How To Maximize The Benefits of Social Media While Reducing The Risks of Harmful Use

Given the rise of social media use in the past decade, people find themselves scrolling through hours of videos, pictures, and other posts. In 2018, 68% of adults in the US had a Facebook account, 71% of adults used Instagram, and 78% of adults used Snapchat. Overall, the National
Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 7 out of 10 people in the US are active social media users.

Research has shown a relationship between social media use and mental health. There is a direct correlation between using social media, depression, and overall satisfaction with life. One study found that the more someone uses Facebook, the lower their self-esteem is and the greater their feelings of loneliness. Further, higher use of Instagram has correlated with increased body image issues. Social comparison, cyber-bullying, and peer envy play a large role in these outcomes. Nighttime social media use also decreases the quality of sleep and results in daytime tiredness, which can contribute to anxiety and depression.

One study showed that abstaining from any Facebook use for a week, had a significant increase in well-being. In 2022, however, most individuals would not abstain long term, and people often highlight a fear of missing out. Further, most individuals that utilize social media aim to stay connected with other people, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. So, how can we stay connected without sinking into the negative effects of social media use? Finding the skills to effectively use social media can create long term habits that will maximize benefits of social media without giving it up completely.

Here are some tips that could help:

1

Reducing time spent on social media by 10 minutes per day has shown to decrease loneliness and depressive symptoms. People who limited social media use reported they were able to focus more on school and work. While there are plenty of ways to restrict yourself from physically using your phone, most people know that it is easy to get around those barriers. Try using encouraging apps, such as https://www.forestapp.cc. In this app, if you don’t use your phone for an established time period a tree will grow in your virtual forest. After you grow enough trees, you can submit to have a tree planted in a real forest!

2

Decrease the value social media has for you by increasing positive in-person social interactions. By acknowledging your social media use when you are socializing with others in person, you can bring awareness to the present moment. While documenting the moment or taking pictures are helpful for our memories, don’t forget to enjoy the moment too! Picking up hobbies or interests that used to be valuable to you can also increase the value of not being on your phone.

3

The link between social media use, depression, and well-being can be linked to decreased sleep quality. Therefore, limiting social media specifically at night can be beneficial. Your phone has settings that will encourage you to limit phone use, otherwise physically placing your phone in another room overnight can discourage unproductive nighttime phone checking.

4

Ask yourself what it is about social media that has you scrolling for hours. Being aware of your values during social media use can help be intentional about the time you spend online. You might ask yourself, “what am I gaining from this right now?” If you can’t find a positive reason, take a step back and find a moment to enjoy what is happening around you.

5

Social connectedness can have positive or negative outcomes for individuals, depending on the scenario. Periodically, take a moment to step back and assess the nature of the content you are viewing. Allow yourself time to evaluate the content. You might ask yourself, “is this realistic?” “am I connecting or comparing?” or “is it bringing me positive or negative thoughts?” Questions like these can keep you grounded in reality during your social media use.

6

Parents who have teens with heavy social media use might start by setting consistent written rules for their children. These rules might include times it is okay to be on social media and times when social media use is discouraged. Parents can promote their children’s engagement by spending the social-media-free time doing something enjoyable. This can be something with the neighbors, game night, or spending time outside together. The more fun your children have outside of social media use, the more willing they might be to continue in-person engagement.

Social media is not all bad. Overuse, however, can have some detrimental interpersonal impacts. These are basic tips that might assist in more beneficial use of social media, although, it can be easier said than done. If you or your child continue to struggle with social media addiction, it could be beneficial to seek help from a therapist. A step-by-step process might allow a gradual decrease in harmful social media use.

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