If you’re recovering from addiction, there are many reasons to develop healthier social media habits. Perhaps the biggest reason is that excessive social media use can damage your mental health. One study found that participants who limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day noticed a significant decrease in feelings of depression and loneliness. Many of these studies focus on the way social media promotes unhealthy comparisons, which may increase feelings of envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness and increase lying, blaming, and having unmet cravings. Social media may expose you to triggering images, such as friends and family drinking at dinner or on vacation. You may also be more likely to interact with people who don’t support your sobriety. Finally, social media may diminish the quality of your real-life social interactions if you let it become a substitute for spending time with friends in person or if you are staring at your phone when you should be paying attention to the people you’re with.
There are plenty of ways excess social media use can slow your recovery but limiting your social media use isn’t easy. Social media platforms are deliberately designed to be addictive–another reason to be cautious–and they are deeply embedded in our lives. Many people now primarily stay in touch with friends and family through social media. So how do you limit your social media use? Here are some practical tips.
The first thing to do is go into your phone’s settings and turn off alerts. Alerts are platforms’ way of getting you to initiate engagement. They know that once you get your phone out to check your alert, you’ll probably just go ahead and see what else is new, then scroll on autopilot for the next half hour. Alerts essentially train you like one of Pavlov’s dogs to reach for your phone whenever you hear a ding. Even the name “alert” implies urgency when 99 percent of alerts are neither urgent nor important. Turning off alerts will reduce the number of engagements. Every time you don’t hear an alert, you save between five and 20 minutes that you would have otherwise spent scrolling through social media.
Everyone has some social media apps on their phone that they don’t use very much. Those apps are essentially failsafe apps for when you’ve seen all the new content from other apps and you want to waste more time. Identify the two or three apps you use most and delete the rest. You don’t have to delete your accounts; you just don’t want them conveniently available on your phone. According to research by the social media management platform Hootsuite, the average American internet user has 7.1 social media accounts. At least one scientific study has found a linear correlation between the number of social media accounts someone has and their symptoms of depression and anxiety. The authors suggest that juggling so many accounts fragments users’ attention, leading to negative moods.
Since many people use social media to stay in contact with friends and family, they are reluctant to eliminate it entirely. However, the addictive nature of social media makes limited engagement difficult. One strategy that’s often effective is to block off time specifically for social media use. This has two major benefits. First, it makes you more deliberate about your social media use. Instead of scrolling randomly, you focus on the most important stuff. Second, you actually enjoy it more. You’re not stuck in a habitual behavior pattern. Intermittent use throughout the day often adds up faster than you think. Blocking off some time, even as much as an hour, will save you a lot of time overall. Pick a time when you don’t have anything else to do, and preferably a time when you have a hard deadline. Maybe you have plans and have to leave in half an hour, which will force you to stop.
Most phones now come with features that allow you to track your screen time and if they don’t, there are apps you can get. People typically spend a lot more time on social media than they realize and seeing the actual numbers can startle you out of complacency. Many people find that if they just track their screen time, maybe by recording it in a spreadsheet or calendar, they automatically reduce their social media use without even trying.
Set some strict limits on when you can and can’t use your phone. For example, you might decide not to have your phone in the bedroom. This removes the temptation to check social media first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Your sleep will also improve if you’re not staring into a bright screen right before you go to bed. Another limit might be no phones at meals. You actually have to look at the people you’re talking to and listen to what they’re saying. Again, this reduces phone time and has the added bonus of improving relationships. Finally, no social media in the car is just a basic safety rule.
It is perhaps most difficult to resist social media in those in-between moments–when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, while you’re waiting for your friend in the bathroom, while you’re waiting for the movie to start, and so on. It’s almost a reflex to get your phone to avoid even a minute or two of possible boredom. Use these moments as an opportunity to practice self-control. Can you wait just a minute? What does the desire to look at your phone actually feel like? It can be hard to resist taking out your phone at first but it will get easier. And research shows that practicing self-control in these small ways can actually boost your willpower in the long run.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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