We now spend six hours 26 minutes a day online (Picture: Getty Images/Metro.co.uk)

Scrolling through social media first thing in the morning, the last thing at night, and whenever we get a spare second, is a tough habit to stop.

Our phones are with us most of the time, and the constant buzz from apps such as Twitter, TikTok and Instagram provides endless content to fill our minds.

Social media can offer us some light relief, distract us, and provide us with some entertainment. It is also a good place to go for advice, help and even somewhere to make friends. 

But there is no doubt that the seemingly uncontrollable urge to check our phones, refresh an app one more time, or watch another video can also negatively impact our mental health.

It can provide a toxic environment, with online hate, constant comparisons and misinformation crowding our timelines. 

Research found that 73% of Gen Z people have personally or know someone who has experienced harassment on social media.

Social media can also take us away from living in the moment and enjoying the world around us. 

Ditching social media entirely doesn’t seem like the way forward… so how can we change our relationship with it to be healthier?

Use social media for connection, not comparison

Social media can be a lifeline to stay connected for some people, such as those who work from home, the elderly or disabled people.

Dennis Relojo-Howell, the founder and managing director of psychology website Psychreg, explains: ‘Research has shown that by the age of 12, around 50% of young people would use at least one social media platform. 

‘While there are unintended consequences of spending time on social media, it can also be a force for good. One of the obvious upsides is that it allows us to connect with loved ones.’

As a PhD researcher in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh, Dennis aims to harness digital spaces such as social media to promote positive mental health, which he contends is also one of the benefits of using social media positively. 

‘We can’t diminish the role of social media in fostering connections – especially for the disabled community,’ Dennis says.

‘But there are things that we can do to reach others: we can chat on the phone or shoot a text. 

‘Of course, there is the old-fashioned way of writing letters. Sending handwritten letters seems antiquated, especially when social media and instant messaging are easily accessible. 

‘But by relying solely on digital communication, we often sacrifice intimacy for convenience.’

Dennis also suggests using social media to find interest and hobby groups. It can be handy if you are moving to a new area and want to know the community.

What if you gave your pal a ring rather than liking her tweets? (Picture: Getty / metro.co.uk

Set boundaries with social media

Despite the addictive nature of social platforms, Dennis says it is possible to set reasonable and realistic boundaries.

‘Just because you’re online doesn’t mean you have to be available (in a work sense and personal space sense),’ he says.

‘Another thing you can do is set a time limit; it might seem difficult at first, but you can choose other pre-sleep activities such as reading a book or listening to calming music.

‘It can also be helpful to focus on doing one thing at a time. How often do you scroll through your socials while doing other things like watching TV, walking – or sitting through a Zoom meeting? 

Multitasking is overrated. It doesn’t work well. So train yourself to focus on a specific task instead of doing it alongside your socials.’

Use social media for work

Social media can also be used to catapult our careers, promote our companies and connect with new clients.

If it is utilised correctly, social media can help people find new companies or people whose skills are compatible.

It can provide a space for people to network to find new opportunities and allow individuals to become established experts in their field.

Social media consultant and business coach Georgia Aldridge believes that we are fortunate to have social media.

‘Social media has become a place where people can now start businesses with zero capital (and turn it into something extraordinary),’ Georgia tells us. ‘It has become a place to learn a whole new subject or skill at no cost and a place to network and meet people who you would have never usually come into contact with.’

Click with caution (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Be mindful of what you’re putting online

While having a personal brand online can be a great thing, we also need to be mindful of how we present ourselves. This could impact our future career prospects and damage your reputation. Also, remember to keep personal information and content private. Once you put something online, you can’t take it back.

It is also important to be honest with how we present ourselves online. While there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to share the best and most positive aspects of life, this often adds to the unrealistic portrayals of life that we see online.

Sarah Marsh-Collings, who works for babelmonkey, a digital marketing and PR agency, says that social media use comes down to mindset.

‘We all have a choice on how we use social media, and there’s a significant percentage of the population that chooses to use social media to troll, bully, and complain,’ she says.

‘People should take a moment before pressing post/tweet/send and consider whether their message is helpful, contributes anything that will move a conversation or an idea forward, or whether it says anything purposeful.’

Do an audit of who you follow

Georgia also points to the importance of monitoring the accounts we follow.

‘To use social media for positivity, we need to think about – who we are following,’ she says.

‘In the same way that you wouldn’t surround yourself in person with negative people – the same should apply to who you surround yourself with on various platforms.’

Luckily, with features such as hashtags and groups, platforms are making it even easier to find the accounts or pieces of content that will serve you and help you find like-minded people. Platforms in 2022 are now becoming more of a search engine rather than just a place to scroll.

‘Take a look down your “following” tab and start removing anyone whose content isn’t adding any positivity into your life,’ Georgia recommends. ‘Something quite interesting is that we often find ourselves comparing ourselves to the people that we know.

‘So if you feel like you can’t remove those people, you can simply mute them so their posts no longer show on your feed.’

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