At times, it feels like we have access to entire worlds at our fingertips — all through the use of our smartphones. Our phones have fantastic capabilities, allowing us to document important moments through photos, navigate our way around a new town, or make dinner reservations instantly without speaking to a soul. They can even play matchmaker, using complex algorithms to assist us in finding a significant other. With the rise of the smartphone and its normalized presence in our daily lives alongside social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, TikTok, and Instagram, it’s natural to wonder about the effects social media has on us — specifically, the effects it has on our mental health.

Undoubtedly, there are endless benefits from using social media. These can include connecting with friends or family who live hundreds of miles away, making new friends by bonding over similar interests, or even paying your bills at the tap of a finger. However, for every upside, there is a downside as well. Some cons of using social media are exposure to cyberbullying, giving your followers access to too much private information, and constantly comparing ourselves to others, something which can affect our self-esteem. Although social media has its pros and cons, when asking how it impacts our mental health, the main determining factor is how we as a society use social media. Are we using it to connect, or are we using it to compare ourselves to others? Are we engaging in discussions with our friends/family, or do we find ourselves passively scrolling? Is it healthy and enjoyable for us, or do we feel like we are wasting time on social media?

At one point or another, most of the clients I work with have reported frustration regarding how often they use their phones, specifically with how often they find themselves passively scrolling through social media. Although it can be exciting to catch up with others and connect with old friends, there comes a point when many of us catch ourselves scrolling through apps for an extended period of time with no intention behind that scrolling. Once you realize this is happening, it can be disappointing since you might feel you could have allocated that time for something more worthwhile or enjoyable — nonetheless, it still can be difficult to put our phones down and focus on what is happening in front of us. In order to be more mindful of our time and how we choose to spend it, we can work towards decreasing our social media usage and controlling those passive scrolling moments. Here are a few ways to combat passive social media usage:

1. Set a Timer:
Passive social media consumption typically occurs after a person has finished engaging in conversation with others on a social media platform — this is the prime time for when mindless scrolling can begin. To decrease passive social media usage, it can be helpful to set a timer to limit the amount of time you spend on various platforms. Many apps and smartphones, such as Instagram and the iPhone, have built-in features which allow you to set a goal for how much time you wish to spend using an app and will send you a reminder once you have reached the desired amount of time using that application. Notifications like these can be extremely helpful as they interrupt passive scrolling, revert your mind to the present, and can actively ask you if you want to continue using social media.

2. Limit the Number of People You Follow:
The more people and accounts you follow on various social media, the more information, lives, and news there are for you to keep up with. It’s important to manage and review the accounts who follow you, as well as the accounts you follow in order to recognize the people you engage with frequently versus the ones you tend to “creep” on, yet never talk to. Limiting the number of people and accounts you follow can decrease the amount of time you spend looking at others’ photos and also decrease the time spent “creeping” on them. It also puts constraints on the amount of new media to ingest, as well as the type of media — surrounding yourself with a concentrated stream of positive, beneficial content rather than content that makes you feel sad or down on yourself can be very helpful.

3. Turn Your Phone Off:
When you realize you’re passively scrolling through social media, one tactic that works immediately is to turn your phone off. This reset can last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour or more — as long as you would like it to last. Additionally, turning your phone off in social settings can also prevent you from checking it for social media notifications. Thus, it allows you to truly be in the moment with your friends or family. This is a great tactic to use when hanging out with friends and/or while eating dinner with family in order to focus intentionally on the time spent with them rather than on your phone.

Social media is designed to constantly engage and entice us to scroll for hours, but with these simple tricks, you can gain power over the applications and better control where you are spending your time, energy, and attention. By limiting your usage, putting constraints on the content you see, and being aware of the present, you may also find an improvement in your mental health. The solution is not necessarily to obliterate all social media from your life — a little moderation and mindfulness can go a long way.

Have you used any of these tips? Let us know how your experience was in the comments below!


References

Caroline Miller. Child Mind Institute. (2019, August 19).

Hunley, S. (2017, March 3). Does smartphone use effect your anxiety and depression? Anxiety.org.

ScienceDaily. (2020, November 2). It’s not if, but how people use social media that impacts their well-being. ScienceDaily.

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