Since Facebook was introduced fourteen years ago, multiple studies have shown that social media is linked with increased anxiety and depression. Professionals have discouraged everyone – but especially people who struggle with mental illness – from using social media. Self help gurus and mindfulness experts have spoken about how social media will stop you from finding internal peace.
Personally, I have committed to quitting social media time and time again. I have deleted all the apps from my phone and even deactivated my accounts. The problem is that, in 2020, this is no longer a realistic approach to take.
Social media can be harmful to your mental health. But today it is an essential part of running a business. It is an essential part of personal branding. It is how we keep in touch with loved ones. It is how we discover new music, authors, and artists. And, most importantly, it is a huge driver in social and political change.
Committing to quitting social media these days is not just misguided and likely to fail. It cuts you off from opportunities to advance both personally and professionally.
Finding a medium
This pattern has played out over and over again throughout the past century. Television, video games, computers, the internet, and smartphones have all been seen through the same prism of fear. Spending hours in front of a screen is bad for your relationships and mental health. But cutting yourself off from these screens is no longer possible for most of us.
The solution people in the mental health field have come up with is to find a medium. Spend limited time online, keep the TV off on certain days or at certain times, keep track of your screen time on your phone.
At this point, similar strategies are necessary for maintaining your mental health while using social media. Quitting social media is not really an option anymore. But it is possible to use social media responsibly while maintaining your mental health.
Limit your social media time
As with every other potentially unhealthy technological advance, part of the solution is to simply limit your time spent on social media. There is endless content on social media, and without implementing some boundaries, you can keep scrolling indefinitely.
I’ve found myself doing this far too many times. Lying in bed at night before going to sleep, I have spent hours on Twitter and Instagram without realizing it. Suddenly, I’m exhausted, physically and emotionally, and I wake up the next day in a terrible mood.
To prevent doing this, you need to take a utilitarian approach to social media. In the same way that you might limit your TV time to a couple of hours a day, do the same with social media. Give yourself enough time to get caught up. If you need to use it for work, commit part of your work day to it. Once you have used up your allotted time, leave it all behind for the rest of the day.
To do this effectively, you need to put a few important boundaries in place:
- Don’t use social media while doing something else, even if you’re just watching TV or listening to music. At the very least, do not use social media while with friends or family
- Turn off notifications. Unless you need to respond to tweets, comments, or messages for work, turn notifications off. This way, you can catch up when you choose to, rather than in the middle of another activity or conversation
- Delete the apps if possible. Instagram is difficult to use in a browser, but Twitter and Facebook have seamless interfaces. Deleting an app won’t stop you from using the platform, but it does force you to do it with more intentionality
Stay out of arguments
There are a number of reasons that social media can be bad for your mental health. They keep you distracted, make it difficult to tune out all of the trouble in the world, and prevent you from spending time introspecting.
But one of the most damaging aspects of social media is the anger and hurt it can provoke in you. On Facebook, people you care for might post hurtful or ignorant opinions. On Twitter, there are always going to be millions of people saying things that will anger and upset you.
Every day you are going to be tempted to get into arguments. It can feel like a moral imperative. However, the reality is that there is only a tiny chance you will change someone’s opinion. On the flipside, you will almost certainly cause yourself stress and exhaust yourself emotionally.
If you know that certain friends on Facebook say things which upset you but you cannot unfriend them without causing trouble, you can mute their profile so that you just don’t see their posts. On Twitter, this is more difficult. When you come across statements which are hurtful or appear morally reprehensible, remind yourself that arguing will not help.
Resist the urge to get involved in an argument. If you do need to say something, write your own tweet rather than a response. This way, you can uphold your values and self-respect without getting caught up in interactions that will only cause you pain.
Do regular check-ins
Using social media in a way that does not harm your mental health requires a lot of intentionality and discipline. For this reason, you need to regularly check in with yourself and assess your social media use. Set a time every week to review how effectively you have implemented your boundaries.
Hopefully, you will find that you are able to improve your relationship with social media without trying to take unrealistic steps to cut yourself off entirely.