While we have all, by now, heard that we need to reduce our screen time, that good advice is now proven in scientific studies. Late last year the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology published the results of a University of Pennsylvania study that focused specifically on the major social media platforms Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. What the researchers learned was that when people use less social media they find they experience less depression and less loneliness.
Researcher Melissa Hunt noted it may seem ironic that reducing social media makes you less lonely. It is easier to understand though, when we realize that many people are engaging in regular ‘social comparison’ when they look at social media. They see what others post and decide that their lives are far more mundane and way less cool. The mental health impact? Depression, loneliness and isolation. Theodore Roosevelt, warned us of this activity long before we were Laughing Out Loud (LOL) or having Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). He said “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Then and now, it needs little explaining. Comparing our lives to others robs us of the joy in our own lives.
It’s probably not realistic to stop using social media altogether, but there are some sensible ways to manage your use. Start with a commitment to not check social media when you are visiting with friends, family, playing with children or eating meals with others. Do it when you have some time to yourself. Schedule a 24 hour period when you will stay off of social media; grow it to 48 hours or more. When you do use it, limit yourself to 15-20 minutes, then stop. Extended time scrolling can leave you feeling exhausted, bad about yourself and sitting with negative emotions about what you read. Be mindful and decide what content leaves you feeling worse then better and un-follow those feeds.
In spite of recent research, there are also a number of ways that social media can have a positive impact on your mental health. In addition to the limit-setting, just described, look to use social media platforms to seek out support and motivation for making healthy lifestyle changes. Posting a goal can promote your own accountability and create an opportunity for positive reinforcement from friends and family. Likewise, being positive a voice on social media does not just serve to uplift others people, it is uplifting to your own emotional health. Connecting with local groups, clubs and organizations with activities can help people avoid isolating themselves. Social connections online with friends and family can help reduce depression and loneliness.
The bottom line? Take control and use social media instead of letting it use you. Make it a tool for positive connections that improve your life and never choose it over the connection with a live human sitting in the same room as you.
Bill Mory is a licensed therapist in private practice in Texoma. In addition to individual and family counseling, he provides workplace training on a variety of topics and is a strong community-building advocate. Reach Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.