Social media has become an integral part of our daily life—and it is truly a double-edged sword. While it enables us to connect with others from afar (which we’ve appreciated throughout the pandemic) using social media too often can lead to negative feelings and poor mental health.
“On social media, many people try to portray their lives as different from reality,” says Farvah Fatima, M.D., a primary care physician with Henry Ford Health. “So while scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, you might think that everyone’s lives are perfect but yours. It can be easy to internalize those feelings. If you feel like that, you might need a break to focus on yourself and then reassess whether you want to get back on social media. And if you do, it’s important to realize that social media is not a reflection of reality.”
Gradually decreasing the amount of time you spend on social media is a good place to start. Here, Dr. Fatima shares a few helpful ways to reduce your screen time.
- Cut back slowly. “If you just decide one day that you’re never going to use social media again and go off cold turkey, it could backfire,” says Dr. Fatima. “If you’ve been accustomed to getting that constant input of information, you should slowly reduce your reliance so you don’t feel that withdrawal. That way, you’ll be more likely to cut down and keep it that way in the long run.” Set restrictions for yourself: For example, reserve half an hour in the morning and evening for social media and go down from there. (And set a timer to keep yourself to it!)
- Find activities to distract yourself from social. You’ll be more likely to stick to this schedule if you have engaging activities to occupy your spare time. Dig into a good book—one that gets you hooked from the start—so you’re not tempted to reach for your phone. Spend time outdoors, play with your kids, do a puzzle—whatever it is that will keep you having fun!
- Watch shows and movies on TV instead of a tablet, computer or phone. Especially after a year of pandemic life, we know that binging Netflix counts as having fun. But watch these shows and movies on a TV and keep your other devices out of reach. If you use a tablet, phone, or laptop, the temptation is right there, in your hands. “The TV is farther away from you, you can’t move around with it,” says Dr. Fatima. “It’s not as ‘easy access’ and it will help get rid of that habit of having a screen right near you all of the time.”
- And while watching TV, keep your hands busy. “We tell people who are trying to quit smoking to fiddle around with cinnamon sticks because they have a habit of twirling something in their hands,” says Dr. Fatima. “In that same regard, with social media, we’re always swiping and tapping and clicking, we’re used to our hands always being busy.” Knitting or squeezing a stress ball while watching TV, for example, can alleviate the temptation to start scrolling. Coloring, doodling or playing with a fidget toy might also do the trick.
- Notice your mood when you’re on social media versus when you’re not. Now that you’ve been drawing clear lines of when you can and cannot use social media, realize how you feel when you’re on it versus when you’re not: do you feel more relaxed? Do you feel more present in the moment? Are you happier? Being aware of how you feel when you’re not on social media can be motivation to keep it to a minimum.
Dr. Farvah Fatima is a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Farmington Road.