While social media allows us to connect with other people, it can also be a source of stress and anxiety.
Do you find yourself constantly checking your phone? I know I do. That, and I find myself "mindlessly scrolling" more often than I would care to admit. It feels like it comes naturally.
"I know it's not good for me to check it again. But it's so easy. There's a lull in the conversation. I feel insecure in a social setting. It buzzed three times. That must mean it's significant, right?"
We're constantly checking our phones. Some would say we're obsessed with them. But it's not so much the phones themselves. The need to constantly check our phones is related to our time spent on social media. We can constantly know what is happening in the world and more specifically, what other people are doing due to instant communication through texting and messaging apps. When I'm being honest with myself, I often feel more stressed after I've been using social media for a long block of time.
Social media does allow us to connect with other people, and this can have a positive impact in our lives. However, sometimes social media use can be a source of stress and contribute to anxiety. This is why it is critical to find a healthy balance when it comes to use of social media.
Looking for a way to reduce stress and take a break? Take some time away from your phone. (And it doesn't have to be in a way that makes you a hermit.)
The use of social media
Social media is a broad category that encompasses networking platforms that allow users to both create and consume content. Common examples include Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok (Nesi, 2020).
Social media is a little different from "traditional" screen use like watching television or movies. That type of engagement is one-sided. Social media platforms allow their users to express ideas and interact with other users on their platforms. This concept and the platforms themselves are highly popular.
According to Pew Research Center, about seven in ten Americans report using some form of social media. YouTube and Facebook are some of the most highly-used platforms. Let's look at this with a few percentages:
81% of Americans watch Youtube.
69% of Americans use Facebook.
The majority of people who use social media get on it daily.
70% of the people who use Facebook use it daily.
59% of people who use Instagram or Snapchat use it daily.
Some social media platforms are more popular with younger users. For example, sites like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat tend to be most popular among people under 30. In addition to their popularity, people aren't just spending a few minutes on these platforms each day. The average time spent on social media daily in the US is around 2 hours a day, according to Statista.
Overall, the amount of time people spend on social media has increased in recent years, particularly among young people. But how does the use of social media impact our mental health? And does its use contribute to stress and anxiety?
The negative impact of social media on mental health
The increased use of screens and the increased use of social media can have negative impacts, both on our physical and mental well-being. However, data on the impact of social media on mental health is mixed. Most research has been dedicated to the use of social media among adolescents and young adults.
Among young people in particular, social media use can lead to comparing ourselves to other people and solidify concerns that we are missing out on what other people are doing. These aspects of social media can increase feelings of stress. Use of social media may also contribute to problems with anxiety and depression, but it in part depends on the type of social media interactions (Abi-Jaoude, 2020).
The link between anxiety and social media use may be related to fears of being ignored by others, such as when we don't receive immediate replies to our messages (Hodge, 2017). It can also be related to the types of interactions we have on social media. For example, negative interactions on social media platforms and comparing ourselves to other people on social media may contribute to higher levels of anxiety (Seabrook, 2016).
Survey data from the American Psychological Association published in 2017 found that Americans who reported constantly checking emails, texts, and social media platforms also reported higher levels of stress than those who checked online connections less frequently.
For the people who are constantly checking, the political and cultural discussions on social media caused them higher levels of stress than those who were checking online connections less frequently. In addition, these constant checkers reported greater feelings of disconnection from family members and being less-likely to meet with family in-person because of social media use.
The positive impact of social media
On the flip side, social media does present us with a unique opportunity to connect with other people in ways that were not possible before. Therefore, it is possible for social media use to have a positive impact on our mental well-being.
For example, a systematic review published in 2016 found that having positive interactions on social media and having social connectedness and social support on social media were related to lower levels of anxiety and depression (Seabrook, 2016).
Social media platforms can allow us to be entertained and experience humor. It also allows for people to explore their identities and enhance their creativity. And it can lead to deeper connections with friends (Nesi, 2020).
Because the data is mixed, caution is warranted when it comes to the use of social networking sites.
Finding a balance
It's popular to talk about taking a break from social media, but many of us squirm at the idea. We don't want to seem ignorant about what is happening around us. Plus, social media can be a good way to connect with other people, so we don't want to totally blow it off.
Most of us can't leave our phone in a drawer and walk away. Because inevitably that will be the one time your friend cuts herself and needs you to drive her to the hospital to get stitches.
