How To Use Social Media Responsibly

Have you ever heard the phrase, "everything in moderation?" It's often used in conjunction with activities like drinking alcohol, eating junk food, and watching TV — but have you ever wondered how to use social media responsibly? Because social media is a new phenomenon in the last 15 years, the effects of long-term exposure haven't yet been studied in depth. However, a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that "liking" people's posts on Facebook, and clicking links posted by friends, was associated with worse reports of mental health, physical health, and life satisfaction.

Now, before you delete your social media accounts, let's go back to that "everything in moderation" thing. In an article on Live Science, Thomas Valente, a professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California who was not involved with the current study, said that a certain amount of "social media activity and communication over social networking sites is beneficial, but too much probably gets you in trouble."

But, there is good news: Millennials are not the generation most addicted to social media. That honor goes to Gen-Xers. According to a new Nielsen report, Gen-Xers spend almost seven hours a week scrolling while Millennials spend closer to six and a half hours on social media.

But, how much is too much? Let's look at it like this: Mainlining tequila is probably going to give you a hangover, just like spending hours scrolling through social media is most likely going to leave you feeling sad, lonely, or depressed. The solution is to use social media responsibly, just like you would tequila. Here are seven tips to becoming a more responsible social media user.


Give Yourself a Social Media Curfew

We all do it: Hit the pillow, turn off the light... and reach for our phones to take one last look at our social accounts. Research from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital concluded that using a light-emitting electronic device (LE-eBook) in the hours before bedtime can adversely impact overall health, alertness, and the circadian clock which synchronizes the daily rhythm of sleep to external environmental time cues.

According to the results of the study, using light emitting devices immediately before bedtime has a powerful effect on the body’s natural sleep/wake pattern, and may play a role in perpetuating sleep deficiency.

Consider giving yourself a screen-time curfew. I have a friend who does this: At a designated time she stops watching TV, and using social media, and instead does restorative things like reading a book, or taking a bath. "I essentially treat myself like a baby," she told me.

In the hours before bed, reach for a book instead. Another study notes the time spent on social media each year could be used to read 200 books.


Remove the Apps from Your Phone

People today are addicted to their smartphones, and often pull them out when they're feeling awkward, or want to appear busy — much like cigarettes were used in previous decades as a level of protection against uncertainty.

I know I am guilty of this. When I'm feeling uneasy or anxious, instead of being in the present moment, and noticing my surroundings, I pull out my phone and scroll in order to appear busy (and incredibly important).

A new study out of the University of Chicago found that the allure of social media is even stronger than that of alcohol and tobacco. The easy (and free) access to social media makes it even harder to resist. But, if you remove your social media apps from your phone, you won't be able to scroll while you're waiting in line at Starbucks. Furthermore, you might actually meet someone you like. And, Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect, says face-to-face interactions make us happier, healthier, and smarter.

Pulling out your phone makes you seem less approachable (you know because you look so busy and important), so you could be missing out on meeting some great people.


Turn Off Your Notifications

If you're not ready to remove your social media apps from your phone (or you can't because you need to scan social media for work), consider turning off the push notifications on your phone.

A lot of science and psychology has gone into designing social media over the years. Receiving a notification on your phone feels like getting a reward (that's no mistake), and rewards make us happy. It also creates a feeling of false urgency.

A study by Ford found that 62 percent of adults developed happy feelings when they received positive feedback about something they shared on social media. Additionally, similar to drug addiction, each notification acts as a hit that only makes you want more.

Break the cycle by deciding for yourself when and where you check your social media. Turn off your notifications, and take control of your scroll.


Spend Time With Your Friends In Person

Instead of interacting with your friends on social media, invite a friend or two out for a cup of coffee, a drink, or a meal. I know for me personally, seeing my friends' constant activity on social media makes me less likely to reach out to them for two reasons: First, I feel like by liking and commenting on their social media posts we've already interacted; and second, it seems like they might be too busy to hang out because they appear so busy online.

But digital socializing is no substitute for the real thing. In her book Life Is Friends: A Complete Guide to the Lost Art of Connecting in Person, Jeanne Martinet chronicles why there is no substitute for live, in-person interactions.


Subscribe to a Newspaper

These days, most of us get all of our news online. As a former print journalist, I experienced first hand the decline of print readership. When I was a newspaper editor, our paper reluctantly began putting news on its website. In the early days of online news, users needed a print subscription to access the online articles. Most news outlets today offer offer their online content for free, though some, like the the New York Times, limit free access to 10 articles a month per user.

But worth considering is this: A 2015 survey from Two Sides, the global organization created to promote the responsible production, revealed that 81 percent of participants found printed media more relaxing to read.

If you want to slow down, consider subscribing to a paper like New York Times, even if you just do it on Sundays. This way you can start your day off with a cup of coffee, and the morning news without ever using your phone, tablet, or computer.


Limit Your Social Media Accounts

Most people have more than one social media account. For me, the ones I frequent the most are Facebook and Instagram. I also have Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat, but I don't use them daily.

While it might be tempting to join whatever the newest social media craze is, consider if it's really necessary for your life. According to AdWeek, the average person has five different social media accounts.

Who has time to peruse five accounts? Perhaps the person who is scrolling while waiting in line for their coffee, not spending in-person time with friends, and suffers from insomnia from screen time before bed.

If this sounds like you, pick your two favorites, and leave the rest.


Set a Designated Time to Check Your Social Media

Commit to only checking your social media accounts at pre-determined times, perhaps twice a day. I know this might sound worse than detoxing from sugar, but it gets easier, and before long it will become a habit.

A friend and I did this on a trip to Hawaii so we could commit to actually experiencing our trip in real time instead of live tweeting the adventure. It made a big difference, and we were more present and engaged in whatever activity we were doing versus taking time out to post tidbits to our social media accounts.

Once you're no longer a slave to social media you can decide what to do with all of your new free time. Consider a non-digital hobby like knitting, yoga, hiking, or whatever speaks to you.