By Ingrid Worth
Two hours and 24 minutes. That’s the amount of time that the average person spent per day on social media in 2020 (How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media in 2021?).
Although that is a lot of time to spend online, social media on its own is not necessarily a bad thing. In the past eighteen months in particular, social media has helped many stay connected with far-flung friends and relatives while social-distancing. However, the more time spent on social media, the greater the potential for social media to negatively affect mental health. For one thing, social media is laden with opportunities for comparison with others. A 2021 study on social media use and body image disorders found an association between frequent social media use and body dissatisfaction (Jiotsa et al., 2021). Social media can also increase feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression (Hunt et al., 2018). For some, the best way to use social media is to not use it at all. However, this may not be an option for many who need social media for work, school, or staying connected with family and friends. So, where does one draw the line? How much social media is too much and how do you recognize when your time on social media is becoming problematic? Below are some research-backed tips to help you out.
- Limit Social Media Use to 30 minutes a day. Cutting social media time down to half an hour per day can lead to improvements in well-being, including a decline in loneliness and depression (Hunt et al., 2018). Although this may be difficult at first, many smartphones offer a way to lock social media apps after your allotted amount of time has been spent. In a study conducted on limiting social media time, researchers even found that FOMO (the fear of missing out, such as on friends’ updates or news) tends to decrease the longer you continue to limit social media use, leaving you happier and less attached to social media than before (Hunt et al., 2018).
- Be intentional with the time you spend on social media. Many people, myself included, tend to mindlessly pull out our phones in the checkout line or while waiting for a friend. With social media in particular, intentionality is key (7 Healthy Habits for Social Media). When the urge hits to check email or social media, try to delay checking for just one minute by completing a short meditation or mindfulness exercise. At home, intentionally set a time of day or a room to spend on social media, then do not check social media outside of that space.
- Avoid using social media as a cure for boredom or stress. Although intentionality is important, constantly using social media as relief from boredom or stress may not always be the best move for your mental health. In a study examining college students’ media habits and mental health during 2020, researchers found that regularly using media—such as TV, video games, or social media—out of stress or boredom was associated with problematic and addictive usage (Fraser et al., 2021). The key is moderation. Instead of always turning to Netflix or Instagram after a stressful day of work or school, set aside a few days to de-stress without technology such as going on a walk, doing crafts, or reading a book.
- Remember that almost nothing on social media is as it seems. When you post a picture on social media, do you choose the one where your eyes are closed or the one where you look like your best self? Most people post the best pictures of themselves on social media and many spend hours on apps changing the way they look and adjusting the filter. Similarly, many people exaggerate other aspects of their lives, whether it’s the goodness of their family or the richness of their social life. Constantly seeing these doctored snapshots of other peoples’ lives can lead to a feeling of inadequacy, poor body image, and unrealistic expectations for your life (Jiotsa et al., 2021). While using social media, keep in mind that those apps depict a highly filtered, carefully curated version of others’ lives.
- Don’t be afraid to unfollow friends or sites that you feel are worsening your mental health. If you find yourself constantly comparing aspects of your body or life to someone you are following on social media, it may be healthiest for you to unfollow them (7 Healthy Habits for Social Media; Is Social Media Stressing You Out? Here Are 9 Self-Care Tips). On the flip side, you can also choose to follow accounts that make you feel happy, whether it’s an account that solely features cute pictures of cats or one that shows photos from National Parks.
- Social media does not equal self-worth. Just as many social media accounts of influencers and celebrities reveal little about them as people, your social media account, your followers, and the number of likes you get says nothing about the kind of person you are. If you find yourself constantly checking your phone after posting a new picture or comparing the number of followers you have to your friends’ accounts, it may be time to take a short break from social media. Alternatively, some social media apps provide an option to turn off the number of likes on posts, decreasing the opportunity for quantitative comparison.
- Spend more time with friends in real-life than online. Social media becomes most problematic when it replaces real-life connections. Spending more time with friends online than in person can lead to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and social isolation whereas meeting friends in person actually decreases many of the negative effects of social media use (Meshi & Ellithorpe, 2021). Prioritize in-person interactions and make it a goal to spend more time with people in real life than online.
Ingrid Worth is a NAMI Washtenaw County volunteer and a student at the University of Michigan majoring in Psychology. She is passionate about mental health advocacy and awareness, particularly among students. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors, reading, and hiking.
7 Healthy Habits for Social Media. (n.d.). Retrieved August 23, 2021, from https://www.conehealth.com/services/behavioral-health/7-healthy-habits-of-social-media/
Fraser, A. M., Stockdale, L. A., Bryce, C. I., & Alexander, B. L. (2021). College students’ media habits, concern for themselves and others, and mental health in the era of COVID-19. Psychology of Popular Media. https://doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000345
Hervey, J. C. (n.d.). Is Social Media Stressing You Out? Here Are 9 Self-Care Tips. Forbes. Retrieved August 23, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/janeclairehervey/2018/03/21/is-social-media-stressing-you-out-here-are-9-self-care-tips/
How Much Time Do People Spend on Social Media in 2021? (2019, March 8). TechJury. https://techjury.net/blog/time-spent-on-social-media/
Hunt, M., Young, J., Marx, R., & Lipson, C. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37, 751–768. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.10.751
Jiotsa, B., Naccache, B., Duval, M., Rocher, B., & Grall-Bronnec, M. (2021). Social Media Use and Body Image Disorders: Association between Frequency of Comparing One’s Own Physical Appearance to That of People Being Followed on Social Media and Body Dissatisfaction and Drive for Thinness. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(6), 2880. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18062880
Meshi, D., & Ellithorpe, M. E. (2021). Problematic social media use and social support received in real-life versus on social media: Associations with depression, anxiety and social isolation. Addictive Behaviors, 119, 106949. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2021.106949