Social media has some great benefits.
I’ve spoken many times about how having access to friends online, being able to reduce feelings of isolation, and just having a place to vent have all been crucial in helping me to survive some of the really tough times.
With the introduction of the COVID-19 lockdown, social media gave us a way to stay connected. We could maintain contact with our friends and family, keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the wider world, and for some of us, it gave us a way to work or study remotely. We could connect and collaborate with our coworkers, tutors, or classmates with the click of a button. We could sell our products and services without having to open our physical shops.
Lockdown aside, there are people (like me) who encounter barriers to conventional on-site work, study, socialising, or entertainment, on a daily basis. Many of us use social media as a tool to access what can be inaccessible in its traditional form. As such, we have been highlighting the value of social media for a while now.
Other uses of social media can include sharing important information or announcements, having discussions with like-minded (or not so like-minded) people, promoting our friends’ music/art/books etc, sharing heartwarming stories, holding public figures accountable… the list goes on.
So, trust me when I say that I know social media can be an incredibly useful tool.
Nevertheless, the world of social media is not all sunshine and unicorns. It has its downsides and despite its benefits, there can be times when social media becomes more of a hindrance than a help.
I think there are five major signs that may suggest it’s time to reconsider our use of social media.
I’m using the word reconsider deliberately. I’m certainly not saying that if we notice one or more of these signs that we should immediately delete our social media accounts and stay offline forever. You might decide to do that but that’s a personal choice and I don’t believe it necessarily has to be all or nothing. I’ll talk more about this towards in the second half of this post.
First, I’m going to highlight what I think are five important signs that our use of social media has become unhealthy and that it might be time to consider changing our online habits.
#1. You feel uncomfortable being offline.
If you find that you’re:
- struggling to stay away from social media
- constantly checking for notifications
- unable to focus on other things, such as studying, working, or holding a conversation without getting distracted by social media
- worrying about getting back online as soon as possible
– then it might indicate that it’s time to take a step back.
There’s nothing wrong with taking breaks to have a scroll through your timeline. My point is, does being away from social media induce feelings of discomfort for you? Is FOMO causing you to prioritise checking your notifications over getting on with more important or urgent things? This could become a problem.
#2. It’s keeping you awake at night.
We’ve all been there; you get into bed and think you’ll just check Twitter before you go to sleep… suddenly, it’s 3am, you’re still scrolling, and your alarm is going to go off in four hours time.
I’m not a big believer in the popular “turn off your phone an hour before you go to sleep” philosophy. For me, I enjoy listening to ASMR as I fall asleep as it helps me doze off, so I keep my phone with me when I go to bed.
However, if you find that you regularly accidentally stay awake far too late due to scrolling through social media, and it’s affecting your ability to get enough sleep to function, you may benefit from acknowledging this and making some changes.
#3. You’re consumed by comparisons.
Social media is a great way to share what’s going on in your life, but it’s important to remember that each user can carefully curate what they show and what they keep to themselves.
It’s easy to believe that everyone else on Instagram is living incredible, 100% perfect lives, and we may find ourselves thinking “why isn’t my life that good?” or putting ourselves down because are lives seem quite mundane in comparison.
This can have an incredibly damaging effect on our feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. It can ruin our confidence and make us think we’re somehow “less-than” the people on the accounts we envy.
As I said, everyone on social media curates what they post. It’s not necessarily an accurate representation of their lives. We can exaggerate the good and hide the bad, if we want to. Nevertheless, it’s hard to remember that when we’re constantly scrolling through beautiful photos and humble-brag captions.
If you find that you’re becoming consumed by comparing your life to the lives of others on social media, it’s probably a good idea to reconsider how and why you use it.
#4. Obsessing over numbers.
I’m not going to lie – we all enjoy getting likes, retweets and follows. It’s perfectly natural to feel a sense of validation when people agree with you or express enjoyment of your content.
The problem comes when we focus too heavily on the numbers. If you find yourself feeling upset or embarrassed because your post only got a handful of likes or because you haven’t got “enough” followers, this might suggest that you’ve become overly dependent on social media.
Your self-worth must not be defined by the validation of others. Sure, external validation is one part of life – we all want to feel supported and heard – but when it gets to the point that you’re preoccupied with numbers as an indicator of your worth as a person, that’s potentially an issue.
#5. You dread logging in… but do it anyway.
There’s a lot of love on social media. I’m so grateful for the amazing people I’ve met; some of whom I now consider my close friends.
Unfortunately, not everybody on social media is so lovely.
Social media gives us the freedom to connect with people across the globe without leaving our homes. That being said, it also gives other people the freedom to virtually get into your home and contact you without having to reveal their identity or take responsibility for what they say. Where there is social media, there will always be trolls and bullies who use it for nefarious purposes.
But aside from targeted harassment, it’s also easy to fall into the habit of following what is referred to as “drama”. Essentially, watching other people argue.
It may seem harmless – it’s not like you’re getting involved – but regularly watching these arguments unfold and explode can have a detrimental effect on our well-being. It can also leave us feeling worried about finding ourselves on the receiving end of similar “drama”.
