Social media is an inescapable part of our lives now – unless you actively choose to avoid it at every turn (props to you if you do). While it can be a wonderful tool for staying in touch with people, making professional connections, and promoting yourself, there is such a thing as too much.
“Social media can be tricky,” says Caroline Topperman, coach and lifestyle writer at Style on the Side. “In general, it’s a fun way to stay in touch with friends and family or a way to check out the latest trends, but before you know it, your whole day can be sucked into a black hole of wasted time.”
How to tell if you spend too much time on social media
“A good rule of thumb is, if you find that you aren’t getting outside – yes, that means moving – or finishing all your work, then you are probably spending too much time scrolling through your feed,” Topperman says.
Emily Mendez of On the Wagon, a substance abuse and mental health resource, affirms if you’re not completing your work or other responsibilities, that’s a sign that you are spending too much time on social media.
“This can leave you feeling guilty or anxious,” she says. “Any time social media use negatively impacts your mood or behaviour, then it is too much.”
Pros and cons of social media
According to Mendez, pros of social media include learning about other cultures and viewpoints, getting information about current events, and connecting with people from all over the world. Social media usage has also been shown to reduce loneliness, especially among the elderly, she says.
“On the one hand, social media can be a great source of inspiration, especially if you are trying to improve yourself,” Topperman says.
“The problems begin when you spend too much time socializing [on social media] and not enough time working on yourself. You are the master of your success and that is important to remember,” she says.
“There’s also the issue of reality versus fantasy,” Topperman adds. “Some fantasy is good because it allows us to dream, but not everything we see on social media is real, and when that starts to affect our self-image, it’s time to put it down.”
Spending too much time on social media can limit productivity and lead to anxiety and depression, Mendez says. “[Social media] can also be used as a platform for bullying and other negative behaviours,” such as promoting hate, Mendez says.
“If you find that you are spending more time scrolling than being social with friends and family, then it’s probably a good sign that you should put the phone down. Also, when you start being negatively affected by what you are seeing [such as] being jealous of someone who is seemingly younger, thinner, richer, then it’s definitely a good time to unfollow and turn off,” says Topperman.
Simply put, “if social media use is interfering with your work, relationships or well-being, then you need a break,” Mendez says.
How to disconnect
As for how long a break you should take, Mendez says it’s a highly personal decision and it depends on each individual.
She recommends replacing the time you would have been spending on social media with something else. “Choose a hobby or activity that will bring joy into your life and benefit you in some way. This will help you feel better overall.”
Topperman agrees the length of your social media break is a personal choice, but she recommends starting with a day.
“Just make a point of not looking at your phone, except for any essential work, for a whole 24 hours,” she says. And if that doesn’t quite work, she suggests aiming for a weekend. “Take your family away and leave your phone in your pocket.”
“The easiest way to disconnect is to fill your day with other activities so you won’t be tempted to check your online life,” Topperman says. “During weekdays it might be harder because you probably already have a routine, but you can always turn your phone off and join a fun class after work. You can take the family for an evening walk or just pick up a book you have been meaning to read.”
If you’re not ready to take a more significant break, at the very least Topperman recommends not looking at your phone after 9 or 9:30 p.m. every night. “Go read a book, take a relaxing bath or take a walk. This will calm your mind and allow for a calmer and all-over better sleep.”