A social media holiday awaits

A woman sitting on her luggage

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Tom Holland, the popular star of Spider Man, recently announced on his Instagram account that he was taking a break from social media for the sake of his mental health. Others have opted for such sabbaticals. Singer and actress Selena Gomez revealed in an interview in April that she had been away for four and a half years. She said it was “the best decision I’ve ever made for my mental health”. Gomez says, “It completely changed my life. I’m happier, I’m more present, I connect more with people.

A growing body of research links a break from social media (SM) to better mental health. Randomized controlled studies indicate that SM is a causative factor contributing to poorer emotional health. A study at the University of Bath (Lambert et al., 2022) demonstrated that a week-long break from SM led to significant improvements in well-being and reduced depression and anxiety. Another experiment at the University of Pennsylvania (Hunt et al., 2018) found that limiting social media to 10 minutes a day for three weeks reduced loneliness and depression.

Sounds simple: Don’t have the time or money for a stress-relieving vacation to boost your mood? Simply log out of your social media accounts for a week and feel happier, more grounded, and less anxious, depressed, and lonely.

Why is taking a break or even reducing the time spent on social media so problematic for some people?

Social networks are ubiquitous. Like junk food, when you try to eat healthier, it’s everywhere. Alerts, pings, and news flashes grab your attention and entice you to consume them. Marketers, influencers, and developers spend countless hours designing SM programs that sell products and services.

Plus, access is effortless. It’s easy to switch to your favorite social media platform. It takes more energy to walk to your freezer and pour half a pint of ice cream than to open your favorite SM account. Rigs can be used passively for instant gratification with ostensibly negligible risk (no calories involved!). When you’re bored, log on for entertainment and watch the latest TikTok challenge. When you don’t feel like tackling your to-do list, tune into a news feed to distract yourself and keep up with the latest trends in fitness, music or movies.

Is it any surprise that the University of Bath study found that participants spent an average of up to 9 hours per week browsing SM sites?

Should we completely abandon social networks? Social networks have positive aspects. You can catch up and connect with people who may be far away, hear local, national and international news and learn about current events, and discover useful, interesting, humorous or entertaining content.

How do you use social media to your advantage without allowing them to use you?

How do you determine if this is having a negative impact on your mental health? The key is to use SM in a more conscious, intentional and less addictive way:

1. Determine which SM channels have a negative impact on your mood. After closing a site, rate your mood on a scale of -3 to +3, where -3 is very negative, +3 is very positive, and 0 is no change in your mood.

2. Quantify the time you spend on sites that negatively impact your mood. Create your own daily diary or download a social media app tracker.

3. Ask how you will use the freed overtime. As with all your prized vacations, make a plan.

  • Is there an area of ​​your life that is important to you but where you feel a little unfulfilled? Consider the areas of your life — personal, interpersonal, professional, leisure, or spiritual — that could benefit from this extra time.
  • What small, yet somewhat laborious, action could you take to move toward what’s important to you rather than slipping into SM? Consider an area where stretching offline might make you a little more satisfied. For example, during this free time, would you meditate, meet a colleague for coffee, call an old friend or family member, practice a second language, give private lessons to a child or would you try a new recipe?
  • Make a list of those offline activities that have the potential to give you a sense of enjoyment or mastery.

4. Before logging into SM:

  • Pause.
  • Ask: “Is turning to SM at this time a choice or a habit?”
  • Review your list and choose an option that is a bit demanding but is what you value.

5. Maintain a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006) as you challenge yourself to replace SM use with alternative activities aligned with what is important to you. A growth mindset accepts that exploring alternative pursuits will take effort and may even seem a bit risky. Difficulties are expected as you discover which activities promote your emotional fitness. Improving your ability to maintain your emotional health is a lifelong endeavor.

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