Scrolling through photos on Instagram or reading updates on Facebook can be draining. It can seem as if everyone else is having more fun or achieving greater success or getting more likes for their photos and status updates.
Several studies have linked social media use with depression, envy, lower self-esteem, and social anxiety. A recent paper reported that one in three young adults who see images of cutting on Instagram will also engage in cutting in a similar manner.
Yet this body of research often faces the criticism that people who already have mental-health challenges are likely to spend more time on social media, rather than social media being the cause of their illness.
So how can people reap the benefits of social media without letting it harm their mental health? Jelena Kecmanovic, an adjunct professor of psychology at Georgetown University, recently wrote an article about how to avoid the dangers of social media. Here are some of her tips:
• Limit when and where you use social media. Consider turning your social media notifications off or even putting your phone in airplane mode during meals with family and friends, conversations with your partner, or important meetings at work. Try to not keep your phone or computer in your bedroom, or use social media right before bed; studies show that using devices at this time disrupts your sleep.
• Consider regular multi-day breaks. Several studies have shown that a five-day or week-long break from Facebook can lead to lower stress and higher life satisfaction. If that seems too extreme, just limiting your social media use to 30 minutes a day can reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.
• Pay attention to what you do and how you feel. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching multiple Snapchat stories, try to be mindful every time you use social media.
Do you check Twitter first thing in the morning because you need to be informed about breaking news or because it’s an ingrained habit? Does viewing photos of your friend’s vacation make you happy or envious?
Each time you check social media, think about why you’re doing it, how it makes you feel, and whether that’s really what you want.
• Narrow your online networks. Over time, most people accumulate online friends and organizations they follow that are no longer relevant. Some of the content is boring, annoying, or even upsetting. So unfollow, mute, or hide them.
One study found that people whose social media included inspirational stories experienced gratitude, vitality and awe, so consider adding a few motivational or funny sites to your feed.
It’s also important to remember that online connections cannot replace real-life interactions. Humans have an innate need for connection and belonging. Spending time with friends in person and building networks off-line can be protective for your mental health.
— Aneri Pattani, The Philadelphia Inquirer