There’s no denying that technology and social media have been absolutely essential to all of us throughout the pandemic and a crucial lifeline for many having to self-isolate alone.
With remote work and entertainment venues shut for the majority of the year, we’re spending around 45 hours of screen time each week, according to Ofcom.
That’s 40% of our day online – a rise of almost one third from last year.
Considering our reliance on the internet to keep us connected this year, it might seem unfeasible to imagine taking time away from our screens.
However, experts recommend we should be, as much as possible, rethinking how much time we spend online and find the right balance with off-line activities.
Reducing time spent on social media in particular can have a potentially profound impact on both our mental and physical wellbeing.
Looking after your Mental Health
A study by mental health charity Mind found that social media could in fact be both a positive and negative coping strategy during the pandemic.
‘Knowing others were going through the same thing’ was cited as one of the main ways in which social media was a helpful tool in managing mental health during lockdown.
However, whilst some praised social media for providing a sense of community, others argued that social platforms could trigger anxiety when reading distressing news content.
The Mental Health Foundation advises that we assess how we use social media platforms to avoid feeling overanxious during lockdown.
This includes being considerate of the information we are sharing to our friends and followers and its potential impact on others.
“Stay in touch with friends on social media but try not to sensationalise things. If you are sharing content, use this from trusted sources, and remember that your friends might be worried too.”
Also remember to regularly assess your social media activity. Tune in with yourself and ask if they need to be adjusted.
Are there particular accounts or people that are increasing your worry or anxiety? Consider muting or unfollowing accounts or hashtags that cause you to feel anxious.”
Kerry Bannigan, Founder of Conscious Fashion Campaign, told Unsaid that she often takes breaks from social media as a way of reminding herself to reconnect with the outside world.
“I detox from social media regularly and I am finding now after another stint that I am nearly ready to delete certain social media apps from my personal life permanently.
Away from social media I feel more focused and in the moment of real life. It feels rebellious these days to embrace moments and share memories with only yourself or those directly involved
People should take a one-week detox then increase to two weeks on the next week. Humanity needs to reconnect with themselves, each other and what is around us.
You will be shocked how many in-depth, thought provoking conversations you have with people when you realise scrolling is not dimensional enough to learn truly about people.”
Social Media: The Stress of Social Comparison
Social media usage has soared over the pandemic. At the beginning of the first lockdown, Facebook reported a 70% increase in Messenger group video calls and WhatsApp saw a 40% increase in usage.
Connecting with others through social media has helped many to feel less isolated over periods of lockdown.
More than half (57%) of social media users in the U.S. and U.K. said the platforms have made them feel less lonely during the pandemic, according to a survey by GlobalWebIndex and We Are Social.
But whilst there might be less pressure to post pictures of exciting trips and family get-togethers during lockdown, the pressures of social media still remain a problem for some.
Although 42% of social media users said they feel less pressure to show an unrealistic image of their lives during the pandemic, almost a quarter (23%) claimed that they still feel pressure to post a filtered version of their lives on social media.
Lewis, 22, from Cumbria, told Unsaid that he decided to temporarily delete social media during the festive period due to anxiety caused by social comparison.
“It was Christmas eve actually, when I decided that I’d delete social media until at least when I go back to work in the New Year.
I couldn’t believe people were still posting pictures of their trees with huge bundles of presents for their children underneath.
It just felt bad taste, given that so many people have lost their jobs over the pandemic and can’t afford to give their children presents.”
“It was making me feel like my quiet Christmas with my parents wasn’t good enough. We shouldn’t have to be meeting any expectations over Christmas – but social media, sadly, can make it feel like that sometimes, especially when you’re already feeling a bit low.”
Social Media and Our Sleep Pattern
Many of us fall victim to bedtime scrolling – taking our phone to bed and checking social feeds at the end of the day.
A ‘Fear of Missing Out’, the perpetual desire to stay connected to others, is one of the main reasons for using social media before bed.
Those who suffer from social media ‘FOMO’ are more likely to check their phones within 15 minutes of trying to fall asleep.
The issue of FOMO is particularly prevalent amongst teenagers, according to experts. Dr Holly Scott, from the school of psychology at Glasgow University, calls social media a “powerful competitor for sleep”.
“Teenagers may be lying awake because they are not ready to fall asleep and then struggling to disengage from social media because they don’t want to miss out.”
But, taking your mobile to bed isn’t just a teenage problem.
According to a YouGov survey, two thirds of us (65%) use our phones while in bed before going to sleep and 45% do so when they wake up in the middle of the night.
Trying to cram a few more ‘Likes’ social media late at night is among the bad habits that contribute to ‘poor sleep hygiene’, said Daniel Smith, Professor of Psychiatry and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist at the University of Glasgow.
‘Especially in the winter, making sure you get out in the morning in the fresh air is just as important in getting a good night’s sleep as not being on your mobile phone.’
Finding the Right Balance
Taking a detox from social media can have a number of benefits – reading less shared stress-inducing information, feeling less pressure to ‘keep-up’ and possibly getting a better night’s sleep – all of which can contribute to improved mental and physical wellbeing.
But reconsidering our social media usage doesn’t have to mean deleting our apps permanently.
In fact, social media can be a positive tool (particularly during the current times) by virtually connecting those physically distant.
But, as experts advise, reconsidering how we use social media can be worthwhile for both our overall health and happiness.