6 Tips to Help Take Control of Your Social Media Use and Improve Well-being
Social media has clear benefits helping us stay connected and it has been especially valuable during the pandemic isolation and distancing. But there is also substantial evidence of the negative impacts of social media use, or overuse, especially among young people. And according to a recent APA poll, one in three Americans worried about its mental health impacts.
One recent study of more than 5,000 U.S. teens ages 12 to 14 concluded that “frequent social media use is associated with poorer subsequent mental health for adolescents.” Another recent review of more than 30 studies looked at connections between excessive social media use, sleep and mental health problems. They found a significant association between excessive social media use and both poor mental health outcomes and poor sleep quality.
However, social media may have played an especially important role for adolescents during the pandemic. A study in the journal Lancet notes that adolescence (the stage between 10 and 24 years) is a period of heightened sensitivity to social stimuli and a need for peer interaction. The physical distancing measures, particularly early on in the pandemic, significantly reduced adolescents’ face-to-face peer social contact, yet “the decrease in adolescent face-to-face contact might be less detrimental due to widespread access to digital forms of social interaction through technologies such as social media,” the study concludes.
Conversely, four out of five college students believe social media, specifically Instagram, is toxic to teenagers, and many are taking action to cut back, according to a survey in late 2021. More than two-thirds of college students have purposefully taken time off from social media, and one in three regularly takes time off. Spending too much time scrolling social media, often a “highlights reel” of the best parts of people’s lives, can leave people feeling left out or disheartened about their own circumstances. And social media, Instagram in particular, is often cited for promoting unrealistic body standards.
Tips to Cut Back
Even if you are not experiencing especially negative impacts, social media and its continual ups and downs can be a drain on wellbeing. Here are a few tips to help control/manage your social media use. Consider how you might want to approach it, such as limiting overall social media time, cutting back on a specific social media platform, taking a short, complete break, or limiting your random scrolling time.
- Track your time – How much time are you actually spending on social media? It’s easy to get absorbed and lose track of time. Numerous apps are available to help you monitor and track your time on social media.
- Turn off notifications from social media apps to help minimize the distraction and frequent interruptions.
- Temporarily (or permanently) downsize your social media use. Reduce the number of social media platforms you regularly use.
- Work with a partner. Take on this challenge with a partner who can provide encouragement and motivation and hold you accountable.
- Set aside a specific time, with a time limit, to use social media (and use a timer).
- Set offline times at specific times during the day/week when you’ll be completely offline.
- Take a temporary break, such as a day or more without using social media.
Based on his experience with intentionally cutting back on social media, Blogger Geshan Manandhar encourages people to “take control of where you want to spend your valuable time” — break the social media habit and “enjoy our liberation.”
- Lee, S., et al. Frequent Social Media Use and Its Prospective Association With Mental Health Problems in a Representative Panel Sample of US Adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2022 Jan 22;S1054-139X(21)00675-3.
- Alonzo R, Hussain J, Stranges S, Anderson KK. Interplay between social media use, sleep quality, and mental health in youth: A systematic review. Sleep Med Rev. 2021 Apr;56:101414.
- Amy Orben, et al. The effects of social deprivation on adolescent development and mental health. The Lancet, VOLUME 4, ISSUE 8, P634-640, AUGUST 01, 2020
- College pulse. Weekly Insights: Social Media. November 11, 2021.
- Manandhar, G. How to take a social media break, 4 steps to becoming successful at it. Geshan’s Blog, November 1, 2020.