Last month, Netflix dropped a documentary that forced us all to take a closer look at our relationship with our phones. “The Social Dilemma” explores the dangers of social media and how big tech is impacting our minds on a subconscious level. Tech experts from Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and Instagram all shared their perspectives on how social media is affecting people to a degree that is questionable to some and downright criminal to others.
We all know that social media plays a huge role in our lives these days. You probably even came across this blog after seeing our post about it on our Instagram, LinkedIN, or Facebook page. It feels impossible to completely disconnect from these apps because it is a way to connect with friends, stay updated on social/political issues, and learn more about our interests. Social media has done amazing things for people like find organ donors, organize peaceful protests, locate missing people, and crowdfund for people in need. However, as with anything, there is a flip side to that coin.
No matter your feelings on the subject, it is hard to refute the fact that social media does have a harmful effect on mental health. In North America we, on average, spend over two hours on social media every day. Nearly a third of people say that social media is a source of stress or anxiety for them. What’s more is that over 20% of people say they need to check their social media at least once every 3 hours in order to not feel anxious- the Anxiety and Depression Association of America calls this social media anxiety disorder. And perhaps the most unsettling piece of data is that rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide have continuously climbed- correlating with the inception and increased use of social media.
Social media, as described by the experts who developed the applications, works like a slot machine. You keep checking it because you never know when exactly you’ll get the thing you want. The “thing” you want may not even be something you are consciously aware of. Rather, an extremely complex system of artificial intelligence softwares has learned so much about you that it understands the “thing” you want more than you do. (This was explained very well in the Netflix documentary and if you have yet to see it, we recommend you give it a watch.) What this all means is that it’s extremely hard to break the cycle of seeing a notification, checking your phone, and then losing track of time as you scroll through your feed. This is not only time consuming but it is also mentally draining. We don’t realize just how much mental energy it can take to do something that seems like it should be relaxing.
Disconnecting from social media has a multitude of benefits. Research shows that reducing your time spent on social media can help in lowering your stress and anxiety levels, feeling less competitive, lowering your risk of depression, reconnecting with the real world, feeling more present, improving your overall mood, and even improving your posture! Now, I know that disconnecting is not an easy task- it is quite literally designed to be addictive! However, there are things you can do to distance yourself from social media by way of creating boundaries for yourself.
Taking breaks from social media and actively trying to limit my time on these applications has allowed me to feel less irritable and stressed and more present in my life. It gives me more time to do the things I truly enjoy. Of course, I still use social media as it certainly has its benefits (and my job requires it of course!) but I have practiced creating boundaries around social media and technology in general. If you are also trying to distance yourself from your phone and reap the benefits of doing so, I have some great tips for you!
1. Set App Time Limits
iPhones have a built in feature to limit app usage which can be incredibly helpful for ensuring that you’re only spending the amount of time that you truly want to spend on these apps. To access this, go to Settings → Screen Time → App Limits. Once you have reached the limit for the day, the app locks. Additionally, you can set up “Down Time” which locks all apps for a certain period of time each day. I currently have my downtime set from 10PM to 7AM so that I am not tempted to go on my phone and scroll through Instagram and Tik Tok for hours before bed. Don’t be intimidated by this as you can always change it or unlock the app as it is still your phone and your choice.
I recommend taking a look at your screen time for each app and then start by setting a limit that is at least half of that time. If you are really eager though, set it for 15 minutes- because, realistically, do you want to spend more than 15 minutes of your day looking at silly memes and selfies?
2. Start Your Day Without Technology
“But I use it for my alarm in the morning! How could I do that?!”
To answer that, I recommend purchasing an alarm clock and charging your phone in a different room at night. This way, you can wake up in the morning and not immediately stress yourself out by checking your notifications. But, if you still want to keep your phone as your alarm clock, you can instead try plugging it in on the other side of your room so that it not only forces you to get out of bed but also so that it reminds you not to check your phone right away. If my phone alarm goes off in the morning next to my bed, I automatically roll over and start scrolling through Twitter- even when I’m trying to avoid social media!
Your morning truly does set the tone for the rest of the day. The longer you can go in the morning without checking your phone, the better. The key here is planning and making the conscious decision to do so. At first it will be hard, but with time I think you’ll find that you feel much better without it.
3. Make it More Difficult to Use the Apps
The thing with our phones is that they practically never leave our sight. We need them to navigate to places, listen to music, check the weather, take notes, manage work emails, and practically anything else you can think of. Ditching your phone entirely is quite difficult in today’s world, which makes it that much harder to avoid social media. You check the applications without even thinking about it and then realize you just spent a half hour on Twitter when you meant to just check the weather. To combat this, you can try making it more difficult to accidentally stumble onto these apps by making it more difficult to access them. There are a couple of ways you can do this:
Delete the apps off your phone. If you have to redownload Instagram every time you want to use it, you will be far less likely to use it as frequently. And who knows, maybe at some point you’ll never download it again!
Keep social media apps only on other devices like an iPad or tablet. I think of this like separating your work space from your relaxation space. Your phone is a great tool that aids you in a variety of ways, don’t let it weigh you down with social media. Keeping the two separate allows you to still have access, but it’s more controlled and less convenient.
Move the applications around on your home screen and don’t keep them on the first page. Put the social media apps in folders in different places so that you really have to make the conscious effort to use them.
4. Leave Your Phone At Home
I know this sounds crazy but seriously try leaving your phone at home! At first it will feel like you are naked and there is certainly some anxiety that can come with that. But remember, up until about 15 years ago, everyone walked around “disconnected.” Nowadays, we are so glued to our phones that we can’t leave the house without them, even to just make a quick trip to the store. Going for a walk is the perfect opportunity to do this as it allows you to get some fresh air, exercise, and really be present while doing so. You can even plan “tech-free” hangouts with friends and family where you all come together and either leave phones at home or decide to put them away so that you can truly enjoy each other’s company.
5. Be Mindful of How You Feel While Using the Apps
Often, we hop onto social media when we are bored. Other times, we hop onto these apps when we are stressed and in need of a distraction. Try keeping track of how you feel while using these social media applications and try to understand more about why exactly you are reaching for them. Are you bored? Stressed? Upset? By understanding more about the mood you’re in when you reach for the app, you can learn more about how you can curb the habit. If you’re reaching for Instagram or Tik Tok because you’re bored, think about taking on a hobby or diving into a book in a subject that you love. If you’re stressed and looking for a distraction when you hop onto Twitter, maybe start to think about other ways you can relieve that stress.
The best way to break bad habits and lower stress is to better understand yourself and the underlying causes. This not only applies to time spent on social media but also to any other habit you may be trying to break.
Distancing yourself from social media is no walk in the park. These applications were designed down to the exact color and font size to be more engaging to our brains. The algorithms are extremely skilled in showing you the content that you want to see- hence why most of our feeds are no longer in chronological order. However, by using these tips to create boundaries around social media, you can break the cycle of constantly checking, refreshing, closing, and then coming right back to the app. This doesn’t mean you have to forego social media altogether, as it still is fun and a great tool with many benefits; however, it is important to be aware of how much time you want to spend on these apps as opposed to how much time you actually spend on them.
We hope these tips can help you find ways to disconnect from tech and reconnect with the world around you. Let us know some of your tips for creating boundaries around social media in the comments and be sure to check back on our website for more tips, recipes, and partner spotlights!
Thanks for reading and stay healthy!