The recent release of a Netflix documentary, called The Social Dilemma, has opened up a conversation about the toll social media might be taking on our mental health. The film points out how people use social media as a coping strategy against loneliness or sadness. However, this can actually lead to more negative emotions that deteriorate our mental wellbeing. While social media may be a quick fix to get validation through likes and comments, it doesn’t necessarily fulfill our deeper human needs.
The Social Dilemma features former social media developers from companies like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These developers explain how they have created design techniques like push notifications and endless news feed scrolling to keep us glued to our devices and to control our behavior. The main dilemma that comes from this is that millions of people are becoming addicted to social media, which can be harmful for our wellbeing. Even if you’re not on social media, you can just as easily become addicted to checking your email inbox, because of those same tactics. A 5,000 person study found that higher social media and screen time use correlated with self-reported declines in mental and physical health, and life satisfaction.
What We Can Do
While the points brought up from The Social Dilemma are highly concerning, we still have a lot of agency over our social media usage. Here are some ways that you can combat social media dependency and preserve your mental health:
Reduce Your Screen Time
This tip seems simple enough, but it can definitely be a challenge. Limiting your time spent on social media is the most effective way to not become dependent on it. You could even set time limits on your apps if you need the extra reminder.
Turn Off Push Notifications
This will eliminate the sounds and badges on your screen that alert you for each new like, comment, or follow. Without these notifications constantly popping up, we will be much less distracted and more engaged in the present moment.
Even better than turning off notifications is deleting these apps, if you’re able to. This can eliminate the need to check your accounts throughout the day entirely. If you can limit yourself to checking your email or Facebook only on your desktop, that’s a great option. That way you can still stay informed, but without constantly picking up your phone.
Become Aware of Your Habits
Pause and try to think about what you do on social media and why you do it. Are you checking it first thing when you wake up or scrolling for hours before you go to bed? Are you constantly comparing yourself to people on other accounts and feeling worse about yourself because of it? These are all things that we can become more mindful of. Once we identify harmful habits with social media, we can begin to change them.
Control What You Consume
This is arguably more important than limiting screen time. Curating positive content on our social media feeds is important. It’s best to follow accounts and devote your attention to content that is positive (and doesn’t leave you feeling worse).
Remember What Matters Most to You
Think about what you value the most in your life. This might include the relationships you have, your health, or reaching your personal and professional goals. Ultimately, focusing our attention on what we value will be more rewarding than the time we spend on social media.
The more aware we are about how we use social media and how it operates, the more equipped we’ll be to take control of our own usage. By increasing our awareness and changing our habits, we will feel less controlled by social media. In turn, we will have more time to focus on our mental wellbeing.