Why stepping away from social media can promote wellbeing

Written by Aaron Brooks, co-founder of content and influencer marketing platform, Vamp

I’m as big a proponent of the potential of social media as anybody – in fact, I work in the influencer marketing business, so it’s a fundamental part of my job – but there’s significant value in the age-old advice “all good things in moderation”.

Social media can inspire creativity, educate, and motivate people. It’s fantastic for staying in touch with friends, family and professional contacts. Indeed, we can make new friends, view and participate in live events and enjoy breath-taking experiences across exciting destinations worldwide. And, of course, it was a lifesaver for many during the lonely pandemic lockdowns.

However, not all social usage is healthy. Just as overdoing anything you enjoy – eating, drinking, or even working out – can harm your physical and mental health, each of us must consider whether our level of social media activity is good for us. Excessive use of social media can cause unhappiness, reduced productivity, low esteem and, ironically, a decline in social skills.

 

Chemical rushes and FOMO

Today, the global average internet user spends 135 minutes – two-and-a-quarter hours – on social media every day. These platforms are, of course, engineered to produce a great experience, but also one that keeps us coming back for more. This can have negative consequences.

For example, social media delivers constant, small hits of instant gratification, with the Netflix show Social Dilemma looking at how big social media companies like Facebook can manipulate users by using algorithms that encourage addiction on the platforms.

Meanwhile, people’s desire to share the positive things in their lives can produce a fear of missing out – FOMO – in their friends. For example, seeing friends out and about and enjoying events they may not have been invited to can be quite a lonely feeling, especially for teenagers.

 

A healthy part of the routine?

For many people, checking their social feed regularly throughout the day is part of their routine. They interact with social media constantly in the little gaps in their day, checking their phones as the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do in the evening.

However, if this is simply a default that someone feels they have fallen into rather than an intentional choice, it could have negative consequences. That’s why I believe the time has come for everybody to consider taking a temporary break from one – or all – of their social channels.

This was the spirit behind the first Digital Detox Day, held on the 5th of September this year. The campaign encouraged people to engage with the real world and switch off their devices, literally, for an entire 24 hours.

 

Promoting more meaningful interactions

However, switching off permanently isn’t an ideal solution. That would mean losing out on all the positive elements of social media, and it would make keeping in touch with friends and family all the more challenging. Instead, we must all try to ensure that our time on social media is deliberate, fulfilling and meaningful – not just instinctive.

Fortunately, social media platforms are increasingly on board with this idea. Both Facebook and Instagram have already begun to take steps to promote more meaningful interactions on their platforms, while smartphone OS makers Apple and Google have each implemented tools for people to better control the way they use social media.

 

What can you do?

On an individual level, people should begin to consider social media’s impact on their lives by asking a few questions. What do you get from social media? Does your social media time prevent you from doing other things you want to do? Do you feel good when you’re done browsing social media?

By honestly facing your own answers to these questions, you may find that you want to spend a little bit less time online. Consider evasive actions such as not logging on until you’ve been awake for an hour or leaving your phone outside the bedroom. Some people have taken to using old-fashioned alarm clocks rather than using their phone to wake them up so that they can keep their phone out of reach of the bed.

Both iOS and Android smartphones offer ways to limit the amount of time you spend using social apps. If you’re worried that spending less time online will result in becoming less connected to the people you care about, try reaching out to them to organise some time in person or on a video call to catch up directly.

Social media is a part of our lives, and it brings plenty of good. However, it would be a mistake to assume that it’s all good. Social media is an option, not a requirement, and if the time you’re spending on it isn’t making you happy, you can do something about it.