If you've been anywhere near the internet recently, you've likely — and somewhat ironically — seen your newsfeeds buzzing about the recent Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. The docu-drama examines our relationship with social media, featuring interviews with tech experts who have worked everywhere from Facebook to YouTube to Pinterest. Their message is clear: social media is having an increasingly damaging impact on humanity. If you feel like you're becoming more and more addicted to social media, the documentary is a healthy reminder why it's necessary to take a step back from scrolling every so often.
The Social Dilemma expands on a conversation we've been having since Facebook's inception: Is social media hurting us? A 2012 study from Harvard found that sharing personal information on social media taps into the "reward" center of our brain, triggering the same part that's tapped into when taking an addictive substance. In 2019, a study out of Michigan State University found that social media use may negatively impact our decision making. Specifically, it seemed to correlate with an inability to make good decisions in high-risk situations.
Our relationship with social media has changed just in the past year. Misinformation about COVID-19 on social media is nearly as ubiquitous as factual information from health experts. A July 2020 Pew report found one-in-four Americans see at least some truth in the conspiracy theory that coronavirus was "planned." Early studies on social media during the pandemic suggest some correlation between frequent social media use during the pandemic and a higher prevalence of mental health issues.
Whether you need a momentary break or want longer-term ways to combat your social media addiction, here are seven ways you can start to disconnect.
1. Turn Off Your Notifications
When you stop notifications from disturbing your normal routine, you might find it easier to concentrate on your daily tasks and not get distracted so easily. Notifications are a constant reminder that something is happening in the online world and you might feel like you're missing out. So to quell your FOMO, turn off your notifications. The bonus is, when you do come around to checking your social media, you may have a build up of more notifications which will make it more exciting and will make the experience more rewarding.
2. Limit Yourself
Set a timer on your watch or phone, to limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Choose a limit depending on the severity of your addiction – say an hour a day, which equates to seven hours per week – and whenever you check your accounts, start your timer going. When you reach your limit, be strong and don't be tempted to add on extra time. This will be a strong test of your willpower, but it will be worth it in the end.
3. Get A New Hobby
You may have a lot more free time on your hands now that you're trying to cut down on your social media usage, so why not pick up a new hobby to fill your spare time? You could learn a new skill or do something you've always wanted to do but never had the time. You'll probably surprise yourself at how much free time you have when you stop mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed. Plus your new hobby will keep your mind and hands preoccupied when you're craving social media.
4. Check In With Friends And Family
Instead of keeping up-to-date with your friends' and family members' lives through their social posts, shoot them a text or give them a call. Even if you can't hang out in person safely, you can stay connected without tapping through Instagram Stories. Need to spice up your Zoom happy hour? Try turning i into a weekly game night.
5. Make It A Treat
Look at social media as a treat. You might not buy an artisanal coffee everyday or get your nails done every week, but you may reward yourself with these kinds of small treats when you feel like you deserve it. So think of social media in the same way: only allow yourself screen time when you've achieved something or you've done something productive first. This way you might change the way you think about social media.
6. Delete Apps You Don't Use
A common chorus among experts in The Social Dilemma was to uninstall apps you aren't using often. Haven't checked Twitter in months? Take it off your phone. It'll remove the temptation, the notifications, and the temptation to scroll mindlessly. If you absolutely need to check it, there's always your laptop.
7. Go Cold Turkey
Depending on how bad things have gotten, it might be time to go cold turkey. If you're spending more time on social media than you are interacting with people in real life, give yourself a reality check by having a holiday from social media. Decide how long it's going to be, inform your friends online how long you'll be away and how they can reach you if they need you in person, and delete your apps. If you normally spend a minimum of two hours on social media per day, you will have an extra fourteen hours per week which are totally free to do whatever you want with – let the world be your your wifi-free oyster.
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