Modern life is full of contradictions. On one hand, we’ve never been so connected – did you know you can now live stream from the top of Mount Everest? – while on the other hand, many of us have never felt so isolated. In fact, the 2018 Australian Loneliness Report revealed that one in four Australians report feeling lonely in any given week.
While social media isn’t fully at fault for these figures, the report does cite social media use as a contributing factor – particularly for younger Australians, who aren’t always as well-connected in real life as their social accounts might make them appear.
Whether you’re a Facebook aficionado, an Instagram influencer, a pathological Pinterest-er or Snapchat savant, social media is a somewhat inescapable fixture of today’s society. As of 2017, almost 3 billion people were found logging into their app of choice – that’s close to half the world’s population. And of those 3 billion people, the average person spent two hours per day captioning and curating their feeds.
While the rise of social media is still a fairly recent phenomenon, you can’t argue that it has changed our lives. But is it for the worse or the better? And to what extent is social media affecting our health?
This is one of the more talked about impacts of social media use, and technology in general. Once upon a time, humans used to go to bed in complete darkness and enjoy a full night’s sleep, undisturbed by buzzing notifications and blue light. It’s not the case anymore.
We’re all guilty of laying our heads on our pillows and scrolling Instagram before closing our eyes. But did you know research has found that this can actually hinder our body’s production of melatonin? And we kind of need melatonin. Melatonin signals to our body that it’s time to sleep and without it, our circadian rhythms become all out of whack.
Sense of well-being
The concept of wellbeing is associated with our overall happiness. It encompasses everything from the physical, to the emotional and the mental. Sadly, studies (like this one, which concerns itself with Facebook) show that social media can leave people feeling envious and dissatisfied with their own lives. It’s a classic case of ‘the grass is always greener’. And all those beautification filters and galleries of people living their best lives aren’t helping.
Another study conducted by researchers at Penn University found a direct link between selfies and negative self-esteem. The research suggests that when users look at other people’s (seemingly perfect) selfies it causes them to compare their own happiness. Interestingly though, looking at group selfies was found to increase positive emotions.
In good news for social media users, social networking has been found to actually improve your memory. A study by Prof. Qi Wang has revealed that social posting helps with memory recall. After all, you’re unlikely to forget that embarrassing photo from New Years’ Eve 2010, right? Prof. Wang says “Events that were reported to be posted online were much more likely to be recalled than those not posted online.”
That said, it can be detrimental to your attention span. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that heavy social media users are more inclined to be “distracted by the multiple streams of media they’re consuming” rather than adept at multitasking as you might imagine. The answer? Maybe ease off on the apps for a while.
But you don’t necessarily need to ditch social media altogether. Experts, like Wellbeing Counsellor Annie Hearne, believe that we simply need to foster healthier social media habits. “I see disruptions to attention every single day at an educational level, but the same can be said for adult workplaces,” says Annie.
“Social media can be a tricky thing to navigate. It can give us a platform to feel included or heard, and eliminate the awkwardness of face-to-face conversations that might be highly emotive or confronting. On the flip side, the increasing popularity of things like anonymous features on apps is making it easier to cyberbully or harass.”
The question is, how can we better social media users?
Keep it out of the bedroom
According to Annie, the bedroom is no place for social media. She recommends buying an alarm clock and charging your phone outside the bedroom. And for all of you who fall asleep scrolling, why not start reading instead?
Be more mindful
Take a second to pay attention to how you feel when scrolling. Often your tongue will be pressed to the top of your mouth, the forehead is scrunched and shoulders hitched up. “If your phone is causing a tense position, it’s time to stop, breathe and relax,” says Annie. “Also think about why you’re picking up your phone – what’s your intention? If you don’t have one, use this time to breathe instead.”
Say no to notifications
This is an easy one, according to Annie. Turning off all your notifications means less unwanted distraction and less temptation to pick up your phone. If you’re finding it really difficult, you could even think about using an app that blocks your social media for a few hours.
Detox, detox, detox
Annie recommends going on regular social media detoxes. “This means deleting the apps for a week, month, however long you feel you need to take a proper break. It allows you to reset and take stock of what’s happening in your life instead of other people’s.”
Keep your phone face down
“Especially when socialising!” says Annie. We all know there is nothing worse than when you’re out for dinner with friends and everyone at the table is scrolling Instagram. Don’t let social media ruin your real-life social experiences.
Move your social media apps around
Annie recommends moving your social media apps around your home screen every couple of weeks. “It removes autopilot and that split second you spend searching for its new location can be enough to question exactly why you’re jumping on.”
This is just a life tip in general. If you find yourself 112 weeks’ deep into a strangers feed then it is time to break the cycle and get outside. Fresh air and the outdoors gives us energy and a new perspective.
Remember, life happens away from your phone, not while you’re staring at it.
Check out some of our other screen-free tips here!