Log In

Reset Password
  • MENU
    Local News
    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    Backus Checkup: How to Have a Healthier Relationship with Social Media

    Is it possible to have a balanced relationship with social media? The answer is yes.

    It involves moderate, mindful use that promotes a healthy lifestyle. This often means actively conversing with friends on social media to facilitate in-person get-togethers. However, many of us have an unhealthy relationship with social media, which detracts more from our lives than it adds.

    Addiction to social media is not a recognized medical condition, but research shows that excessive, pathological social media habits resemble the symptoms of a behavioral addiction and mimic their effects on brain function.

    Compulsive or uncontrolled use of social media commonly leads to problems in everyday life, but it is only defined as addiction when it causes severe dysfunction, which is thankfully rare. Social media platforms are designed to make use habitual and even compulsive for humans, who are inherently social creatures. Social organization afforded our prehistoric ancestors safety in numbers and allowed for more efficient access to food and shelter, and the resultant cumulative culture has enabled our species to flourish.

    Therefore, a large part of our brains is devoted to social functioning and language. Social media takes advantage of this reality by offering users rewarding social interactions that are immediately accessible and stimulate our brains’ reward pathways. For some, the urge to scroll through social media feeds becomes so strong that it overpowers voluntary control, leading to compulsive use that quickly becomes excessive and can even disrupt everyday functioning.

    Below are seven signs that your relationship with social media might be unhealthy and a few strategies for setting better boundaries.

    Unhealthy online habits can take many forms, such as:

    – Spending too much time scrolling through others’ posts or taking selfies

    – Comparing your profile or appearance to others’

    – Experiencing declining self-esteem

    – Engaging in online aggression or even cyberbullying

    – Posting excessively about negative thoughts and feelings, triggering a cycle of rumination and self-fulfilling pessimism

    – Following accounts and communities that promote unhealthy behaviors, like eating disorders, rumination or self-harm

    – Experiencing chronic insomnia due to social media use in bed and/or late at night

    Many people enjoy social media in moderation, and they needn’t worry about setting usage boundaries. For anyone feeling their use is out of control, there are some strategies to create a healthier relationship with social media:

    – Think before logging on, so you use the platform mindfully. Know what you want to get out of use and log off after, resisting the temptation to linger.

    – Determine situations to avoid, such as use in bed, at work, at the dinner table or when socializing in person. You can also unfollow negative influences.

    – Set time limits on use. You can limit how long you’ll stay online or what time you’ll start and stop each day, and follow your progress with the Screen Time function on Apple devices, and Digital Wellbeing on Android devices.

    – Turn off notifications and remove the social media app from certain devices or the first page of your home screen, so social media is less accessible. This prevents impulsive checks.

    It is vital to protect regular time for beneficial activities like exercise, going outdoors and in-person socializing with friends and family. A balanced social media diet is an important part of the healthy modern lifestyle.

    Paul Weigle, M.D., is assistant medical director at Natchaug Hospital, part of Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.