What would your mental health look like in a world without social media? Pretty hard to imagine, right? Many of us are so mixed up with our social accounts that it’s difficult to remember what we did before the feed.
There are plenty of upsides to online connection, but how do we find balance with the constant flurry of input from friends, family, celebrities, and brands constantly vying for our attention?
Want to know more about the benefits of stepping away from social media and how to tweak your feed for your mental health? Read on.
So, what does the research have to say about the effects of social media on your health and well-being? You might be surprised to learn most studies aren’t too favorable.
In fact, your brain may just be begging you to slow your scroll.
A 2015 study found that U.K. children were twice as likely to report high or very high scores for mental ill-health if they used social networking sites for 3 hours or more on a school day.
A small 2018 study found a direct link between decreasing social media usage and improvements in depression and loneliness.
In a 2021 survey by ExpressVPN, 86 percent of a sampling of 1,500 Americans reported that social media directly negatively impacts their happiness and self-image. Between 79 and 83 percent reported negative effects on anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
A 2022 cross-national online survey of the United States, U.K., Australia, and Norway found that those who used social media for entertainment or to decrease loneliness during the pandemic experienced poorer mental health.
While using social media for personal contact and maintaining relationships was associated with improved mental health, there was still a correlation between increased daily time on social media and poorer mental health overall.
On the other hand, a 2021 pilot study of 68 university students found that most students reported a positive change in mood, reduced anxiety, and improved sleep during and immediately after a break from social media.
The data seems pretty clear. If you don’t want to experience poor self-image, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even poor sleep, making some tweaks to your social media use may be a good idea.
Your mental health is more important than your Instagram aesthetic. So, what can you do instead of curating and scrolling?
The beautiful thing is the world is your oyster! When you step away from the screen and into the three dimensional world, there’s an endless array of options depending on your needs.
Once you identify why you’re feeling the urge to log onto your social media accounts, you can redirect this feeling in other ways.
If you use social media to relax
If you find you reach for your phone when you have a little down time, consider swapping for these options instead:
- Take a walk around the block.
- Put on some music.
- Set the mood with candles or diffuse some essential oils.
- Read a book.
- Try doodling or crafting.
- Bake something delicious.
- Play with a pet.
- Try yoga or meditation.
- Drink a soothing, hot beverage, like a tea or hot chocolate.
- Look at old photos and reminisce.
If you use social media to connect with others
If you find yourself longing for some human connection and the desire to check your feed arises, try these activities instead:
- Call a friend or family member (bonus points for a video call!).
- Invite someone over for dinner or drinks.
- Bake something and offer it to your neighbors, lingering to chat when you deliver it.
- Organize a weekend brunch, hike, or shopping trip with friends.
- Check out Meetup.com for like-minded groups to join (and actually attend an event!).
- Volunteer at a local food bank or other organization.
- Take a class through your local Parks and Recreation Department.
- Join a community group, like a church, nonprofit, or club.
- Take a goat yoga class — you’re almost certain to come away smiling.
If you use social media for entertainment
Instead of memes and 30-second videos, opt for some IRL entertainment:
- Go see some live music.
- Check out an arcade (Skee-Ball, anyone?).
- Try a paint your own pottery studio, like Color Me Mine.
- Learn an instrument.
- Take a dance or martial arts class.
- Take a hike (literally).
- Take a trip to a local museum.
- Try your hand at gardening.
- Listen to a podcast.
- Read a book.
- Gather some friends or family and play a board game.
There’s a lot of power in knowing your motives for logging onto your social accounts. Once you do, you can make a choice to meet that need in another way.
While taking breaks from social media is great, it’s important to be realistic (and not militant) about your use.
If social media is a part of your life, that’s OK. There are ways to lessen the negative effects and enhance the positive effects of social media, even while you’re using it.
For instance, you can:
- Unfollow accounts that have a negative effect on your mood or self-image.
- Remove photos from your own profile that trigger self-judgment.
- Delete any negative DMs, trolling, or spam.
- Unsave posts that encourage you to compare yourself to others.
On top of that, you can set an example for mindful, authentic posting, so others can be inspired by your feed and perhaps follow suit.
For starters, you can:
- Skip the filter and showcase the real you.
- Post photos of the “messy” moments, not just the perfect ones.
- Remind others in your captions that you’re a real person with flaws, hang-ups, and insecurities — just like them.
- Post encouraging comments on others’ posts.
- Post about taking breaks when you take them to remind others they can do the same.
For most of us, social media is simply a part of our lives, for better and for worse. At the same time, we can use it in a way that emphasizes the positive over the negative, both for us and for others.
With a little conscious use, occasional breaks, and balance with other activities, social media can be a healthy tool for self-expression and connection.