Social media brings many positive aspects to modern life. It allows people from all corners of the world to connect meaningfully and is an entertaining way to share valuable information quickly. The connections made through social media can ease stress and provide a sense of community.

However, it can also lead to anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. But ignoring social media isn’t the answer — even if it were possible. Many people rely on social media platforms for information, and some have jobs that require them to connect with various social platforms.

If you’re spending an excessive amount of time scrolling through posts or feel an increase in anxiety symptoms after engaging with social media, it may be time to set some healthy boundaries.

Social Media and Your Health

Theodore Roosevelt is credited for the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Even happy, successful people can start to feel inferior when they begin comparing their lives to others.

Social media offers countless opportunities to do just that. Platforms are filled with images of beautiful people with perfect relationships enjoying lavish vacations or spending time in their clean, cozy homes with loving friends and family.

Whether these images are realistic representations of the poster’s life or not, it’s difficult not to compare your life to that of people you see online. Comparison can steal the joy from otherwise happy people, but for those who are already struggling, the constant barrage of “perfection” can have a profound negative impact on their mental health.

Causing Sleep Disturbance

People who use social media at night tend to sleep less and have worse sleep than those who don’t. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is one explanation. FOMO drives people to incessantly check their own posts for “likes” and comments as well as their replies to others. This can overstimulate the brain at a time when it should be winding down.

Poor sleep habits can increase anxiety symptoms. On top of everything else, insomnia can lead people to worry about the effects of inadequate sleep. Worries about sleep may worsen as bedtime approaches and the cycle continues.

Overtaking Healthy Activities

While it can be a valuable tool for helping people connect, social media is not a replacement for connecting with others in person. Friendships made online can be deep and sincere, but in-person contact with others plays an important role in maintaining good mental health.

Seeing people you enjoy triggers stress-relieving hormones that can help alleviate anxiety and depression symptoms. However, spending too much time on social media can increase feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction.

Excessive social media time may reduce the time you spend:

  • Socializing with friends in person
  • Playing group sports or going to the gym
  • Attending family gatherings
  • Engaging in self-care
  • Spending time in nature

Social media can be a fun way to connect with the larger world, but if it is overtaking other good-for-you activities, it may be time to reassess the amount of time you spend online.

Lowering Self-Esteem

Many individuals living with anxiety already struggle with low self-esteem. Having any kind of mental health concern can make people feel bad about themselves as if they are somehow not as good as others.

Watching videos or viewing images of others dancing, laughing, and enjoying life can give a false idea of what being “healthy” really is. Not everyone realizes that most social media images are carefully staged and rehearsed. Only the best and most beautifully filtered images ever make it to the platform.

Too much social media use can lead to feelings of never being enough, which may increase anxiety.

Contributing to Anxiety

Many studies have linked social media use to increased anxiety and depression. A 2016 survey of young adults found a connection between social media use and depression. Another study found that the more social platforms a person used, the more likely they were to experience anxiety.

Social media platforms are specifically designed to capture and keep your attention. Some people develop a psychological craving for social media — much like others crave alcohol or drugs. Shares, likes, and positive comments trigger a release of dopamine, giving your brain a reward.

The more you are rewarded, the more time you want to spend on social media. However, a lack of reward (no or negative comments) can leave you feeling anxious or depressed.

Warning Signs of Excessive Social Media Use

There’s no specific amount of time that is “good” or “bad.” Social media affects people differently, and individuals must learn what is healthy for them. Some of the warning signs that your social media time has become problematic include:

  • You are neglecting face-to-face activities or relationships
  • Social media time distracts you from other responsibilities, such as work, school, or family
  • You feel angry, envious, or depressed after a media session
  • You post items that are intentionally meant to upset others or make them jealous
  • You compare yourself to others on social media
  • All your spare time is spent engaging with social media
  • You engage in risky behavior to get attention on social media, including posting embarrassing material, cyberbullying others, or playing dangerous pranks
  • Your anxiety or depression symptoms have worsened
  • Your sleep patterns have changed

If you automatically reach for your phone any time you are bored or want an emotional boost, you may be spending too much time on social media platforms.

