About a month ago, I bought a phone case which displays the quote, “Social Media Seriously Harms Your Mental Health.” I appreciated the irony in the product, having this powerful statement on the item which directly causes the issue at hand. People around me thought it was ironic too. Or maybe they just thought it was a joke. Regardless, this quote began to keep me up at night. I started to think, “Does my rising screen time have something to do with my increasing anxiety?” And so, I decided to do something about it.
In the fall of 2020, I was spending roughly 8 – 10 hours on my phone every day, most of which was time spent on social media. Today, as of February 2021, I spend around 3 – 4 hours on my phone every day; only 25% of that time is spent on social media. Now, I’m not saying the quote on my phone case is entirely responsible for this change. Schoolwork has once again taken over my life and any other “free time” I have is spent on university applications, extra-curriculars, and my part-time job. But besides the fact I have little to spend on my phone, for some reason, social media stopped being the place I went to connect with my friends and share cool photos. Somewhere along the way, it became toxic.
Somehow, in the past, I found time to scroll mindlessly on social media amongst all my responsibilities. But lately, that just has not been a priority for me. If I’m being honest, I love the freedom of not being tied to my phone, but it seems to be making others upset.
As of 2018, 3.1 billion people, roughly 1/3 of the global population, use social media. Within this group, 210 million people are estimated to suffer from internet and social media addictions. These statistics are shocking, but what is even more interesting, is the fact these numbers are consistently growing. As of 2020, 3.96 billion people use social media. That is 51% of the global population.
Today, it feels expected of you to be active on social media. So, when I decided to take a break, the people around me were confused, possibly even angry. Every day, I would have people ask me, “Why didn’t you answer my Snapchat?” or, “Why haven’t you liked my Instagram post yet?” And every time my answer was the same; “I just can’t do it.” Now obviously, I could do it. However, mentally, I did not have the energy or strength to go on social media while staying in a positive mindset.
Social media is a double-edged sword. On one side, it helps us stay connected with others, but on the other, it is one of the biggest contributing factors in social comparison and cyberbullying. Social media has a talent for making you compare other people’s lives to your own. It is an edited, curated, highlight reel that has a powerful impact on our self-esteem, leaving us with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. And because social media sites aim to lure you in and keep you addicted; its influence is causing serious world issues, especially among teens. Teenagers constantly compare themselves to others whether that be comparing their clothes, their lives, or even their bodies. This feeling of inadequacy about your life or appearance is directly connected to various mental health issues, but because many of us rely on social media for interaction with others, these issues can feel inescapable. In reality, they are not.
When I started distancing myself from social media, I began to value in-person contact much more. We have all heard the saying, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but when we are constantly connected to each other, we never truly get the chance to miss someone. Without constantly being in contact with my friends, I made more of an effort to hang out with them, face to face. As I spent less and less time on social media, I grew less anxious and felt genuinely happier in my everyday life. I began to notice the little things such as the pretty flowers in my backyard and the way the sun shone off the snow on the mountain peak. Social media was blocking my view of the real world, and as I began to take a break, my mental health improved.
Now, I’m not here to tell you if you stop scrolling on social media, your anxiety will disappear. All I want to emphasize is the fact that social media is harming your mental health. It has been linked to anxiety, depression, and loneliness, just to name a few. And because it’s a relatively new concept, there is little research to determine its long-term consequences. That being said, if you are experiencing “FOMO” or can’t seem to go five minutes without checking your phone, it might be time to re-evaluate your social media use. I encourage you to make a conscious effort to decrease your time spent on social media. Try to replace that time with something you enjoy; read a book, go for a walk, journal, really anything besides being on your phone. Maybe you’ll discover a whole new world outside the screen.
Written by Maddie Falk