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Unplug and Recharge

Have you ever found yourself looking at someone’s vacation or new car photos on social media only to find yourself feeling depressed or envious later in the day? If so, you aren’t alone.  Social media platforms offer users many conveniences, including making it easy to connect with friends and family, join issue-specific groups and gatherings, and stay up to date on what’s happening in the news. However, when users overconsume social media, all of that frequent scrolling can have a negative impact on the mental and physical health users. Here’s what you should know about being plugged in and how unplugging can actually improve our overall health.

How does overconsumption of social media effect our mental health?

“Research has shown that there are several links between excessive social media use and depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and suicidal ideations,” says Jessica Kruger, Manager of School Based, Prevention, and Intervention Programs at Centerstone. “While a person’s predisposition to these types of mental health issues is usually already present, too much time on social media platforms can exacerbate them,” she adds. There is also a link between an increased sense of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with different areas of our lives related to too much social media use.

The 24-hour news cycle of social media platforms, simply put, is more information than we’re meant to process at one time. Some people underestimate the emotional burden they carry even after they’ve logged off or set their phone aside. The constant stream of news can also cause a sense of learned helplessness. “When we are constantly exposed to reports about the conflicts and disasters happening in the world, it begins to activate our sympathetic nervous system, releasing stress hormones. It often makes us feel overwhelmed and contributes to a sense of hopelessness that immobilizes us,” Kruger adds.

What are the negative health impacts of prolonged screen time?

  • Altered sleep patterns. Blue light can suppress the production of melatonin in the body and can alter our circadian rhythm negatively altering our sleep schedules.
  • Poor time management. Constant scrolling can cause us to quickly lose track of time and detracts from our ability to manage an ideal, healthy routine.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. While scrolling for long periods of time, more often than not, we’re either sitting or lying down. If we’re engaged in long-term lack of movement, it’s not good for our overall health.
  • Developmental issues. For children, the consequences are even more serious. Excessive screen time can have a negative impact on a child’s language, cognitive, and social development at different stages.

What are the benefits of unplugging from social media and what should I do instead?

Unplugging can offer a multitude of benefits including increased productivity and focus, improved sleep, decreased levels of depression and anxiety, and a positive impact on our ability to connect and be present with others.

Why is it so hard to disconnect and what can I do about it?

Reducing social media use can be challenging because scrolling activates the brain’s reward center, releasing dopamine with every swipe, which reinforces behavior and keeps us engaged for extended periods of time. A great way to break old habits is with behavior replacement, which requires you to pick another activity when you get the urge to reach for your phone. Here are some great behavior replacement ideas:

  • Take a sip of water
  • Get up and stretch
  • Do something you consider healthy and valuable to you
  • Play learning games
  • Use creative apps to do puzzles or art
  • Pick up a book or e-reader to consume content you wouldn’t otherwise
  • Revisit old photos
  • Catch up with an old friend by phone

Immediate, decreased phone use isn’t sustainable for many of us, which is why it’s important to remember that you don’t have to lock your phone away and forget about it completely. But instead, use it wisely and with intention.

If you feel that social media or other online activity is impacting your daily life in an unhealthy way, Centerstone can help. Visit our counseling services page or call us at 877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123).

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