Do You Need a Digital Detox? The Connection Between Social Media and Your Mental Health
Do you reach for your phone in the morning before you get out of bed? Have you ever fallen asleep with a phone or tablet beside your head? Do you wonder about the impact of your screen time on your mental state and well-being? With a few high-profile celebrities recently announcing that they are taking a break from social media to protect their mental health, it has renewed conversation about how social media makes us feel and the role that it plays in our lives. From FOMO (fear of missing out) to doom-scrolling to chasing likes to oversharing, many of us have developed some unhealthy habits when it comes to using social media.
While there is conflicting information about the impact of social media on our mental health, studies suggest that it can increase depression, anxiety, ADHD symptoms, and sleep disruption. There may also be a link between what we look at online and how satisfied we are with our lives as well as how we feel about ourselves. This is not a surprise when you consider the fact that many people post only the most positive, flattering, photoshopped, envy-inducing pictures of themselves and their lives, blurring the lines between reality and wishful thinking. Our rational minds know that everything we see online isn’t real and that no one’s life is that perfect, but there is still that inner voice that can trick us into comparing ourselves and our lives to what we see online.
“It is no secret that social media platforms were deliberately designed to hold users' attention as long as possible, tapping into psychological biases and vulnerabilities relating to our desire for validation and fear of rejection. Too much passive use of social media – just browsing posts – can be unhealthy and has been linked to feelings of envy, inadequacy and less satisfaction with life.” (Henry Fersko, “Is Social Media Bad For Teens’ Mental Health?”, https://www.unicef.org/stories/social-media-bad-teens-mental-health)
Additionally, our brains’ reward centers are wired to release the feel-good hormone dopamine when we feel validated, such as when we get lots of likes or someone comments on our social media posts. In this way, social media can be addictive as we seek that gratification and are rewarded with a boost of dopamine, strengthening the neural pathway that brings us back for more.
By some estimates, Canadian adults spend an average of over 4 hours per day logging in to web apps such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and WhatsApp. It may not be realistic or practical to completely abstain from logging in, however there are things you can do to mitigate the negative impacts of your time online.
Set boundaries: Set time limits for your screen time, using timers and reminders if necessary. Consider deleting apps from your phone and limiting your access on those apps to other devices that you can only use when at home. Try leaving your phone out of reach for a period of time.
Curate your feed for quality: Pare down your feeds to follow only the most useful and relevant accounts. Consider the value of the content and what it contributes to your life and your self-concept. Does it make you feel good? Keep it. Does it make you feel insecure or unhappy? Unfollow.
Replace screen time interaction with real-life interaction: Instead of replying to a comment on a friend’s feed, take a moment to call them or schedule a meet up. Try to find balance between having online conversations and spending time doing things you enjoy with your favorite people. Turn screen time into “green time” and spend some extra time outside in nature.
Limit screen use before sleep: Consider shutting down devices an hour before your regular bed time. Use night mode settings in the evening to minimize the impact of the screen glow on melatonin, the helpful sleep hormone. Improving your quality of sleep is protective for your mental health and well-being.
Take a break: A temporary “digital detox” may have significant positive effects on well-being. According to a study in the journal, Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, staying off of social media for a week can result in measurable reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
It’s not all bad though! Social media can help people connect with each other and express themselves. It is often a necessary tool for business and enterprise. It creates a space for people to find others with similar interests and passions. It provides a way to share information that is helpful and important, including information about mental health. Like many things in life, social media can be a useful tool and an enjoyable pastime when used in moderation. When it takes up too much of your time, gets in the way of achieving your goals, and makes you feel unwell and stressed, it may be time to make some adjustments in your relationship with social media and screens.
Written by Lisa Brandon