How to Prevent Social Media Depression

Social media has become so ingrained in our daily habits that we don’t even realize how much time we spend scrolling through digital feeds, photos, and walls. Between 2013 and 2016, the world’s social media usage went up a whopping 18 percent. Today we spend roughly two hours per day on social media. If I add up the time I spend showering, dressing, brushing my teeth, and getting ready for work each day, the total still doesn’t top the average amount of time we spend on social media. Every single day.

Just imagine how much of a difference it would make in your life if you spent two hours exercising every day, or, conversely, if you already do exercise for two hours, consider how it would affect you if you stopped. The difference would amount to some significant changes. So too the effects of social media usage should be taken seriously.

Social Media Usage is on The Rise - How to Prevent Social Media Depression

What Science Tells us About The Dark Side of Social Media

Social media is addictive, that much is clear from the sharp increase year over year in how much time we spend on it. But along with the cute cat photos, amusing hashtags, likes, and favorites, we’re seeing a new form of anxiety emerge. You’ve probably come across the term FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s a common feeling that emerges from our rampant social media usage. FOMO has become such a commonly used expression that it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary back in 2013. It sometimes feels like the more time we spend trying to catch up online, the more we feel like we’re missing out.

But it’s not just FOMO that’s got us anxious. Instead of just trying to keep up with our close friends and neighbors, we have a whole world of friends and contacts whose lives seemingly play out immediately before us. We have more digital “neighbors” than we can handle. A new study shows that the kinds of comparisons we make to others online are making us more depressed than those we make offline.

The problem is that we only see a tiny snapshot of people’s lives online, the highlight reel. So, while their social media walls may make it look like everyone is winning at life except you, the fact is that most of their lives never make it online.

Not only do we do most of our socializing online, but social media has now become a primary source of news for many people, and that takes its toll as well. One study suggests that an onslaught of violent imagery and stories about war and conflict on social media could be leading us to develop PTSD symptoms.

Some sources even claim that social media usage can lower self control, lower self esteem, cause overeating, and prevent us from thinking independently.

The Negative Effects of Social Media - How to Prevent Social Media Depression

How to Avoid The Psychological Pitfalls of Social Media

Avoiding the pitfalls of social media starts with understanding that it can have a tangible negative effect on our wellbeing, and that this risk becomes more significant the more time we spend online.

Start by looking at your own habits. How much time do you spend browsing, posting, and engaging with social media platforms each day? Even if you don’t spend long periods at a time on Facebook, you may not realize how much your frequent visits add up over the day. Try to record the time you spend on social media each day for a week.

1. Set a limit for time spent on social sites each day.

If you spend two hours each day on social media, try cutting that time in half. You may be surprised to find that even when you set a limit that’s as seemingly drastic as halving the time you usually spend online, you won’t notice the difference. We tend to fall easily into mindless browsing mode with endlessly refreshing content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. There’s no getting to the “end” of the updates. The more time you spend on these platforms, the more these companies make on ad revenue, so their goal is to get you to spend as much time as possible scrolling.

To make setting a time limit easier, there are several apps that help you out. You can record the amount of time spent in different apps and block communications and notifications from social apps like Facebook. Some apps let you schedule and classify different blocks of time in your day when your computer is able to access social media sites, so you’re reducing the number of times you get interrupted. Others flood your phone with notifications when you go over your allotted screen time, effectively trying to annoy you off social media.

2. Change the way you use social media.

One of the distinctions between the negative and positive effects of social media (because there are also some positive effects) is in the way we use the platforms. When we spend more time comparing ourselves to others and feeling envy, accepting former partners as social media friends, posting frequently (especially with negative updates), and becoming obsessed with our virtual identity, social media can have a very negative impact on our lives.

Try limiting your social media usage to just reaching out to have a real conversation with a friend online. Use social media as a platform for adding to your real-life relationships, or facilitating real-world meetups (like planning events). Social media can also be a great way to access mental health resources, which in turn can have a positive effect on your wellbeing. Every time you end up on a social platform, ask yourself: What am I doing here? What is the purpose of this social media visit?

3. Establish news sources outside your social feeds.

It’s common today for many people to get their news from social feeds. Having one source for our social interactions and news online may seem convenient, but it means that we can get distracted from our attempts to stay informed. When you separate your news sources from your social feeds, you reduce the likelihood of getting sucked into the abyss of social browsing.

Next time you want to check the top news stories of the day, head straight to the website of your favorite newspaper or online publication. Or tune into a news broadcast on TV. You can even curate the topics that are important to you through Google News, or through newsfeed apps like Feedly.

Avoid the Psychological Pitfalls of Social Media - How to Prevent Social Media Depression

Social media is still a relatively new phenomenon, yet it already dominates significant chunks of our life. Just as with any of our other habits, we ought to examine the extent to which this habit helps or harms us. The key to keeping this part of our lives under control is, as with most things, moderation.

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