The phrase “social media addiction” is frequently thrown around in the news cycle, and it’s not uncommon to see an alarmist headline claiming that social media addiction should be declared a health crisis.
With articles like these making their rounds in the news cycle, it can be challenging to know exactly what an unhealthy relationship with social media is, let alone what an addiction to it looks like. How do you cut through the dramatic presentation of this information to know if you really have an unhealthy relationship with social media and could benefit from a detox? Here are three questions to ask yourself to help you conduct a social media “health check” along with some helpful tips for cultivating a healthy relationship with social media.
How much time do you spend?
The first area to assess for your social media health check is time. First ask yourself how much time you think you spend on social media. Then go into the settings in your phone and find out how much time you actually spend on social media. According to Forbes, most of us actually underestimate the amount of time we spend on social media, and so your answer may surprise you. I know that I spend more time on social media than I’d originally estimated. When I started using the social-media time limit setting on my phone, I quickly realized how fast I burn through the half hour I’d given myself each day.
If you find that you’re spending much more time than you’d originally thought on social media, you’re not alone. About 20 percent of people have difficulty going more than three hours without checking their phone, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Additionally, the ADAA reports that 30 percent of people who use social media spend more than 15 hours a week online. Try reducing the time you spend on social media by using the time limit feature on your phone or by being more intentional about keeping your phone away from you so that you don’t mindlessly reach for it.
How does it make you feel?
It’s time to use the stereotypical therapist question, and ask yourself how social media makes you feel when you log off. Knowing what emotions are triggered by your social-media use can help you zero in on how healthy your relationship with social media is or isn’t. Does it energize and uplift you or does it leave you feeling drained and unmotivated? If your social-media use elicits positive emotions, it’s more likely to have a positive place in your life. If, on the other hand, you find that it’s causing more negative emotions like feeling inadequate, isolated, or simply like you wasted time, it may not be something that is helping you to be at your best.
There have been several studies linking social media use to mental health conditions as well as negative emotions. According to the ADAA, increased Internet use has been associated with increased levels of depression, ADHD, impulsive disorder, and loneliness. One study found that participants who decreased their social media use to 30 minutes a day reported lower levels of depression and loneliness after just three weeks (especially for those who were experiencing depression at the start of the study). Another study found that participants felt worse about themselves after looking at social media posts from their peers, but, interestingly enough, this was not the case when looking at posts from family members.
If you are struggling with negative emotions online, try to replace social media with another activity that elicits positive emotions such as talking with a friend, listening to music, or trying something creative. Kelsey Chun, a marriage and family therapist, recently shared how she noticed feeling emotionally drained after scrolling through her Instagram feed. But then she also noticed that spending the same amount of time reading a book or periodical felt more restorative by contrast.
What purpose does it serve?
The final question to ask yourself is, “What purpose does social media serve for me?” Are you using social media as a way to be inspired, share your personal life updates, and stay connected with friends and family? Or is it a source of competition, a creativity drainer, or a mindless time-filler? Identifying the nature of your relationship with social media can help you assess how healthy (or unhealthy) it is in your life.
If social media is more of a way to fill time or something that stunts your creativity rather than inspiring it, consider taking the time to reflect on why this is the case. For example, if you find that you unconsciously open your favorite social media app when you turn on your phone, try moving the app to a different spot or logging out after each use to give yourself a chance to think about whether or not you actually want to log on. Or, do a cleanse by going through your accounts and unfollowing those who either cause you to fall into the comparison trap or those who don’t help you use your social media in the way you’d like.
For many people, social media can add positives to their life, when they set limits. After asking yourself these questions, you can find the right balance for you.