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A State of Mind: Limit time on social media, improve mental health

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Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette.

Last week I talked about the often problematic nature of social media within the context of mental health. Rooted largely in those realities, research has consistently shown that social media usage has been associated with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, self-isolation, disrupted sleep, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and even physical health challenges.

Regardless of those alarming associations, the reality is that more than 80 percent of the people in the United States have social media and spend an average of about two and a half-hours on such platforms every day. By some estimates, people will spend nearly seven years of their lifetime on social media. So how do we recognize when we have a problem and how can we go about changing our relationships with these platforms?

Perhaps the most important step is to monitor usage times, habits and routines. Most smartphones have the ability to track screen time, informing users of how much time is spent on specific apps. Often, people mindlessly check social media upon waking up or right before going to sleep. Other signs for concern include spending time scrolling through social media rather than engaging with others or work or school performance suffering from spending too much time on social media. It can also be helpful to monitor emotions before and after using social media. Are there certain feelings that lead you to pick up your phone? Do you feel less happy or more anxious after scrolling through your news feed?

Whether you are addicted to social media, it is causing unnecessary distraction or it is harming your mental health, there are ways to break the habit. Just as it is difficult to quit other addictions cold-turkey, changing social media usage isn’t likely to happen overnight. Changing any habit is a process that must be tackled intentionally, making it important to set realistic expectations when it comes to adjusting one’s relationship with social media.

It might be helpful to set time limits, such as a daily limit for next week that decreases by 15 minutes each week until reaching a target goal, only logging into social media accounts over lunch and after work for a half-hour each, or committing to never logging in before breakfast or after dinner. Taking up other hobbies that can fill down times, such as reading or writing, biking or cooking, can offer more positive and productive substitutes than social media.

Making physical alterations to normal routines can help break habits, as well. This might include plugging cellphones in at a place away from the bed at night and using a traditional alarm clock or leaving your phone in a desk drawer throughout the day where it isn’t a constant temptation. Parents can remind children — and themselves — that everything shared online is permanent in some form or another. Introducing limits, such as allowing posts of tangible objects but no selfies, might also help establish healthier boundaries.

Ultimately, social media must be brought into context and considered just like any other addictive or potentially destructive phenomenon. Individuals must be willing to acknowledge the risks and rewards, weigh the potential upsides and downsides, and then make appropriate decisions in defense and in support of their own mental health and well-being. This often means setting boundaries for ourselves beyond what we might see happening around us. I invite you to reflect on you and your family’s relationship with social media, how it is affecting your mental well-being, and establish boundaries that are right for you.

Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at bryan.busch@thegazette.com.





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