Let me ask you something: are you currently reading my words through a mobile screen? If the answer is yes (to which, I would not be too surprised), you’ll probably resonate with my words for the next six to seven minutes.
Why? Because most of us consume content online on a daily basis.
Even better, we consume content, engage with it and connect with people. All through our devices; mainly our phones, I must say.
If you are reading my words via a smartphone, don’t worry; there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Since Apple added the ‘screen time’ option to iOS, I have been particularly interested in analyzing my very own trends when it comes to being ‘plugged in’.
Millennials and Gen Z are more connected than ever — and that has been a key player in the way their mental health is performing on a day-to-day basis, even more so than the older demographic.
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 Scotsmanonline).
This kind of data is not just linked to sensational headlines; it also can prove a very serious correlation between burnout, anxiety, and technology.
The truth is, 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 as well. When asked about this major change, a spokesperson told Mashable that Instagram is “exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram”.
Scientific studies show just how much social media affects our mental health, with a direct correlation between 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.
If you stood up in a room today and admitted that at some point social media has left you feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, anxious, and perhaps even depressed, you would most certainly not be alone.
As much as we tell ourselves that the life we see through that little square on our phones is only what someone has chosen 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 influencer. Every day, we are almost constantly bombarded by visual stimuli, and a break is sometimes needed.
Whether you’re a full-time entrepreneur, a side hustler, or purely use social media as a procrastination tool, taking a break, even if it’s going to be better for your mental health, isn’t easy. Having taken a social media break myself last year, here’s my 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 that 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 then 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 personal brand.
As a founder of a major startup, I see social media as a way to share our own message with our audience, answer questions and provide education.
However, as I develop my own personal brand alongside our company accounts — and I specialize in helping entrepreneurs reclaiming their time in their marketing efforts — so I do realize social can feel overwhelming — a topic that, in light of Mental Health Awareness month, feels like needs to be addressed.
The negative effects of social media have been well documented, with even Facebook admitting that the platform may pose a risk to users’ emotional well-being.
A number of studies have found an association between social media use and depression, anxiety, sleep problems, eating issues, and increased suicide risk, warn researchers from the University of Melbourne’s National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, in an article on The Conversation.
Is there any way we can take our power back?
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 provide significant benefits. At the end of the day, it’s essential, to be honest with ourselves and ask WHY we are choosing to be on a social account.
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
Having that little app icon winking at your from your phone screen is antagonising 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 that 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 then a complete social media blackout is the way to go. Whether you cut out one, or every social platform there is, it’s your own choice and there is no right or wrong answer.
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.
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 list, and it became a melting pot of bikini selfies, foodie flat lays, endless sunsets, and white walls with a single plant in the corner. Take a moment to remind yourself of what you wanted to get out of instagram, maybe it’s your own 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?” Truth is, sometimes following some people can truly 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 not longer serve you, just let it go.”
Being able to spot the signs and feelings I associate with being overwhelmed has been key for me when it comes to 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 dollars to invest in the mission of improving the health and happiness of the world.
Technology helping us with mental health and technology? This could just be the beginning of an amazing journey, opening up a whole new conversation about mental health and the way we consume content and engage online.
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.
This is not about telling people they should spend less time on social media, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the constant online stimulation, feel that you’re falling into the comparison zone, or simply 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 just inspire someone else, someone who really needs it, to do the same.
Automating for less screen time
Whilst I do 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 9am or 7pm.
Most of my clients (and members of our community alike) find that scheduling content helps them reclaiming 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 realizing how to make social work for you starts with a great host of tools.
What's Your Reaction?
My name is Fab Giovanetti and I am a writer, author, marketing consultant, founder of the Creative Impact Group and professional troublemaker. I help people grow their online audience and monetise their content and unleash their potentials as creatives.