember and think it might have been some time a century ago, you’re not alone. A recent study showed that 91% of 16-24 year olds use social media, spending an average of over 2h everyday scrolling through feeds of friends, celebrities and others, with well over 3h daily screen time. Spending all this time on our phones has had known impacts on our mental health. In a study that came out recently, instagram was found to severely harm peoples’ mental health, affecting sleep, body image and causing fear of missing out – all things I can vouch for on a personal level. Snapchat, Facebook and twitter followed close behind in terms of damage to mental health, increasing anxiety and feelings of inadequacy in users. The effects of social media use don’t stop there either – last week it became evident that social media was linked to the 68% increase in hospital admission for self-harm. This was the second well-publicised study this year to directly link social media to worsening mental health.
When we look through our social media feeds, what do we see? We see carefully curated lives excelling at various things and it’s only natural to compare our real ups and downs to this polished highlight reel. Thankfully, for many, social media is used only recreationally, and reducing usage shouldn’t be too hard. However, for many others, social media is a job – a means of earning money and a way of life. The more time you spend on social media, the more careful you have to be that it’s not negatively impacting you. If you’re reading this, you probably have instagram, and if you have instagram chances are you’re already addicted (sorry).
Signs you might be addicted to your phone
- You check it regularly even without notifications
- You get ‘phantom buzz’ syndrome (when you swore it vibrated but alas no messages)
- You feel naked if you leave the house without it
- You forgot to actually enjoy something because you were too busy recording/photographing it
How to track your phone usage
- Checky (measures how many times you check your phone)
- Moment (tracks how long you spend on different apps on your phone – you can also do this on iphones in settings > battery > battery usage then clicking the clock top right)
Intrinsic v extrinsic self-esteem
Understanding that social media is not real life, however important it is to you, is one of the most important things I’ve done for my happiness in my adult life. I started my instagram over 5 years ago, and I quickly found that many used it as a way of creating a ‘perfect’ life, viewed by others as ‘goals’. But how realistic are these things to upkeep? The chances are, that girl you think has the perfect life, just doesn’t – that’s not to say she’s unhappy, but the chances are that she has problems and fears, just like the rest of us. Just look at the story of Essena O’Neil.
So how can SM be improved? The Royal Society for Public Health’s #statusofmind report suggested various measures instagram could implement to reduce the negative impacts it could have on its 800 million users, such as heavy usage warnings – how often is it that we suddenly find that it’s been 30 minutes since we started scrolling through instagram and felt like 5 minutes. Other suggestions included identifying and signposting help to users showing signs of mental health issues, and highlighting when photos have been digitally edited – it’s one thing having body-envy, and a totally different thing being envious of a literally unachievable photoshopped body, and important to note the difference.
When I started instagram, I found that many said they started their accounts to help them feel connected to people with similar interests. The irony is that the more time we spend on social, the lonelier we feel – it’s been proven. We are so versatile as humans that we’ve changed in one generation from developing self-acceptance at a young age to looking to likes and follows for validation, and I know how quickly that happens. It’s so easy to get caught up in what’s going on on social media and lose track of our real lives, our real connections and friends. The positive feedback cycle of posting, receiving validation and then posting again to receive more validation is easily formed and not easily undone. It’s altering where we look to for self-validation, changing us from people who are self-assured to people who struggle to accept ourselves without others accepting us first. It’s important to remember that we are all on our own journeys, no one is a finished product and you cannot compare your journey to anyone else’s final destination.
The constant distraction from phones means we are rarely, if ever, truly bored. Boredom is the source of a lot of ingenuity, self-reflection and contemplation, and without it we may be reducing the creative capacity of our brains. When you sit on a train, what are you doing? Playing a game? Editing photos? Messaging people? Waking along the street, do you have your phone in your hand in case you need to check it? We hate to be bored, preferring to fill our time with ‘productive’ activities. If pushed, people would literally rather administer electric shocks than sit doing nothing for 15 minutes (look up the study, it’s crazy). A book called ‘bored and brilliant’ set out 6 steps to acing boredom, and surprise surprise, the first two were to do with getting off social and disconnecting from the world on the other side of your phone. It’s so easy to fill time nowadays, but it might not always be good. Boredom has been linked to increased productivity, creativity and pro-social behaviour (being nice to people and doing good deeds). When you’re rushing around all day, there’s no time to think. But when you’re alone, there’s nothing to do BUT think. And all that time to think might just turn you into the creative, brilliant, social butterfly everyone on social media thinks you already are.
How to be more social, without being on social
- Put your phone away in your bag whilst walking around. Look around you, enjoy your surroundings and don’t keep checking your phone. You’ll be surprised what you notice when you’re looking up rather than down.
- Put your phone away when talking to people. This is just common courtesy – you may think that you can text/read messages whilst listening to your friend but you just can’t. I promise you. Don’t leave your phone on the table, put it in your bag or coat pocket to avoid checking it every 5 minutes. Your friends will thank you too.
- Put your phone away when eating. This is not only good for your mental health, it is also good news for your physical health too. Paying attention to what you are eating increases feelings of satiety and enjoyment of food, meaning you’re less likely to over eat.
- Listen to podcasts or music instead of playing on your phone when on public transport. Taking out your phone as soon as you sit down is unnecessary. Pay attention to things around you.
- Turn off notifications – I can’t stress this enough. It’s rare that a notification is so important that it needs to be checked immediately, and looking at your instagram photo every time it gets a new like just isn’t useful.
- Set time without your phone before bed. Did you know that 90% of 18-29 year olds sleep with their phones under or next to their pillow? The more you use screens before bed, the lighter your sleep, and the longer it takes you to get there. In a world where we are already limiting our sleep to get more done, we need every minute. Put your phone away from the bed, then spend time reading or just thinking before going to sleep. If it’s hard, you know you need to practise more.
- Set aside social media time and prioritise real life the rest of the time. When I know I can use my phone for 5-10 minutes every hour, I’m much less likely to check it during that hour.
- Schedule posts. This is especially useful if you work in social media. Twitter apps such as hootsuite and buffer make this really easy, and for instagram drafts can be made all at once and posted later, meaning you’re spending less time thinking of something to post when you’re busy.
- Delete social apps that you don’t really need. Whether that’s twitter, instagram or facebook. You don’t have to delete your account, but deleting the apps can be a good way to reduce usage.
- Do other things that you love! If you find that you have time to scroll through SM feeds for hours, you probably have time to do a hell of a lot of other amazing stuff too! Just think of all the things you could get done if you just put down your phone for the day…
Get outside, notice your surroundings and enjoy real life!
5 thoughts on “Social media and mental health”
I call it anti-social media. I know that it’s terribly dinosaurish of me, but if I want to know how someone is doing, I pick up a phone, or email or catch up on the hot goss over coffee. 😏
It’s important to maintain other forms of contact too, so I don’t think it’s dinosaurish at all! Love a good phonecall 🙂
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