Social Media has become an essential communication tool for us as a society. We spend more time than ever in our device-integrated virtual worlds. In sync, a significant amount of our shared life experiences have become more digital. Have you ever contemplated the thought that it may be influencing your mental well-being negatively? If not, here is why you should consider a social media detox as a health measure.
4 Reasons to Try
Smartphones, computers, TVs, and most other digital devices screens emit a light called ‘blue light’. The sun emits the most blue light. This can be helpful during the daytime as it assists cognitive function, alertness, and adjustments to our sleep-wake cycles. However, continually exposing your eyes to blue light after dark is not recommended. It can cause symptoms of digital eye strains, mess with our sleeping cycles, and lead to a lack of sleep. Harvard researchers found that blue light suppresses melatonin (hormones that regulate sleep) twice as much as other lights do. Another study found decreased levels in melatonin, while wakefulness arose when people used their devices for just 30 minutes before bed.
Sleep and rest are essential for good health. A study from 2019 points out the positive potential of better mental health when shutting off devices and gaining better sleep. As easy as it is to check social media in bed before falling asleep, it is best to keep devices away to induce deep sleep and better sleep cycles.
Less Stress and Better Mental Health
Smartphones keep us company everywhere, making it hard to detach from groups we are involved in; school, work, activities, and other social obligations. When we have stressful environments leaking into our private time, making us tend to the needs of others around the clock, our overall quality will feel stressful. Knowing how to turn away from demanding needs that are irrelevant to the present moment can help decrease stress.
In 2010, twelve universities world-wide participated in a universal experiment called Unplugged where they asked students to go unplugged for just 24 hours. Many turned unsuccessful with withdrawal-like symptoms detaching from their phones. Those who succeeded all reported the amazing benefits they experienced: relaxation, peace of mind, and enhanced enjoyment from being present in the moment. Another team of researchers in Denmark 2015, gathered more than 1000 participants to do a one week Facebook Experiment, where they studied the impact of Facebook on our well-being. They found that quitting Facebook for just one week had significant positive effects. The participants’ life satisfaction increased, and emotions became more positive. A UK study in 2018 looked at over 10,000 teens and also found that longer use of social media correlated with body weight dissatisfaction, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem. Managing our social media use and putting down our phones for a while can create the mental breathing space that we deserve.
Quality Use of Time
Our portable devices are so convenient and entertaining that it’s easy to get sucked into their luring appeal. With social media designed to be addictive, its ability to keep us engaged also keeps us from our will and possibilities to make better use of our time. More than half of the world population uses social media now, and some of us are so attached to the point that focusing on other activities becomes difficult or even go through withdrawal-like symptoms in extreme cases.
According to Global WebIndex’s 2020 research, “Social media users are now spending an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes per day multi networking across an average of 8 social networks and messaging apps.” Additionally, our time spent on social media keeps increasing every year. Based on these projections, the WHO estimates that our total use in social media would sum up to 6 years 8 months within our global lifespan of 72 years. This is more than double compared to 1 hour and 2minutes per day; the average time Americans spend eating and drinking in a day. If you’re struggling to find the time to start a new habit, project, or commitment, you may want to look into where you’ve been investing your time. Our attention time is a quality resource. Limiting social media use will open up more possibilities for activities that matter.
More Meaningful Interactions
Interactions we experience through social media has a different kind of nature from real-life in-person interactions. Social media can distort our sense of reality because many of us post highly curated and edited versions of our experience. Meeting people in-person, spending time together, and understanding both the realistic highs and lows helps maintain a healthier perspective and relationship in general. There are many socially nuanced cues that we use in-person that never make it through social media. Psychologists mention this in their journal article too:
“Overreliance on technology has led to an impoverishment of social skills, leaving individuals unable to engage in meaningful conversations because such skills are being sacrificed for constant connection, resulting in short-term attention and a decreased ability to retain information. Individuals have come to be described as “alone together”: always connected via technology, but in fact isolated.”– Daria J. Kuss & Mark D. Griffiths
The Unplugged experiment participants who stopped using social media for 24 hours also voiced that they experienced more meaningful social interactions. Harvard research suggests meaningful relationships correlate with longevity and better emotional, mental, and physical health. If you tend to reach out to people on social media, opt-in for a phone call or a face-to-face meet up to catch up next time.
How to Social Media Detox
I get the benefits of a digital detox, but where do I even start? Here are a few suggestions on how you can try:
1. Reduce Social Media Time with Apps
A social media detox could be a challenge, especially if it’s ingrained in your daily habit of checking things online. Fortunately, there are plenty of apps developed to help you through this process. Install an app that can control the daily time you spend on social media sites. There’s no need to go cold turkey, just set a time limit to your usage to assure you aren’t spending excessive hours. An experimental study shows that just a 10-minute usage decrease per platform can be effective, so don’t be afraid to start small!
2. Try A Scheduled Fast
There are experiments that claim unplugging from social media for 24 hours is effective. Just a one-week off Facebook experiment also showed significant results. If you haven’t tried yet, going off social media for a set time period may lead to pleasantly surprising results. Give yourself a set duration to cut off from social media. A thoughtful reflection afterward can help you see how social media influences your day to day life.
For experienced digital detoxers who want a challenge, I recommend a regularly scheduled fast to keep. For example, setting just a day weekly as “Media-Free Day” or a monthly “No Social Media Week” can create healthy breaks from social media. A daily “Media-Free Hours” can be as helpful too.
3. No Devices in the Bedroom
If your number one concern is quality sleep, prohibiting devices from your bedroom can be effective. It’s easy to get into the never-ending loop of browsing when we’re in bed, and the blue light emitting from your phone won’t help either. Change your charging station to a location outside your bedroom and use an alarm clock to wake up. This will help you fall asleep better, and provide a more peaceful bed-time/morning hours.
4. Try with a Buddy
Who says a digital detox can’t be a social activity? When trying something new, an accountability partner can make a huge difference. You’d be more motivated to keep up with goals while also having someone to discuss the challenges. Find someone who’s interested in trying with you. This shared experience can deepen your friendship while you’re at it.
While social media has brought our worlds closer than ever, the constant flow of information has diverted our quality of attention scattered. Understandably, as our digital capabilities grow exponentially towards efficiency, it has been hard to keep up with the side effects it has on our day-to-day. A social media detox may be the perfect way to get a much-needed break to find the peace and happiness we need.
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