How To Know If Taking A Social Media Break Will Help Your Mood

by Carolyn de Lorenzo
Wayhome Studio/Shutterstock

If you’re reflecting on 2018 and setting goals for the new year, you might be musing over ways to prioritize some new self-care habits. While there’s no denying that social media can offer benefits like staying connected with friends and community, sometimes, you just need a break from all the feeds already. If you’re looking to dial down your social media usage in 2019, taking a breather can be a great way to start. Taking a social media break can counter some of the potential negative mental health effects of being on social media all the time. A social media break can also give you more time to do other things you care about, like working out, walking the dog, or catching up on Netflix.

If you're wondering if you should consider a break, start out by being mindful of how you're using it. "Check in with yourself when using social media, and after use," licensed marriage and family therapist Erica Curtis, LMFT, tells Bustle via email. "Do you feel better about yourself, your relationships, your day? The same? Or do you feel worse: More stress, anxious, or down?" Curtis says it's important to check in not only with your feelings, but your thoughts, too.

This process extends not only to your internal world, but to the world around you, too. "Finally, check in to see if anything important to you has been neglected while on social media: Work, sleep, relationships, outlets for creativity, relaxation, enjoyment, or exercise," Curtis says. "Bringing awareness to how social media personally impacts your feelings, thoughts, daily activities, relationships, and so forth may help you decide whether or not social media enhances or subtracts from your day."

"Sometimes a shift in type, frequency, and duration is needed," she says.

If you find yourself comparing your feed to the filtered images you see on Instagram, especially if you’re already feeling down or anxious, you might find that social media usage can harm your feelings of well-being over time. According to The American Psychiatric Association, spending some time scanning your feeds is totally OK, but spending too much time on social media can leave you feeling more depressed than when you started. Taking a social media break can give you some space around your social media habits, give you time to reflect on how they’re affecting you, and help you lessen your usage if you need to when you start logging on again.

"While research is still mixed regarding the up and downsides of social media usage, it is generally agreed that people are more vulnerable to negative effects of social media when they are lonely," says Curtis. "This is due in part because connecting digitally increases disconnection from the world (including people and nature) around us. People who have set themselves up to reach certain personal or professional goals by a certain time, and believe they have failed to meet those goals, may also be particularly vulnerable due to comparisons to the idealized online profiles portrayed by others. Envy, a fear of missing out, and self-depreciating thoughts about what 'I should' have accomplished by now, may be heightened by social media."

A social media break can be a powerful way to set boundaries around this thinking. Drawing a line in the social media sand is all about taking care of yourself. “For many of us, social media can feel like an anxiety-fueled space, and it’s up to us to decide when to turn it off. Shutting off the noise on social media by taking a break can be the healthiest boundary you set for yourself, which is the ultimate form of self-care,” writes Forbes.

"Stepping away from social media can open our eyes to the role social media plays in our lives and its impact on us," Curtis says. "Many people who 'detox' from social media report a sense of time slowing, having more time, enjoying the day and relationships more, having better perspective on themselves and others, and gaining insights into the previously unseen personal impacts (both positive and negative) social media has on them."

While it’s true that social media can offer up a number of benefits, like community support, connection with loved ones, and endless adorable dog videos, taking care of yourself also means knowing when too much of a good thing isn’t so great. No matter what your self-care goals are for 2019, lessening social media usage can give you more time to enjoy your life in a number of ways — not the least of which is actually seeing the people you love in *real* time.