“Today, spend a little time cultivating relationships offline. Never forget that everybody isn’t on social media.” – Germany Kent
If you find yourself anxiously checking the posts of your social media contacts to see what’s going on in their world and can’t seem to curb the urge to stay riveted to your feed, new research on the negative effect of too much social media on well-being may be worth your time to review.1
Researchers Find Causal Link Between Social Media Time and Loneliness and Depression
In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, researchers allege there is a causal link between usage of social media and loneliness and depression. Psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania say that spending too much time on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat is doing more than just connecting them to their contacts. It’s making them decidedly miserable, and promoting more feelings of loneliness and depression.
During the period of the study, participants in the research significantly reduced their time on social media for about three weeks. The result was they reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.
Researchers said that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives people to obsess over social media, spending inordinate amounts of time in this sedentary activity. They strongly recommend limiting screen time to about 30 minutes a day, saying that this simple self-limiting measure may lead to “significant improvement in well-being.”
Ways to Limit Social Media Time
It’s not all dire. You don’t have to completely withdraw from social media. Indeed, according to the research, you can reap the benefits of moderate limitations on your social media consumption. The next and most obvious question is, how do you limit social media time? Here are some suggestions.
Get an app for that.
Apple, the maker of perhaps the most popular smartphone in the world, recently made an update available that helps its users set limits on certain apps they use and track those that take up so much of their time.2
Meanwhile, there are several apps that allow users to limit how much time they’re using their phones. These, of course, vary in terms of how intensely you limit phone time.
Yet another potential help for limiting social media time is the use of browser extensions such as StayFocusd, available through the Chrome web store. The idea is that users are allowed a certain amount of time on the website and then the screen is locked — and there’s no way back in. Check out the so-called “nuclear option” that prevents users from going into a specific website altogether. Now, that is a bit extreme, but it is out there.
Not everyone is blessed with the ability to not only set limits on how much social media time they’ll engage in, but actually follow through with the discipline it takes to do so effectively. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of frittering away hours poring over likes, comments, postings and the like. Maybe enlist a trusted friend, a loved one or family member to get you out of the house and doing something in real time, with live people (not digital connections). What a concept!
Disable (temporarily) all social media notifications.
Another helpful way to curb your constant social media obsession (if not quite social media addiction) is to turn off or disable the notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media time-wasting sites. No more suffering through the anxiety-provoking habit of having to instantly reply to every notification. This doesn’t have to be a permanent deletion, just a temporary pause to allow you to get back in the realm of living in the present and interacting with real people.
In the world of social media, just as in any websites, advertising, TV programs and other forms of media that grab attention, color is king. The brighter the color, the more enticing, right? As an experiment to see if this can help you ratchet down your social media consumption, use grayscale to make the sites less attractive. When everything is in shades of gray, it’s easier to forego the temptation to linger there. On iPhones, hit settings, general, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters (turn this on), and then grayscale. That’s it, you’ve made your screen colorless.
Get rid of your phone – or leave it home.
A bit more extreme is the suggestion you ditch your phone completely. Like that would ever happen in today’s always-on society. You could try leaving it at home while you go out for a walk. That would give you a social-media breather at least. It might even persuade you that you don’t need to be tethered to your phone. After all, you’re not really missing out on anything. All that social media interaction will still be there after you return from a well-deserved (and much-needed) break.
Make it a point to be with people who appreciate you for who you are.
Nobody’s perfect. Each of us has flaws and traits we’d like to minimize, as well as talents we wish we had or accomplishments we’d love to broadcast. The problem with too much time wasted on social media is that everybody else looks better than we do. That’s not reality and it certainly does nothing for our self-esteem. A proven remedy to increase well-being is also one of the easiest to implement: Spend time with those who appreciate you for who you are. Laugh together. Share a meal. Go to a movie. Garden, go out in nature, take in a concert, do various types of activities together. In fact, once you resurrect the in-person kind of communication, you’ll find that digital connections are a pale and distant substitute.
- Caveat: If you’re addicted to Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, this research may not pique your interest, but those closest to you – friends, loved ones and family members – may find the information relevant and timely. Perhaps they can even exert some influence to get you to change your social media habits. [↩]
- The update section this pertains to is called Screen Time. [↩]