by Liberty Stembridge, Relationships Columnist
Published in Relationships on 18th March, 2019
Social media is great, it allows you to connect with people you wouldn't otherwise be able to, grow a business, or even boost your career prospects.
But like everything, it has it's dark side and an increasing rise in "social media addiction" is leaving a lot of people in an unhealthy relationship with their social media. Whether it's constantly comparing yourself to others, becoming addicted to entertainment or missing out on important aspects of your life, social media can be very damaging.
You don't have to cut it out altogether in order to live well however, you just need to know how maintain a beneficial relationship rather than a toxic one.
Many people find that communicating with friends is social media is a great way to keep track of each other and stay in contact, especially if you don't see each other much anymore.
However, sometimes this can get in the way of real human communication and we can become distanced from our friends without even realising it.
Even if you live miles away from each other a phone or video call is always going to be more socially enriching than a comment on an instagram post or stalking someones snapchat story. Make time for real connection with your friends, whether they're around the corner or across an ocean.
A big part of social media addiction is just how easy it is to access these apps. It's so easy to slip into the habit of checking instagram or twitter or facebook every time you open up your phone, and without realising it you can waste hours of your life scrolling through stuff you don't really care about - time you could have been using to do something you do really enjoy.
It might be tough at first, but deleting social media from your phone can be very beneficial for your overall well being, and may help you to to understand better how much you really use social media. It doesn't have to be forever - many people schedule a day or two a week to delete all social media apps and take a break.
Monitoring and limiting the time you spend on social media is an essential step to not only understanding your usage but making the time you do spend on social media actually mean something.
Setting certain times of the day when you can and can't use social media means that you are not only likely to get more done in your "off-periods" but also that you can learn to appreciate and utilize the time you do get better. Rather than endless scrolling, you can create a more mindful experience - choosing exactly where you want to devote your time. Who do you want to check up on?
What is really interesting you right now? Is there anything you really want to post or read, or are you happy to just witness? All these questions can help you to create a more objective and positive outlook towards your social media usage.
A big part of why social media can make us feel bad, and even contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression is simply because we're not following the right people.
Oftentime we follow people because we feel like we should - they're family or friends, or they're an educator or influencer that inspires you. Rarely do we ever ask whether following these people and seeing their posts on our feeds is actually benefiting us at all. It may seem small - scrolling past a post on instagram doesn't seem that harmful, but everything we see on social media feeds into our brains and affects our subconscious.
Next time you log on to scroll through your feed, practice questioning every post you see. "Do I like this person?" "Does seeing their posts make me feel good, inspired or motivated?" "Does it make me feel lesser than?". If the answer is that their posts make you feel anything other than positive emotions, it's time to unfollow, or mute. Remember, the most important thing here is your wellbeing.
Social media and the internet in general is a hub of debate and argument. People from all over the world with all sorts of political beliefs and cultural backgrounds gather in an online space without even having to see each others faces or be constricted by the rules of debate. This environment lends itself very well to "trolling" - aka purposefully trying to annoy other users and start an argument of some sort without any intention of meaningful conversation.
Trolls are annoying, but getting involved with them (or becoming one yourself) can be very harmful to your own experience. You end up angry and upset, while the troll only benefits by getting a laugh. Avoid them like the plague, and give them the satisfaction of a response.
It's very easy to fall into the trap of comparing your life to the projected lives of other on social media. When you see what everyone else is up to - all the brunches and ski trips, nights out, graduations, new jobs, marriages, babies, mortgages - it can seem like everyone else is so much "further" than you, or more successful, especially when you're sat on the couch in your pajamas scrolling through instagram and eating chips.
It's important however to remember that this isn't reality - it's the highlight reel of their lives. Very few people actually share all the ups and downs of their life because...
why would they? It's not nice or easy to talk about all the dark parts of life - relationships gone sour, losing a dream job, drifting away from family and friends or dealing with medical problems. These happen to everyone, but they're not talked about on social media and as such it's easy to see why the comparison trap is so easy to fall into.
Every time you find yourself feeling second-best, or wondering how someone seems to have it all "together" while you don't, ask yourself - is this really fair to me? Am I comparing my entire life to someone's highlight reel?
Numerous studies have now shown the toxic effects of screens and social media usage on your sleep. Staying up scrolling on your phone before you go to bed keeps your brain awake and active, making it a lot harder to fall asleep once you put your phone down.
If you, like most of the population, leave your phone to charge by your bed overnight, you're also less likely to have a good night's sleep, whether it's from text alerts waking you up or the irresistible urge to check your phone when you wake up in the middle of the night. If this sounds like you, try implementing a "no phones in the bedroom" rule.
Leave your phone to charge overnight outside of your bedroom (invest in an alarm clock if you need one) and put an end to the bed-time scrolling.
While taking short breaks from social media at weekends and while at work can be very beneficial, there's nothing like a true social media detox to reset and recharge. Some reatrat and holiday companies are now offering social media retreats - a chance to literally turn everything off and escape into nature, practice meditation and other holistic practices.
These retreats help to accustom you to life without social media, which can seem almost bizarre at first, since we're never that far away from it in our day to day lives. This reminder that there is more to life, that you don't need your phone to keep you entertained, can be just what's needed for anyone wondering if social media might be taking over their life a little bit.
Tracking your screen time is a great way to get to grips with how reliant on social media you actually are and where you can improve. On an iPhone, you can see how much time you've spent on your phone and what you've spent that time on, whether it be productivity, work, social media, music and so on.
Not only does this help you to understand your social media usage, but it can also help you to track your progress as (hopefully) you see your reliance on social media slowly decrease.