The other evening, I was watching a television program about the school system in South Korea, where students are among the highest academic achievers on the planet. At one level this sounds great, but the work that goes into this sort of success (studying up to 16 hours a day, by some accounts) comes at a cost. According to the BBC, South Korea also has the highest suicide rate in the world, per capita, among 10- to 30-year-olds.
What does this have to do with social media? Very little, perhaps — directly. But indirectly there are parallels. Because of the time spent in study, many Koreans admit they miss out on physical activities, socializing and fun. They pay a price. As with most things in life, there’s a lesson to learn here about striking a balance.
Focus too much on anything and something else in your life has to give. Social media usage is high among teens. According to one report in the Washington Post, some teens spend nearly nine hours every day using media. Obviously, this isn’t the case for all teens — but I can see how easy it might be to become hooked. I’ve often logged on simply to read an article and before I know it, something else has caught my eye. What would have been a five-minute session has grown to 40.
Connectivity can be isolatingThe idea that greater social connectivity leads to greater social isolation isn’t new. It stands to reason that if the majority of your free time is spent staring at a screen, then your social life will suffer. The University of Missouri reported** in 2015** that even the way a person uses Facebook can have implications for mental health. Heavy usage of Facebook for “surveillance” in order to draw comparisons with others can lead to symptoms of depression and envy, researchers found.
People who suffer from social anxiety may also use social media as an alternative to direct social contact. It’s simple and easy to hide behind a laptop and be the person you’d prefer to be. This is a prime example of avoidance and it’s common. It’s also worth remembering that the lives people choose to portray on social media are often contrived to show the best bits. Few people spend time describing their insecurities and inner conflicts, so comparing ourselves with others can actually increase our own anxiety and uncertainty.
Breaking free from social mediaI’m not suggesting you pull the plug entirely on your social media activities. However, you may be reading this because you feel your social media habit has taken over your life.** If this is the case, here are a few ideas for managing the situation:**
Put your phone on silent or, even better, hide it from view while you’re working
Only check your personal emails at specific times of the day — say, first thing in the morning, lunchtime, and evening. If you get used to this, you might want to try reducing to just once or twice a day.
Before you connect, decide how much time you want to spend online and then set the timer on your phone. When the alarm goes off, it’s time to shut down.
Arrange alternative social activities with friends or do something that doesn’t involve social media (e.g. exercising, making art, reading, walking, cooking)
Leave work at work
Build time into your day for mindful activities. This will leave you feeling less fidgety and anxious about what you think you might be missing.
Try one or more of these ideas for just a few days and compare your feelings to what they were before you started. I’d be surprised if you don’t feel easier in yourself, happier, and just a bit more balanced.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.