Simple Habits for Changing Your Relationship to Social Media

Part IV: Social Media's Impacts on Our Emotions, Brains, & Society

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: While we need larger environmental changes to truly address social mediaโ€™s harms, we have some useful tips to help you change your relationship with social media now.

In Case You Missed It: The Price Tag of Our Attention Span

Read on for moreโ€ฆ

Weโ€™ve uncovered enough of social mediaโ€™s impact on our societies, our brains, and our emotions, that itโ€™s pretty obvious that we need some changes.

Before you stress eat about going cold turkey, there are ways for us to change our relationship with our favorite social media sites that will not only improve our lives but help us enjoy social media more. Donโ€™t worry, we donโ€™t have to go full Amish to take back our lives.

Of course, I want to make clear that not all of this is on us, individually. No matter how hard I try, I cannot only use naked willpower, we need environmental change at the societal level for a real transformation. There are opportunities for sensible tech and many bright minds are already at work.

โ€œIn the same way that tobacco companies designed purposefully addictive products, marketed those products aggressively to teens and adults, and suppressed research about their product, todayโ€™s social media companies are obscuring the truth and preventing change.โ€ - Council for Responsible Social Media

The main trigger for change is to shift the profit motive and who benefits from the current state of social media. That will come from much-needed government regulation, design changes to the platform, and prioritizing deep connection. The Center for Humane Technology has an easy-to-follow video that outlines these factors.

Tips to Change Your Social Media Habits

Alright, letโ€™s get to the main event!

While we continue to put pressure on tech companies and governments to change, here are some useful tips to help you change your relationship with social media now.

Put Up Barriers

If you feel like you get sucked into social media, setting a time limit can be a helpful first step. There are many apps and features that will block you from opening an app based on limits that you set. Freedom works on both desktops and smartphones to set limits around apps and the internet as a whole.

I, for one, have โ€œhiddenโ€ all of my social apps in a folder on the last page of my iPhone. I can still get to the apps, but it requires that much extra work that forces me to stop and think before I log on.

Donโ€™t get me wrong, this is not foolproof. There are certainly workarounds to getting access, but these easy-to-use tools will help you rethink your relationship with social media. Most importantly, it puts up obstacles around your social media usage so we are more thoughtful.

Practice Mindfulness

Thatโ€™s why mindfulness is a crucial step to changing your relationship with social media. People use social media for many reasons, but most tend to use it when theyโ€™re bored or to repress unwanted feelings.

Many people now use social media as an anti-depressant, but it can also lead to increased levels of depression, especially for children. Thatโ€™s why itโ€™s crucial that we are mindful of why and how we use social media.

Like tobacco, social media has become addictive. In order to overcome addiction, we must really understand why we unconsciously hover our fingers over the Instagram app every time weโ€™re on our phones. To get in touch with your relationship, start by asking yourself these questions.

  • Why am I opening up this app?
  • What am I hoping to get out of this experience?
  • What thought, feeling, or impulse led me to pick up my device?
  • Am I going on social media to distract myself? Is this a helpful or harmful distraction?
  • What kinds of emotions come up when I use social media?
  • What happens to my breathing?

What we want is behavioral change which is all about gradual, sustained change over time. This begins with mindfulness and taking notice of your emotions, body, and thoughts each time you log in. As you develop a better understanding of why youโ€™re using social media, you can begin to make changes to better address your needs and maybe recognize that social media isnโ€™t the place to meet those needs.

Take a Break!

Getting off of social media for a short period of time can be incredibly useful for rewiring your brain.

A 2021 study found that a one-week break improved mood, sleep, and reduced anxiety. It not only helps with your well-being, but it also gives you the space to reconsider how you want to use social media and where you want to spend your time. You can begin to set up practices so that when you go back to social media, you have alternatives to turn to.

Before you start a break, take the time to outline a realistic length of time, your purpose for taking a break, and how you plan to spend your time. The hardest part with breaks is the extra time to fill. If you use social media to push back boredom, itโ€™s important to be thoughtful before a break to have mood-boosting alternatives to social media. Schedule a coffee date with a friend, go for a long hike, or pick up that book from the library.

If youโ€™re interested in taking a social media break, hereโ€™s a good guide.

Carve Out Time for Nothing

Finally, what I consider the most crucial behavioral shift: mind-wandering.

As our society has gotten more tech-dependent, we are less likely to have unstructured free time, but this is crucial time for humans. Mind-wandering helps us activate your creativity and boost your critical thinking. Itโ€™s why you get your best ideas in the shower. Without this time, we are less likely to work through complex ideas, weโ€™re more unfocused and less creative.

No matter if youโ€™re taking a social media break or not, my number one piece of advice is to set aside time for daydreaming.

Start with a 15-minute break, a short headphone-free walk, or 5-minute meditation. Then keep it up and see how much your mood and thoughts change. Help your creativity shine! It doesnโ€™t take a lot and youโ€™ll be surprised by the results!

The Good Knurd ๐Ÿค“

If you found this series helpful and want to dive deeper, here are a few great resources to get started.

๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ’พ Tech & Media๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ for activists & heart-first humans ๐ŸŒฑ

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


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