The Benefits of Limiting Social Media Use

A report from Iowa State University suggests that limiting social media time can help improve your mental health. During a two-week experiment conducted by university researchers, college students who restricted social media usage to 30 minutes a day scored notably lower for depression, loneliness, anxiety, and FOMO when compared to students who accessed platforms at their typical levels.

These students also had better scores for “positive affect,” meaning they expressed an overall more positive outlook on life.

People are social animals. Humans seek out friendly interactions as a way to satisfy the brain’s reward center, but social media is replacing face-to-face interactions all over the world. Even the workplace has changed, with around 22 million people now working from home.

Limiting social media use can not only improve your mental health, but it may also improve the important relationships in your life and help you find a deeper meaning in the unfiltered life you’re living.

Tips for Creating Social Media Boundaries

In most cases, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to suddenly and drastically reduce the amount of time you spend scrolling social platforms. The first step in building a healthy relationship with social media is to recognize that it’s a tool. Like all tools, it can be helpful when used correctly but destructive when used incorrectly.

It may be helpful to reframe thoughts such as, “I need to stay off of social media,” to more positive affirmations like, “I want to learn how to get the most benefit from social media.”

1. Examine Your Use Without Judgement

Before closing all your platform accounts, take a look at why and how you use social media. A non-judgmental observance can help identify what kind of support or connection you are looking for when you turn to social media.

Do you start scrolling because you feel lonely, or are you seeking positive affirmations when you post a picture? Understanding which needs you are trying to fulfill will help you learn what kinds of boundaries and substitutes for social media will be most effective.

2. Note the Negative

Being more selective about the people and groups you follow may reduce the negative impacts of social media. Carefully consider the content you’re consuming on a daily basis. Do you notice feeling more anxiety or depression symptoms after viewing content from specific influencers or platforms? If so, blocking just that content is a great start at setting healthy boundaries.

3. Focus on Success

The idea of going cold turkey may be tempting, but it’s not practical for most people. Be honest with yourself regarding your willingness to reduce social media use. Do you want to stop using social apps, or do you simply think you should?

There is no wrong answer, but wanting to make a change and feeling you should change are two different issues. In both cases, avoid setting unrealistic expectations that may lead to a cycle of more anxiety and more social media use.

Start with boundaries that are easy to succeed with, such as leaving your phone in another room at meal times or closing social apps you rarely use anyway.

4. Reduce Morning and Evening Use

Instead of creating a strict schedule that you won’t be able to stick to, agree to reduce social media use in the morning and the evening. Adopt a healthier set of bookends to start and finish your day, such as writing in a journal or enjoying a soothing cup of tea.

Consider cutting your scrolling time by one-half or one-third at these crucial times of the day. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Choose a reduction schedule that feels doable and continue to limit social media time over several weeks or months until you have established healthier habits.

5. Engage in Person

What activities did you enjoy before you started spending so much time on social media? Choose one or two to engage with again. Take a fun or educational night class, join a walking group, or schedule outings with friends who also need a break from scrolling.

If you are the type of person who turned to social media because you felt isolated or are naturally introverted, committing to social outings may be difficult. Use today’s amazing technology to connect with others in different ways than social media.

Join a virtual group, watch documentaries, or connect with a social action group that is promoting a cause you feel passionate about.

6. Be Kind to Yourself

Changing habits takes time, especially habits that have fulfilled some type of emotional need. Berating yourself for spending extra time on social media won’t help you establish boundaries. It will most likely cause you to give up on setting boundaries at all.

If you don’t always meet your reduction goals, remind yourself that any amount of success is a step in the right direction.

Find Help for Managing Anxiety

If setting boundaries for social media time isn’t enough to relieve your anxiety symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help. Anxiety is a serious mental health disorder that can lead to other issues if it remains untreated.

Symptoms of anxiety won’t magically go away if you ignore them. In most cases, untreated anxiety only worsens with time. Mental health programs provide a variety of therapies that can help you manage your symptoms no matter their cause.

Call Plus by APN at 424.644.6486 or fill out the online contact form to for more information on how to get help for your anxiety.


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