The more frequently young adults use social media, the more socially isolated they become. This ironic conclusion is supported by a recent University of Pittsburgh study, which found that subjects who spend more than two hours logged on to social media every day were twice as likely to feel socially isolated than those who limit daily social media time to half-an-hour or less. While many people rely on social media to keep up with friends and family, disconnecting every now and then could have some substantial psychological benefits. Talkspace, an online therapy forum, wants to break down those walls of disconnect and open up a space online for real connection.
Fear of Missing Out
One reason that spending too much time on social media fuels feelings of isolation is a phenomenon called fear of missing out, or FOMO. Psychologist Mark Winwood, who is the Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP Healthcare, says that although online communication often provides instantaneous rewards, “It can also create an ‘always-on’ state of alertness from which it can be a struggle to switch off.” Consequently, many young adults refresh their social media feeds compulsively so that they don’t miss out on the latest post or news story.
In theory, social media should help people feel less isolated. Of course, the personas we project on our social media profiles aren’t always reflective of reality. If your friends are smiling in all of their online photos, it’s natural to assume that they are always happy, which can actually lower your own self esteem. This process is all subconscious, but being aware of it doesn’t stop us from constantly comparing ourselves with others.
Everyone knows that the skewed standards of beauty perpetuated by traditional media can negatively impact our self image, but social media has exponentially exacerbated the problem. There are now endless opportunities to compare ourselves with everyone in the world. Of course, just like images in magazines, many Instagram posts are heavily filtered and doctored. Therefore, we aren’t always comparing ourselves with other human beings, but rather we are chasing false ideals of beauty.
Living life online isn’t all smiles and emoticons; the things that people post on social media can be emotionally triggering. Pictures and videos of injuries, accidents and violent crimes can pop up in our news feeds at any moment. Now that a sizable portion of the population gets most of their news from social media, it’s no wonder that logging on to Facebook can cause anxiety and depression. The anonymity of the internet also tends to bring out the worst and people, which is why bullying behavior is so prevalent online.
The Benefits of Taking a Social Media Break
Plenty of people have blogged about their own social media detox experiences, and the results are resoundingly positive. Entrepreneur Jason Zook chronicled his month-long hiatus from social media and noted significant improvements in his attention span and mental clarity. He claims that his habit of compulsively checking for notifications was surprisingly easy to break.
Many people use social media for their job, so taking a month off may be unrealistic, but going just a week or even a weekend without social media could be mentally refreshing. Speaking of which, businesses that require employees to use social media should be aware of these issues and offer workers ways to cope. For instance, some companies encourage participation in wellness programs like Talkspace, an online therapy service.
In an interview with Vice, Talkspace’s head of clinical development Nicole Amesbury touts the “20-20-20 rule.” She explains, “If you’re 20 minutes in front of the screen, after that you should take 20 seconds and look 20 feet away.” This technique is good for your eyesight, but it’s also helpful for cultivating social media mindfulness.
Need Help Disconnecting?
There are several tools that can help you disconnect periodically. For example, the StayFocusd extension for Google Chrome disallows attempts to connect with websites like Facebook and Twitter. The Self Control App for OS X similarly allows you to block specified websites while OurPact disables social media apps on your phone. Chrome also supports an extension called the Facebook News Feed Eradicator, which does exactly what its name implies.
Taking a social media break isn’t the same as going into the woods to live as a hermit. In fact, you may be more enticed to go hang out with people in real life. Humans are social animals, and we need to connect with each other. Social media can help to that end, but it should supplement rather than replace genuine interactions.
Talkspace connects people with professional psychotherapists so that they can receive quality therapy from anywhere in the world. The online service pairs patients with licensed providers who operate under the same privacy rules that apply in a traditional therapy office.
Talkspace therapists specialize in treating depression and anxiety as well as other mental health conditions like PTSD. Many providers cater to specific populations such as veterans and the LGBT community. Clients can contact their provider at any hour through either a web-based messaging service and secure applications for iOS or Android. Talkspace also offers a video messaging feature. Thanks to flexible pricing and scheduling options, more than half-a-million people are already feeling better because of Talkspace.