New research has confirmed what many of us know already. Excessive use of social media isn’t good for us. Focusing on what others are doing, as well as the pressure to project a good image of ourselves can take its toll on our mental health. The recommended advice is to take a break every now and then, particularly as health and social media becomes an increasingly important topic.
Health and social media: The negative impact
Most of us have had a twinge of jealousy after seeing someone post something incredible about their lives online – whether it’s a new outfit, a new car or a holiday. We can all experience the green-eyed monster from time to time, and even more so when celebrities are involved. However, when social media is used excessively, we become more and more exposed to these feelings of envy which can cause us to feel dissatisfied with our own lives. This in turn can lead us to feel irritable, cause low self-esteem and even depression.
The study was carried out by the University of Copenhagen and published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Of the 1,095 people who took part in the study, 86% were women. On average, users were around 34 years of age, and spent roughly an hour browsing Facebook each day. They were given questionnaires at the beginning of the week, and then asked to ‘quit’ social media for a week before being given another survey to complete at the end of it. The results found that people felt increased life satisfaction and positive emotions at the end of the break.
Whilst the results showed a positive reaction from those who took a break from social media, many heavy users found it difficult to quit, with 13% of participants admitting to checking their social media during the study. The effects of quitting were found to be lower in those who were light social media users, whilst heavy users benefited significantly. Researchers concluded that heavy social media users could benefit from lessening their use of Facebook and other social media sites in order to reduce the effects of envy and similar behaviours when using social networks for a prolonged period of time.
How to break away from social media
With the internet readily available at our fingertips, we can access social media at any time and from anywhere, which can make it difficult to take a break from it. Some things you can do however include:
- Get into the habit of setting yourself some dedicated time to be online, whether it’s for a period in the morning or during your lunch break, rather than every spare chance you get.
- If you use social media a lot on your mobile phone, then find ways of being without it. Keep it in a different room when you’re watching TV or when you go to bed.
- Read a book or find something else to do with your hands. Holding a phone and reading information constantly becomes a habit, so finding a different hobby you can do to distract yourself is a great way of lessening your reliance on your phone.
- Communicate in other ways such as a phone call or write some letters/cards – if you use social media to talk to friends and family, find other ways you can get in touch, even writing an email is a way to get you away from social media but still keep up the interaction with others.
You can also set about using social media in a different way. Use it to read news stories and to follow current events. Join in with conversations on certain topics that are important to you and actively engage with posts from friends and family, rather than just ‘lurking’ online. It’s also important to remember that many of the posts that people share online only show one aspect of their lives, and may not tell the whole story of how that person is thinking or feeling. Taking a break from social media every now and then can help you regain your focus on what’s important and help to dispel those feelings of envy. Give it a try over the course of a week and see if it makes a difference to your overall mood and wellbeing.