How often do you check Snapchat? Instagram? Do you rely solely on Facebook to keep up to date with the lives of distant family and friends? Social media has become a ubiquitous feature of our daily lives . Social networking sites and apps have the potential to greatly enhance our lives in a number of ways. These technologies provide an easily accessible, instant and interactive way of connecting and sharing with family and friends, near and far. It offers engaging and entertaining content on long, boring commutes. They allow us to catalogue and reflect on all of the positive events in our lives.
However, a number of mental health professionals have begun to express concern about the possible negative consequences of our social technology habits. There are many positive effects we may experience from using these social pipes. This include increased self-esteem, improved social connection and content enjoyment. The problem with these positive effects is that they can reinforce our tendency to reach for them as a quick fix to distract ourselves from negative mood states such as loneliness, anxiety or boredom. While using social apps or websites in this way – as a ‘pick me up’ or distraction – is not necessarily a problem in itself, the nature of these apps or websites and the way in which they are designed encourages excessive and habitual use which, for some, can become quite addictive.
Social media addiction is a problem that some psychologists have started to recognise and address in their clients. However, it can be difficult to separate addictive behaviours from appropriate and purposeful use of the technology. A number of definitions of social media and technology addiction suggest that the distinguishing factor of addiction is impairment of an individual’s ability to live normally. When work and academic commitments or social interactions become impaired as a result of social app or program use, it may be an indicator of a problem.
For many people, regular use of social media is perfectly healthy. Nonetheless, if you find that you often lose track of how much you are using it, lose sleep or are consistently late to appointments as a result of your reliance on it, or feel distressed at the thought of not being able to access your social streams, it may be a good idea to look a little closer at your habits. Limiting the times of day that you spend on social media can be a healthy way of monitoring your usage. Avoiding checking social media in bed at night can also have significant benefits for your quality of sleep.
Another key aspect of healthy social media use is the ability to do so in a mindful way. Before you pick up your phone to check Snapchat or scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it. Are you responding to a direct communication from a friend? Are you planning on sharing something? Perhaps you have no particular reason and are just checking out of habit. If this is the case, take a moment to consider whether you actually want to use social media right now or if there is something else you could do in the moment instead.Has the impulse to check social media distracted you from something else you were doing?
Being aware of your own responses when you’re engaging with social media is also important. The sheer volume of information, visual content and experiences of other people that we are exposed to through social media can be quite overwhelming. Take note of your emotional responses to what you see and how quickly they may change as you scroll through.
Being more mindful of your habits in this way is an excellent first step in maintaining a healthy relationship with social media.