So why do we keep watching? Honestly, I’m not sure. If I’m going to be totally transparent, I still find myself watching drama unfold and finding that I can’t look away. Maybe there is a strange element of entertainment, especially if we aren’t keen on one of the parties involved. Let’s be real – it can be satisfying to watch someone we dislike get taken down a peg or two.
But is it worth it? Is it worth the simultaneous persistent need to keep tabs on the “drama” and the absolute dread of logging in and finding yourself dragged into the middle of it?
If you want out of this cycle but can’t seem to leave it alone, I have some ideas that may be helpful.
So these are the five signs that I believe indicate a need to reconsider our use of social media. But what does that look like?
As I mentioned earlier, one option is to delete all of your profiles and exile yourself from social media for life… but this is an extreme response that I think only needs to be reserved for extreme circumstances.
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#1. Freshen up your timeline.
When you scroll through your timeline, how do you feel?
a) inspired, encouraged, supported, or entertained?
b) stressed, disheartened, overwhelmed, or angry?
If you answered b), I suggest this four-stage plan:
- Unfollow any accounts whose content is draining for you or doesn’t add value to your day/life.
- Mute any terms related to topics that you don’t want to see or engage with (beware: the mute system isn’t perfect and things can slip through).
- Block any accounts whose content you don’t want to see, or if the user/content makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
- Follow more accounts that post content you enjoy or find interesting. They don’t all have to be 100% “positive vibes only”, but try to include some harmless, wholesome content in there. The odd cat pic or video of some unlikely best friends, like a dog and a duck (too cute), can be really effective at giving your mood a little boost when you’re scrolling.
#2. Turn off push notifications.
I recently took this step myself and I’m so glad I did. I had found myself feeling the need to respond to notifications immediately, even if it meant interrupting something important or urgent. If I saw them, I just couldn’t leave them unread.
I decided to try turning off my notifications with the hope that if they weren’t popping up and prompting me to check them, I wouldn’t feel so much pressure to respond straight away.
It worked. And not only has it worked, but I’ve also been able to recognise and accept that I don’t need to be available or contactable 24/7. This has dramatically reduced the feelings of stress that I was experiencing in this area. I’d definitely recommend giving it a go – you can always switch them back on again if needed!
#3. Schedule time for social media.
Try giving yourself a certain amount of time to spend on social media each day, with the aim of not going on it outside of that time. For example, you might give yourself a certain amount of time in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, and once you’ve used up your time for that day, leave it until the following day.
Rather than going cold turkey, this method still allows you to have time on social media, but it just makes it more intentional and less sporadic. If you know you’re going to catch up on your notifications at lunchtime, it might help you not to feel the need to check your phone every few minutes throughout the morning “just in case”.
#4. Take a break.
You could try giving yourself a break from social media. Delete the apps from your phone for 24 hours or a week or a month, whatever you feel comfortable with, and see how you feel afterwards. You may find it’s easier than you thought and it might shift your mindset about how you use social media moving forward.
If you think you might struggle with sticking to your self-imposed break, you could ask a trusted friend or family member to change your password for the duration of the break, or you could install an app that lets you temporarily lock yourself out of your social media apps for however long you want.
#5. Delete certain accounts.
It might be helpful to delete some, but not all, of your accounts. For example, if you find yourself dwelling on comparisons on Instagram but you actually still really enjoy using Twitter, just delete your Instagram account. You don’t need to get rid of everything just because one platform isn’t working for you.
As mentioned in the previous point, you could also try a break (removing the app but keeping your account) from that one particular platform and see how that goes. If you find that you feel better not using that platform, go ahead and delete your account. If you want it back, reinstall the app and maybe consider one of the other methods in this list to adjust your usage.
#6. Add more offline entertainment to your day.
When we spend a lot of time on our phones and computers, especially for entertainment, it’s easy to find ourselves “just checking” our social media more often than we intended.
Engaging in offline activities (colouring, baking, sport, sewing, gardening, reading, painting, etc) physically and mentally shifts our focus from the screen onto something different. If the app or the link isn’t in our line of sight all the time, it can be easier – even accidentally – to go longer without even thinking about checking it.
Plus, if we make a point to include more offline things in our day, then we’ll have interesting things to talk about and share on the occasions that we do use social media: books to discuss, paintings to display, yummy baked treats to show off and recipes to share, and so on. This can help to make our social media experience feel more engaging and worthwhile, and less like endless doomscrolling.
Social media can be great, but it should be something we enjoy (or at least find useful), rather than something that just drags us down. I think it’s important to keep an eye on how and why we’re using it and acknowledge when the cons start to outweigh the pros. At the end of the day, social media isn’t inherently good or bad; it comes down to you and how it’s making you feel. Only you can be the judge of that.
And after all, it doesn’t look like social media is going anywhere. Even if we delete all of our accounts and stay offline for a year, five years, ten years, you can rest assured that if you ever want to dive back in, it will be there – in some form, anyway! (RIP MySpace…)
How do you feel about your use of social media? Perhaps you have your own advice you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.