Hours of mindlessly scrolling social media can lead to depression and anxiety. Here are some powerful tactics to limit social media.
I didn’t cut down on my screen time through discipline or some habit-changing hack I’d read about in the latest self-help book.
The truth is, one day my Instagram app stopped working. And I had no choice but to stop scrolling.
I’d been posting on Instagram for the past few years. I spent countless hours improving my photography, crafting the perfect captions, growing an audience and snapping photos throughout the day for Instagram stories. I wanted to grow my audience and connect with other travellers. And I’d made new friends and even landed some freelance work thanks to Instagram.
But at some point my screen time became a mindless habit.
It was a clutch during social events when I found everyone glued to their phones instead of trying to start a conversation. And it was often a procrastination tool. It made me feel productive (I was networking, after all), but I often disappeared into the app to emerge an hour later wondering what had happened with my time.
We don’t realize how much time we kill until we remove ourselves from our phones because the hours fly by in apps that are designed to be addictive. Think of that dopamine high we get when a new notification pops up, which makes us return to repeat that feeling of validation.
Statistics show all of those hours online kill our attention spans and impact our short-term memory.
They also make us feel bad. Numerous studies have shown passively consuming content correlates with feelings of loneliness and triggers envy and resentment. The filtered reality we see on our Facebook or Instagram feeds raise expectations that real life just can’t meet. It seems everyone is leading better lives than us.
Hours on social media have also been shown to reduce the quality of our real-life conversations, impact our sleep and increase obesity and depression. Numerous studies have linked high social media use to anxiety and depression caused by constantly comparing ourselves to others and feel like we’re missing out.
It’s no wonder that when Instagram stopped working on my phone, I didn’t feel regret.
I felt relief. Because I could finally give myself a break.
I’m now using Instagram from my tablet to post a photo once a week. When that hour is up, I close the tablet and I don’t check in again until the following week.
And as often as I’ve heard people limiting their social media use, I’ve realized that sometimes a clean break works best. It realigns us with reality and makes us realise we’re not missing much when we’re not online.
If you’ve been thinking of limiting your social media, then start here.
Here are some effective tactics to limit social media:
1. Be self aware.
If you’re spending hours a day on your phone, you’re probably aware than it’s a problem. But you may justify it to yourself (I’m being productive, I’m relaxing), or you may not realise just how many hours you’re spending online.
An app that tracks the time you spend on your phone can be a much-needed wake-up call.
Realise that you are persuadable, and that companies are fighting for your attention because time spent online means more advertising profits.
3. Audit yourself.
Before you pick up your smartphone, ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish. When you put it down again, ask yourself what you’ve done. Or did you get distracted and end up spending an unplanned hour scrolling? Be aware of your mood and how your time online makes you feel.
If you’re logging in out of boredom, ask yourself if your online time relaxes you.
Ask yourself if you’ve missed anything when you log back in. Maybe your favorite account hasn’t updated since the last time you checked. Maybe you haven’t missed as much as you imagined.
4. Take a digital sabbatical.
Plan a day where you set aside your phone. Make it a weekly habit.
Or take a longer period of time where you only use your phone for messaging and phone calls.
Many people who cut back on social media do it suddenly and don’t miss it. When they return online, the experience feels a bit flat and they wonder how they could have ever spent so many hours on an app.
Find a way that works for you. If limiting your social media time didn’t work (and it didn’t for me), then try deleting a social media app or two – or take time off from the Internet entirely.
5. Create a better online experience.
Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad – you’re not obligated to keep up with anyone.
Draw boundaries and don’t apologize for them. If someone messages you at 10pm, then don’t be sorry for getting back to them the next day.
6. Join positive communities and avoid places full of bickering or pointless arguments.
7. Distance yourself from your phone.
Don’t keep your phone on your nightstand and don’t make it too easy to grab.
Turn off notifications and put something on your phone – like a pen – that will remind you every time you pick it up.
My limited social media use
I haven’t cut all ties with the online world and I don’t think that’s a solution.
It’s just that now, instead of the infinite stream of Instagram stories, I prefer longer blog posts that tell a story. Or Facebook groups where posts don’t disappear because of an algorithm.
I’m now reading more in the evenings, flipping through a magazine when I’m restless, listening to podcasts or journalling.
There’s also virtue in just doing nothing – and white space is often missing from our lives. The state of boredom often drives our best ideas and gives our minds the freedom and space to wander and dream.
My life isn’t miraculously anxiety-free now. But it feels good to no longer feel that compulsion to check my phone every hour.
The benefits of an offline life
Some 71 percent of American adults sleep next to their smartphones. And that blue light can interfere with your production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. Limiting your online time may help you to sleep better.
It helps you prioritize in-person connections. It can reduce anxiety, FOMO and comparison. And it frees up time for other things, and makes you feel less rushed to keep up with a constant stream of notifications.
Photos are once again special. They’re not snapped for the sake of an update.
Limiting your screen time may even help you to appreciate art more because you’re enjoying the real experience without worrying about how to portray it in a photo.
I once commented on someone’s Instagram photo about how happy I was to have grown up without any social media – to have spent an entire summer watching MTV, eating vanilla ice cream from the tub and going days with my hair smelling of chlorine.
Then I realized just because we live in different times doesn’t mean we have to adopt that always-connected lifestyle.
I can’t drop out and live in the wilderness on the Oregon coast, but I don’t have to reply instantly to emails or answer every comment on Instagram, either.
And sometimes it takes for an app to suddenly stop working to make you realize how very dependent you were.