Take the time for a social media break

Henry Savage
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

Two and a half hours — that's the average amount of time people spend on social media each day.

It may not sound like a lot, but that time can really add up — and at what cost? Social media has proven negative effects on mental health (especially for teens), self-image and for some is a huge time-waster.

Sure, finding local events, selling stuff Facebook Marketplace, and keeping up with friends from high school are some of the best parts of these apps, but there are definitely ways you can engage with social media that are better for your health.

University of Pennsylvania's Anish Agarwal, an emergency physician, researcher and deputy director for the Center for Digital Health, said it's important to constantly be reevaluating the role social media plays in daily life.

The bottom line: taking a break from social media is healthy for you.

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Read on for guidance and tools to help you limit screen time on these apps.

Reevaluate what you want out of social media: What is the reason that brought you onto social media? This is the question Agarwal said to ask yourself when trying to figure out if it's time to take a social media break. If you're not getting the same satisfaction from the reason you use social media, it may be time to look for alternatives.

If you joined social media to …

  • Find community: Look for clubs and groups in your neighborhood where you can meet and interact with others IRL (in real life).
  • Be inspired: Consume other forms of media like magazines, books, podcasts, movies or live events.
  • Buy and sell things: Try using other apps, like OfferUp or NextDoor, or visiting local events and marketplaces in person.
Facebook (Dreamstime/TNS)

Benefits of taking a social media break: Ever hear of "text neck?" It's the result of looking down at our phones when scrolling or texting, straining the neck muscles over a long period of time. Taking a break from social media helps relieve neck pain and gives your eyes a break from bright screens.

People may also be more connected than ever through social media, but a 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that people who limit their time on social media experience less depression and feelings of loneliness.

Taking a break from social media will give you better sleep, too. Research suggests that nighttime use of social media is driven by FOMO (fear of missing out) and keeps people scrolling longer at night instead of going to sleep.

Physically distance yourself from your phone and apps: When you're at home and have free time, put your phone in a drawer or somewhere you can't see it. Oftentimes limiting the ability to quickly and easily pick up your phone is enough to keep you off of social media, said Agarwal. If your phone is what keeps your hands from fidgeting, try to have some objects around the house that relieve stress, like a stress ball, fidget toy or yarn and crochet hooks.

Hide your social media apps on your phone by placing the app on the second or third page of your home screen or bury the app inside an "app folder" with a bunch of others. When you're waiting in line or have a free five minutes, instead of grabbing your phone — take in the view, practice some breathing exercises or read a book.

Use your phone's screen-time tracking feature and limit social media use: Most smart phones nowadays track your screen-time and usage already. It's a good idea to figure out your average screen time per day so you have a benchmark that you can work on.

On iPhone, you can go into your "Screen Time" settings, which displays the amount of time you spend on each app and allows you to put timers on specific apps to limit how long you're on them. Android phones have similar features in the "Digital Wellbeing" settings. Additionally, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok offer the same features within the app settings themselves.

Helpful exercise to remind you what you're missing by scrolling: Scrolling through social media while hanging out with friends isn't uncommon nowadays, but when you think about how unengaged you are in those moments, it can put social media use into perspective.

Agarwal suggests the next time you're in a room with others at a family or friends gathering and you see yourself scrolling through social media instead of engaging with others, take a minute to physically remove yourself from the room and isolate in another room. Listen and feel how much you may be missing out on.

"What that does is it gives your brain a signal. If you force yourself to leave the room, you realize how much you're using that app and missing out on other people," Agarwal said. "It's a good physical reminder of being present in the moment and not on your on your phone and scrolling through social media."

Be easy on yourself and ask for help about social media use: "If you're reading this article, kudos to you for thinking about reevaluating social media," Agarwal said Trying to meet your goals is all about celebrating the small wins.

At the least, set small benchmarks for yourself like spending 10 minutes less on social media than the day before. The right amount of social media time is different for everyone since some people actually use these apps to brand and help market themselves. Find your own social media sweet spot, and remember, even if you scroll too much on social media one day, you can try and meet your goal tomorrow.

Another way to keep you on track is to share your goal with someone you trust, a friend or loved one who can kindly nudge you when they notice you've been on social media for a while.