What would your mental health look like in a world without social media? Pretty hard to imagine, right? Many of us are so mixed up with our social accounts that it’s difficult to remember what we did before the feed. There are plenty of upsides to an online connection, but how do we find balance with the constant flurry of input from friends, family, celebrities, and brands constantly vying for our attention?

To help you do just that, Healthline and Psych Central invite you to join our 10-Day Digital Disconnect Challenge on Instagram. In a recent Healthline survey, we asked readers how they feel about social media. Of those we asked, 25% said they feel it has a negative effect on their mental well-being, and 53% said they feel that cutting down on usage could help. That number jumps to 66% among those with a mental health condition that started or worsened during the pandemic. On top of that, 29% of respondents said they need at least a few days of break to benefit from a social media hiatus, while that number jumps to 46% among 15 to 24-year-olds.

That’s why we’re challenging you to take an introspective look at how your social media behaviour affects your mental well-being. Over a 10-day period, Healthline and Psych Central will help you create a happy, healthy relationship with social media through interactive journal prompts, digital boundary-setting tips and tricks, and some hard-to-hear social media truths. Don’t worry, we’ll have a little fun along the way, too!

Our feed, along with thousands of other social media users, will be radio silent as we fully unplug, unwind, and unlearn the social media habits that can hurt mental health — and we encourage you to do the same.

How social media affects mental health

So, what does the research have to say about the effects of social media on your health and well-being? You might be surprised to learn most studies aren’t too favourable. In fact, your brain may just be begging you to slow your scroll. A 2015 study found that U.K. children were twice as likely to report high or very high scores for mental ill-health if they used social networking sites for 3 hours or more on a school day.

A small 2018 study found a direct link between decreasing social media usage and improvements in depression and loneliness. In a 2021 survey by ExpressVPN, 86% of a sampling of 1,500 Americans reported that social media directly negatively impacts their happiness and self-image. Between 79 and 83% reported negative effects on anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

2022 cross-national online survey of the United States, U.K., Australia, and Norway found that those who used social media for entertainment or to decrease loneliness during the pandemic experienced poorer mental health. While using social media for personal contact and maintaining relationships was associated with improved mental health, there was still a correlation between increased daily time on social media and poorer mental health overall.

On the other hand, a 2021 pilot study of 68 university students found that most students reported a positive change in mood, reduced anxiety, and improved sleep during and immediately after a break from social media. The data seems pretty clear. If you don’t want to experience poor self-image, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even poor sleep, making some tweaks to your social media use may be a good idea.

Things to do instead of social media

Your mental health is more important than your Instagram aesthetic. So, what can you do instead of curating and scrolling? The beautiful thing is the world is your oyster! When you step away from the screen and into the three-dimensional world, there’s an endless array of options depending on your needs. Once you identify why you’re feeling the urge to log onto your social media accounts, you can redirect this feeling in other ways.

If you use social media to relax

If you find you reach for your phone when you have a little down time, consider swapping for these options instead:

If you use social media to connect with others

If you find yourself longing for some human connection and the desire to check your feed arises, try these activities instead:

If you use social media for entertainment

Instead of memes and 30-second videos, opt for some IRL entertainment:

There’s a lot of power in knowing your motives for logging onto your social accounts. Once you do, you can make a choice to meet that need in another way.

How to set healthy social media boundaries

While taking breaks from social media is great, it’s important to be realistic (and not militant) about your use. If social media is a part of your life, that’s OK. There are ways to lessen the negative effects and enhance the positive effects of social media, even while you’re using it.

For instance, you can:

On top of that, you can set an example for a mindful, authentic posting, so others can be inspired by your feed and perhaps follow suit.

For starters, you can:

Takeaway

For most of us, social media is simply a part of our lives, for better and for worse. At the same time, we can use it in a way that emphasizes the positive over the negative, both for us and for others. With a little conscious use, occasional breaks, and balance with other activities, social media can be a healthy tool for self-expression and connection.

Source: HealthlineMedia

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