I reach for my phone to check the weather. 30 minutes later I find myself sprawled across my bed watching a cooking video about baking chocolate vegan cake on social media. I’m not even vegan.
I am a big fan of social media as it offers representational agency to marginalized groups like women and people of color. An example of this is the Twitter hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou. Twitter users have used this hashtag to post about African successes and challenge stereotypical depictions of African helplessness and violence.
While the rise of social media is important for representation, it can also be harmful to our mental health, I would know. Spending hours of my day watching Instagram stories about other people’s lives or mindlessly scrolling through Facebook without bothering to properly read articles makes me feel crummy and unproductive. Studies have found high social media usage can be linked to depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem and feelings of loneliness. Excessive screen time detaches us from the world around us and forces us to continually compare our lives to the lives of people inside our screens. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for our mental health is to log off social media.
As a generation of internet users, many of us can’t choose to delete social media, but what we can do is limit the amount of time we spend on certain apps.
This is why a couple of months ago I made Mondays my social media free days.
On Mondays, I don’t use Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Unfortunately, I can’t stop using all of my apps because of work and life stuff. But these three apps are the primary ones I waste time on. On an average day, I spend three hours on my cellphone. Without Facebook, Instagram and Twitter my screen time ranges between 30 to 40 minutes a day.
Without these apps, I use my phone in ways that enhance my productivity like replying to emails and texts or reading articles on my news apps. Plus, I also have an extra two and a half hours of my day and I am far more productive with work-related activities. Instead of using my work breaks mindlessly scrolling through social media, I go for walks, read, or meet up with a friend for coffee.
My attention is also no longer divided and I am far more focused on what’s in front of me. For instance, when having coffee with friends, I’m not repeatedly reaching for my phone. I listen far more attentively and as a result, engage more meaningfully with loved ones.
In the beginning, I found it really hard detaching from these apps and I was shocked by my habitual dependence on them. The number of times I would reach for my phone to scroll through social media and then stare blankly at it as I realized I’d removed the apps happened more times than I’d like to admit. Staying off the apps for an entire 24 hours admittedly took a fair amount of self-restraint. But I’m glad I chose to fight my addiction and stick to my social media free days.
I’m glad I did this because I truly believe it has boosted my mental health. I actually look forward to my social media free days now. Social media offers a platform for me to create an identity of myself for the public eye to watch, judge and engage with. In many ways, I enjoy the level of engagement and interaction social media offers. But it’s also exhausting. Taking a break from social media means not worrying about this other dimension of my life. For one day, I don’t have to worry about how many likes my post has or what my high school friend is eating for lunch that day. Taking time away from social media feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
It has also helped me consciously cap the time I spend on social media on other days of the week so that it doesn’t play a detrimental role in my life. There are other ways you can regulate your use of social media to boost your mental health such as not looking at your phone as soon as you wake up.
While social media will certainly play a role in the future of media and media consumption, at the end of the day, our mental health and wellbeing should come first. And if that means taking a break from your phone, that’s OK.