Are you currently reading this piece on your mobile? If so, you are not alone. We consume content, engage with it and connect with people through our phones, especially on social media. On the one hand, we have been able to create more connections than ever before.
On the other hand, the rise of “hyper-connectedness” has seen our mental health suffer.
Even social media platforms have become aware of it – Instagram’s upcoming ‘Take a Break‘ feature aims to encourage users to take time away from the platform by sending them reminders after they’ve spent a certain period on it.
Similarly, since Apple added the ‘screen time’ option to iOS, I have been particularly interested in analysing my very own trends when being ‘plugged in’.
Millennials and Gen Z are more connected than ever — and that has been a critical player in the way their mental health is performing on a day-to-day basis, even more so than the older demographic.
While some of these studies have linked prolonged social media and mobile phone use with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem (especially in a younger audience), others suggest it can also benefit significantly. It’s essential, to be honest with ourselves and ask WHY we choose to be on a social account.
Social media and burnout
A survey of UK smartphone users by Chinese phone maker OnePlus suggests that young people are five times more likely to lose their temper because of slow download speeds than older phone users.
The phenomenon, called “load rage”, is linked to data showing that two-fifths of millennials admit feeling the symptoms of burnout — including fatigue, insomnia and anxiety — because of the digital-heavy nature of their lives (The Scotsman online).
The data proves a very serious correlation between burnout, anxiety, and technology. We know that our screen time is affecting our mental health. The same OnePlus research suggested a high level of awareness about excessive phone use among younger people, with nearly half of those aged between 16 and 24 claiming they would like to reduce their screen time.
In early 2019, Instagram announced a test to hide the likes from the platform. Despite arguing this is part of a bigger business ploy, there could be mental health benefits for users. The recent test of ‘take a break‘ shows platforms like Instagram are interested in the users’ mental wellbeing.
Scientific studies show just how much social media affects our mental health, directly correlating social media use and depression. It’s making us more anxious, too. Anecdotally, you’ve probably felt social media anxiety at some point, and, with this, you may have revalued your relationship with technology altogether.
As much as we tell ourselves that the life we see through that little square on our phones is what someone has chosen to share and not the whole picture, sometimes even those with the thickest skin can feel that the barrage of ‘perfection’ displayed online is too much to handle.
It may be the constant baby and wedding updates of Facebook, the ‘I have exciting news, but I can’t tell you what it is yet’ teasers on Twitter, or the beautifully curated, themed profile of an Instagram creator.
Whether you’re a full-time entrepreneur, a side hustler, or purely use social media as a procrastination tool, taking a break isn’t easy, even if it’s going to be better for your mental health. Having taken a social media break myself last year, here’s a guide to cutting back for a little while.
Choose what to cut back on
Having a complete social media break might not be the answer for you. It may just be one or two platforms you choose to take a break from. Maybe it’s just one platform that you find yourself addictively scrolling through.
Think about when you feel the most anxious or affected by social media, and if you can’t put your finger on when that is, perhaps a complete social media blackout is in order. Whether we love it or hate it, we all use social media — whether for personal interest or as part of our brand.
As a founder of two companies, I see social media as a way to share our message with our audience, answer questions and provide education.
However, as I develop my brand alongside our company accounts — and I specialise in helping entrepreneurs reclaim their time in their marketing efforts — I realise social can feel overwhelming.
The adverse effects of social media have been well documented, with even Facebook admitting that the platform may pose a risk to users’ emotional wellbeing.
Is there any way we can take our power back? Whether you cut out one, or every social platform there is, it’s your own choice, and there is no right or wrong answer.
Delete the apps
Are you looking for a sharp break? Having that little app icon winking at you from your phone screen is distressing enough, so go ahead, delete it.
Taking away that temptation will allow you to completely disconnect without wondering, ‘What if I just logged in for a second’, where you’d possibly see something that reminded you immediately why you took a break, and you’re back to square one.
Some people go on a seven-day detox. Having a complete social media detox might not be the answer for you. It may just be one or two platforms you choose to take a break from. Maybe it’s just one platform that you find yourself addictively scrolling through.
Taking a social media break will unlikely ruin your career. You won’t miss half a dozen events, and you won’t become an online outcast.
If you prefer, you can put up a quick post before you delete the app explaining to your followers that a break is needed, and the majority of them will be waiting for you when you get back.
And if they’re not, then honestly, it’s their loss. Truly loyal followers will stick around for fresh content from a calmer, less anxious you, and if they don’t, then perhaps they’re not the followers you want to attract.
Remember why you signed up
Let’s think about Instagram specifically for a moment. Why did you sign up?
Perhaps it was for interior inspiration or workout motivation, or because you love photographs of beautiful scenery or cute cat videos.
Over time that initial pull might have got lost, and it became a melting pot of curated selfies, endless sunsets, and white walls with a single plant in the corner.
Please take a moment to remind yourself of what you wanted to get out of Instagram. Maybe it’s your work you wanted to showcase. Fall in love with it again without social media, and log back in when you’re feeling fresh, inspired and ready to share it with the world.
Clean up your accounts
How can you clean up your accounts? It’s all in the followers, believe it or not. Just like Marie Kondo would say, “does this spark joy?” Sometimes following some people can genuinely affect our self-esteem and how we see ourselves. In cases like this, a good clean up is in order.
Set aside a good hour to go through your feed, and scout any post that triggers uncomfortable feelings for you.
“Remember, if something does no longer serve you, just let it go.”
Being able to spot the signs and feelings I associate with being overwhelmed has been vital for me in my relationship with technology. My most used ‘panic button’ is an “emergency meditation” available on Calm, my meditation app.
It’s no surprise Calm became the World’s First Mental Health Unicorn, securing $88 million to invest in the mission of improving the health and happiness of the world.
Technology helping us with mental health and technology? It could be the beginning of a fantastic journey, opening up a whole new conversation about mental health and how we consume content and engage online.
Automating for less screen time
I believe in the power of true social engagement that comes from a genuine and authentic space. I am also aware of how much time we spend crafting updates — and pouring anxious thoughts over the last time we shared something on Twitter, or whether we should post on Instagram at 9 am or 7 pm.
Most of my clients (and members of our community alike) find that scheduling content helps them reclaim time off and spend more time engaging with people rather than worrying about what to post.
There are many ways to automate your updates, but ultimately getting started by realising how social media can work for you begins with you taking your power back.
Ease back in
When you’re ready to log back in, start with some gentle rules for yourself. Ban social media for the first and last hour of the day perhaps, have a no photo rule in the gym, ban phones on ‘date night’, or pick a restaurant for its food reviews, not its photographic decor.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the constant online stimulation, think that you’re falling into the comparison zone, or need to give your thumb a break from all the scrolling… .it’s OK.
I can tell you to stop comparing yourself to others online until I’m blue in the face, but that’s not realistic. Comparison, FOMO and even a little envy are inevitable, but it’s when it takes over your life off-line that needs to be addressed.
Enjoy a few days, weeks or months away from the online buzz when you need to. No one will judge, and you might inspire someone else, someone who needs it, to do the same.
Are you looking for more help and support to get the focus you need for the year ahead? Check out our new 3-week online boot camp Built to scale.