It’s common knowledge that too much time on social media isn’t great for our brains.
Social media can also be a fantastic tool for keeping people connected, learning new things and creating spaces for creativity and free expression – but it also has a dark side.
Plenty of research shows that it can have a detrimental impact on your self-esteem and confidence, it can also make negative news events feel unavoidable, and perpetuate a pretty toxic picture of humanity – with trolling, online arguments and abuse rife across all platforms.
No doubt you will have seen plenty of people proclaiming that they are taking a break from social media, deleting their accounts, or going on a ‘digital detox’. Taking time away from social media and disconnecting from our devices can feel like a breath of fresh air – but is completely stepping away from social media the only solution?
Shareen Kullar, founder of self-care box Blissbox, says that when social media starts to consume hours of our time and energy, stepping away could be incredibly beneficial for our mental health.
Social media is a hotbed for negativity
‘By constantly showing you negative news, posts and imagery, this kind of negativity increases your anxiety, creates unnecessary worry and brings down your mood,’ says Shareen.
‘When we expose our brains to these negative posts for long periods of time, our brains are unable to determine what is real and what isn’t. It will think that we are actually in these situations and will immediately go into defence/survival mode.’
She adds that when we are in a perpetual state of survival, high levels of cortisol will be produced which can cause damage both mentally and physically.
‘With most of us currently living stressful and busy daily lives which results in a lot of us having high levels of cortisol produced within our bodies already, scrolling through social media can significantly add to the stress we put our minds through every day.’
Shareen argues that quitting social media allows you to lower your stress levels by exposing yourself to less negativity, meaning your mood will lift as a result.
‘Reducing social media in the mornings and evenings will allow you to begin and end your day right,’ she says.
‘When we begin the day by scrolling through social media, not only does this expose you to artificial light which will disturb your body’s internal clock but it will also decrease the time you have to get up in the morning, beginning your day in a rush and will expose you to negativity which will set your mood for the day.’
She adds that this is also important when winding down before bed.
‘Allowing your body and mind to naturally relax, clear and rest after your day will help you to get a well-rested sleep,’ she says. ‘When we use this crucial time to scroll through social media, the artificial lighting will affect our body’s timing for sleep.’
Shareen recommends staying off social media for the first hour of the morning, and at least two hours before you go to bed. She says this will allow you to begin your day and to wind down your day naturally, calmly and peacefully.
Practical tips to use social media less
Sara Tasker is an Instagram and social media expert. She says it can be tricky to set boundaries with social media because they are specifically designed to be absorbing.
‘This is why you can pick up your phone to just check one thing and find yourself still scrolling an hour later,’ Sara tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It’s not that you lack self-discipline or are morally flawed – there’s big money invested in keeping you and your brain deeply hooked on the app.’
Now that we’ve taken blame out of the equation, we can look at the practical strategies you can employ to make your social media experience more enjoyable going forward – and break those addictive habits.
Set times on your phone
‘One simple way to break this cycle is to set timers on your phone or watch,’ says Sara.
‘If you only need to find a client’s email address on Instagram, for example, set a timer for three minutes before you dive in. If you have to post and browse for your business, give yourself 20 minutes and then it’s time to step away.’
Sara says the alarm sounding should be enough to break the spell and remind you of your intentions.
Use a social media restriction app
If timers aren’t enough – enter the world of social media restriction apps.
‘Flipd (iOS and Android) works by physically locking you out of selected apps for a chosen time period, making accessing your social media impossible,’ says Sara.
‘Many apps like this can be circumvented by restarting your phone, but Flipd keeps running regardless, meaning the only way to break your pact with yourself is to go ahead and delete the whole app.’
Sara also suggests other similar apps, such as Freedom, which will allow you to set blocks to a daily schedule, turn on your entertainment apps for the evening, and cut off your wifi connection at bedtime.
Set up a separate handset for work
If that all sounds a bit too technical, Sara suggests that you try setting up a separate phone handset for work.
‘Limit yourself to the necessary apps and communications there, and keep your personal social media accounts and notifications for your home-phone, which stays locked away during working hours,’ she says.
‘As a bonus, this stops you from working in your free time too.’
Social media comparison can be toxic
Shareen says we often find ourselves comparing our lives to others on social media, mostly in a negative way.
‘We question ourselves – why can’t I look this way? Or, is there something wrong with me? But the thing is, the content on social media is not reality,’ says Shareen. ‘Which means we are comparing ourselves and competing with something or someone which is not real.
‘Quitting social media means we can focus on ourselves and our own lives. On what is real, for us. We can learn to accept ourselves, as we are, to boost our own happiness, our self-love and self-compassion.’
For Shareen, social media is also a form of escapism – and when we step out of our own lives for too long, we can begin to lose sight of what is really important for us.
‘We are so consumed with content and news that we forget to be present with the people we love,’ she says. ‘We isolate ourselves and we don’t build the necessary connections with ourselves and with others around us which is the cause of loneliness.’
Therefore, she argues, quitting social media will naturally inspire mindfulness.
‘We are able to be more present and in the moment,’ she says. ‘We are able to spend more quality time on the things we love to do and the people we love to be around, which will make our lives richer and more enjoyable.
‘Being more present means we are able to build meaningful connections with ourselves and with others around us which will eliminate loneliness and will inspire happiness.’
Without social media dominating our lives, Shareen says we can use the extra time to rediscover the hobbies which bring us joy, or learn something new.
‘Instead of finding ways to escape life, learn what you are escaping from and actually look to change that,’ she says. ‘You have the power and control to be able to make changes to your life which will make your everyday life happier, healthier and richer.’
Ultimately, Shareen believe that limiting your use of social media, or quitting altogether, will improve your mental health.
‘Social media is a great tool to use within your life but it makes a poor master,’ she tells us.
‘You will be free of the unnecessary stress and anxieties that come with social media and you will be able to form healthier daily routines which increase your energy levels and boosts your mood.
‘Finally, you will have the power and control to make your everyday life happier, healthier and richer by filling your time with the things you love to do whilst experiencing and living your life.’