How Social Media is Impacting Your Mental Health and What You Can Do About It
By: Mouna Bokhetache
Many of us are aware of the effects that social media has on our mental health and well-being, yet we simply choose to ignore them based on habit. Many of us spend hours a day staring at a screen, disconnected from the real-world, waiting for the next notification to pick my phone back up. I never realized how much of a negative impact this had on me until I acknowledged the correlation it had with my confidence.
It didn't occur to me how much time I was wasting staring at a screen when I could be doing other things that can help me grow as a person. As my screen time increased, I noticed that my self-esteem decreased. I found myself comparing and competing with lives that were “perfect”. I knew this wasn't just me and that many people were suffering from this addiction, including my peers. I noticed gatherings were distant, meaningful connections were diminishing, and social connection was simply based on who took and posted the best pictures. I found myself wanting to try new places, simply because they were “instagrammable”. It was as if I was living outside of myself, outside of what I thought was important.
Like most additions, social media is like an escape. An escape of reality, of boredom, of anxiety, and it gives a sense of safety and validation. It allows for us to not face ourselves and create a fantasy that we want to live in. Since I realized how much of a toll social media had on me as a whole, I knew I needed to take the necessary steps to move away from these habits, and build a more meaningful life with real connections.
I want to state not all social media is bad. There are many ways we can use social media to better ourselves or to send out important messages, however, we have to be cognizant of the negative effects it can have on our mental health and relationships, and monitor the amount of time we spend to ensure it doesn't have a negative effect on our lives. Quitting cold turkey is not realistic or easy, so I wanted to share practical steps that I used to decrease the amount of time I spent on social media which immediately improved my mental health.
TURNING OFF NOTIFICATIONS- You don't have to delete every single app, especially if social media is part of your job, but you can limit how much time you spend on it. Since turning off notifications, I noticed a significant decrease in how many times I pick up my phone to check it. I found myself spending less and less time on apps, which eventually decreased the number of hours of screen time per day.
Set a screening time limit on your phone or dedicate times for social media- This can help prevent you from spending an extended number of hours on your phone. It's so easy to get distracted and sometimes you find yourself scrolling for hours at a time without noticing. Even if you do not spend too much time on social media in one sitting, you would be shocked at the number of hours of social media “Breaks” accumulate by the end of the day.
Self-Awareness - It's important to acknowledge each time you pick up your phone. Where were you and how were you feeling at the moment you picked up your phone to go on social media? Was it boredom, anxiety, and indescribable urge? What were you trying to escape? An awkward situation? What I realized in my experience that it was simply out of boredom and a sudden urge to pick up my phone. My brain wasn't present enough and it was always used to taking the step of turning on my phone in order to be stimulated, which essentially was the opposite of mindfulness. The more I acknowledged this, the more I took the proper actions which lead to the next step - mindfulness.
Switch out social media time for mindfulness activities- Instead of scrolling for hours on social media, you can listen to a podcast and stimulate your brain in knowledge. Participate in mindfulness activities such as walks, hikes, painting, etc away from your screen. When meeting up with friends, put away your phone and be present. Engage in conversations instead of “taking pictures” or scrolling through the gram. This has made a tremendous improvement in my mental health, my friendships, and now I rarely ever reach for my phone, especially in social gatherings.
Quarterly Cleansing - Alot of us, including myself, have social media to keep up with our loved ones and friends. I will be lying if I didn't say I didn't find creative inspiration from “bloggers” or creative accounts. What I found beneficial is to cleanse my “following” accounts once every quarter. If an account was not benefiting me or bringing me goodness to my life, then I would unfollow for more meaningful content. Now when I log on, instead of my feed being flooded by materialistic posts with outfits and places I can’t afford nor do I find interest in, now my feed is flooded by inspirational quotes, posts from spiritual and professional leaders, and any accounts that provide meaning to my life. This has made a significant difference in my mindfulness goals, self-esteem, provided a more positive outlook on life, and mindset when I decide to go on social media.
Remember, nobody's life is perfect. People will only post what they want you to see. It's important for us, including myself, to be reminded of that. We should also remember to practice gratitude. We shouldn't be chasing “things” in order to be happy. We shouldn't compare ourselves, to people we barely know. But what we should do is appreciate things we have and the people that are sitting in front of us. We can not get back hours of our day, once they are lost. Hours accumulate to days, and days accumulate to years, and the last thing we want is to realize the number of years we waste staring at our screens, admiring people and places we don't know. There's more to life than square boxes on your screen. Once you learn to appreciate life and learn how to practice mindfulness through these practical steps, you will find yourself reaching for your phone less and less, thus, being less addicted to social media.