Social Media (In)Sanity

Happy 2019, OWL Fam!

We hope your year is off to an amazing start!

We’ve shed 2018 and have walked into a new year rich with possibilities and potentialities. Our theme is brace yourself and pace yourself, if you want to get to where you’re going. And let’s not forget to check in with those pesky stress levels that find a way of creeping into our mental and emotional health. Remember, the way we see the world is pivotal to our success and fulfillment. 

It seems more and more that our world is becoming as much virtual (like this post) as it is physical. Developing healthy habits with the very devices we love - be it phones, tablets, computers or laptops - coupled with the time we spend on social media, is essential to our sanity and overall health.

While there are a plethora of “good” reasons to keep us checking our phones (an average of 52 times a day), there are a few stand-out reasons to put them down.  

Here are 5 stats gathered by Dr. Chris Kresser about how connected we really are:

  1. “Americans now look at their smartphones an average of 52 times a day, more often than ever before.
  2. We can’t even put them down on vacation. In fact, a 2018 poll found that we actually check our phones more while enjoying some R&R: roughly 80 times per day.
  3. Researchers found that college students spend nearly nine hours daily on their phones, texting, gaming, scrolling through social media, etc. 
  4. We check work email at home constantly, from the bed, dinner table, and bathroom, even looking at our inbox during face-to-face conversations.
  5. By age 21, the average gamer will have logged 10,000 hours of playing time.”

He goes on to say that, “Using smartphones appears to stimulate the fight-or-flight response and decrease the rest-and-digest response. These changes to the nervous system and associated stress hormones are connected with virtually all chronic diseases.”

When it comes to mindlessly scrolling through our social media feeds when we have a few spare minutes, or maybe even hours, is not the best habit when it comes to our collective psychology. Our dependence of social media can not only be hugely addictive, but also can lead to feelings of comparing, jealousy, and (ironically) social isolation. 

Comparing our lives with others is flat-out mentally and emotionally unhealthy. Part of the reason Facebook or Instagram makes people feel socially isolated (even though they may not actually be) is the comparison factor. We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others as we scroll through our feeds, and make judgements about how we measure up.

“Each time we check our inbox or social media account, there’s a chance something will be there for us, something that reinforces an aspect of who we think we are and releases a hit of that “feel-good” neurotransmitter dopamine,” Dr. Kresser adds.

Social media usage can lead to a self-amplifying loop of jealousy and good old fashioned “showing off.” It’s no secret that the comparison factor in social media leads to jealousy—most people will admit that seeing other people’s tropical vacations and perfectly behaved kids is envy-inducing. It can become a vicious cycle: feeling jealous can make a person want to make his or her own life look better, and post jealousy-inducing posts of their own, in an endless circle of one-upping and feeling jealous.

There also seems to be a cap on how many “friends” a person’s brain can handle, and it takes actual social interaction (not virtual) to keep up these friendships. So feeling like you’re being social by being on Facebook or Instagram doesn’t work. Since loneliness is linked to myriad health and mental health problems (including early death), getting real social support is important. Virtual friend time doesn’t have the therapeutic effect as time with real friends.

With that said, Dr. Kresser offers 7 ways to reduce our smartphone and technology use. They are:

  1. Assess Your Current Usage: Start by taking this Smartphone Compulsion Test to get an idea of where your tech habit currently stands. You can also use these two apps help you track your usage: Moment on iOS and BreakFree for Android. They track how many times you pick up your phone and how many hours you use it, and they compare those metrics with your goals. Both also have features that reduce usage. (And you may not even need to download an app. Recent updates of iOS, for instance, include a “screen time” widget that tracks nearly every aspect of your phone usage.)
  2. Cultivate Awareness: If we aren’t aware of our behavior, it’s impossible to change it. Consider beginning a meditation or mindfulness practiceto train your attention so you’re less likely to get distracted by technology and are more able to catch yourself sooner when you do. Apps such as Headspace and Calm and wearables such as HeartMath and Muse are good options.
  3. Turn Off All Nonessential Notifications: Notifications are interruptions. Allowing them essentially gives your phone permission to interrupt you at any time, under any circumstance. I suggest turning off all notifications except phone calls and, if you want, text messages and calendar updates. If your work requires you to respond promptly to some emails, consider using an email app that allows you to assign VIP status to certain people so that you’ll only receive notifications from them.
  4. Uninstall Social Media Apps Entirely: If they aren’t on your phone, you’re far less likely to use them. Don’t worry: you can still check social media using a web browser, and uninstalling apps doesn’t have to be permanent, but it can be very helpful early on when you’re trying to reduce your usage. I also recommend “batching” your social media and email use, meaning checking your email and social accounts just two or three times daily. As a bonus, batching often provides a boost to your productivity.
  5. Create Phone-Free Areas in Your Home: Most importantly, never bring your phone into your bedroom. The bedroom should be for sleep and sex only, to foster good sleep hygiene. The dinner table is another important one; it’s where conversation and connection happen. As part of this step, you may want to rethink where you charge your phone. I recommend a spot near the front door or somewhere else out of sight—not your nightstand.
  6. Schedule a Regular Tech Time-Out: This is a period of time when you don’t interact with your phone, computer, tablets, or any screens. We do this every Sunday in our house. (Weekends are ideal if you follow a Monday–Friday work week.) It allows us to spend quality time together and makes space for reading, time in nature, and other activities. I always feel rejuvenated and refreshed afterward. If one full day sounds intimidating at first, start with half a day.
  7. Do Digital Detoxes: Longer than tech time-outs, digital detoxes give you the opportunity to experience yourself in the world around you unmediated by technology’s influence. I do three- to four-day digital detoxes quarterly and one or two 10-day digital detoxes per year. I look forward to these times when I can deeply relax, connect with myself and my family, and enter the mindset in which creativity and innovation occur.

So, give yourself even just a little bit of time to unplug everyday and bring your focus to what is happening right in front of you. You’ll be glad you did. 


To read more of Dr. Chris Kresser’s article visit his website, www.chriskresser.com or on Instagram profile @chriskresser.