But you can cut back in healthy and safe ways that still leave you available when people need you. And you can find ways to maximize the amount of social connections you are making and minimize the time you spend just scrolling.
Many social media apps interact with the reward responses in our brains, making us check our social networking sites much more often than we probably "need" to. Social media companies work to make their platforms engaging, so we keep scrolling (Haynes; Harvard University, 2018). But there are actions we can take to counteract these strategies.
Set daily limits for yourself
But you can give yourself personal limits regarding how much time you spend on social media. There are apps that can help you do this, like apps that track the amount of you spend looking at your phone or the number of times you check your phone in a day. These apps allow you to get a baseline of how often and how much you are using social media platforms. They can also help you with data reports as you attempt to cut back (University of Berkley, 2015).
Once you have a baseline, determine how much time you would like to be spending on social media. Limit and modify your use to meet these limits.
Turn off notifications during certain times of day
Turning off notifications can help with how often you are checking social media sites. For example, if you don't want to be distracted by social media site notifications during your work day, you can turn them off during that particular time frame.
Take time to evaluate what notifications are most important and tailor your settings accordingly. For example, texting and emails may be more important but Instagram updates may be less of a priority, particularly at certain times of day (American Pyschological Association, 2017).
Many phones also have settings like "do not disturb." You can use these settings to help you get adequate time away from social media sites, particularly before you go to bed.
Work with other people
You don't have to go through cutting back on social media alone. If you have other friends or family members working to cut back on social media use, work together. For example, you can tell each other your goals to help keep each other accountable.
If there are certain times when you will be unavailable, be sure to let people who may be trying to reach you know (American Pyschological Association, 2017). This can help decrease potential downsides to social media cutbacks, such as people feeling annoyed that you didn't respond to their messages within a certain time frame.
You can also work to make social interactions more engaging. This may involve things like silencing your phone when you are with other people or putting it where you can't easily check it (American Pyschological Association, 2017). When you're with a group of friends or spending time with family, you can make agreements that no one is allowed on their phones at specific times.
Use your time on social media to actively engage
If you've already set time limits for yourself, consider how you can maximize the time that do spend on social media sites to foster positive connections. For example, if you have been meaning to message several friends, prioritize these texts over activities like scrolling. Actively comment and like other people's posts to contribute toward positive social media interactions. Use your time on social media to express yourself and be creative. This helps create an active experience rather than a passive experience (University of Berkley, 2015; American Pyschological Association, 2017).
Find Active Ways to Relieve stress
It's also important to remember that our time on social media is only one aspect of our whole lives. In addition to taking a break from social media, remember to engage in activities that actively help you relieve stress. For example, getting physically active, laughing, connecting with other people, and being creative are all things that can help with stress relief (Mayo Clinic, 2021).
Find what you like to do. Do you like to read? Take time to read a little instead of checking your Instagram account. Do you enjoy being outside? Take a quick walk instead of scrolling through Facebook. Find time for in-person connections instead of just online connections.
So, take a break from social media. It might just help you reduce your stress and remind you to participate in what you truly enjoy.
Abi-Jaoude, E., Naylor, K., & Pignatiello, A. (2020, February 10). Smartphones, social media use and Youth Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7012622/
American Psychological Association. Connected and content: Managing healthy technology use. (2017, November 1). Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/topics/social-media-internet/healthy-technology-use
American Psychological Association. (2017). Stress in America: Coping with Change. Retrieved October 29, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/technology-social-media.pdf
Auxier, B., & Anderson, M. (2021, April 09). Social media use in 2021. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/04/07/social-media-use-in-2021/
Carter, C. (2015, January 13). Happiness tip: Stop checking your freaking phone. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happiness_tip_stop_checking_your_freaking_phone
Haynes, T. (2018, May 1). Dopamine, smartphones & you: A battle for your time. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/dopamine-smartphones-battle-time/
Hoge, E., Bickham, D., & Cantor, J. (2017, November 01). Digital Media, anxiety, and depression in children. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/140/Supplement_2/S76.long
Mayo Clinic. (2021, March 18). 12 tips to tame stress. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relievers/art-20047257
Nesi, J. (2020, March). The impact of social media on Youth Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncmedicaljournal.com/content/81/2/116.long
Seabrook, E. M., Kern, M. L., & Rickard, N. S. (2016, November 23). Social networking sites, depression, and anxiety: A systematic review. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5143470/
Statista. (2021, September 07). Daily Social Media Usage Worldwide. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/