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Digital Detox – should you have more screen free time?

Today’s world is dominated by social media and it plays a significant role in our lives – both at work and at home. There are an estimated 2.3 billion social media users globally. But has our need to keep people updated on our every move or thought gone too far?

How long do you spend on your phone each day? A couple of hours? Over five? We probably all have a hunch that we’re spending more time than we should, but what’s the harm?  

One in three women surveyed by AXA PPP healthcare agreed that social media sometimes makes them feel bad about themselves  Perhaps it’s time to put our phones down and reduce its impact on our self-esteem.

Social media is only a highlight’s reel

Arguably a benefit of social media is that it reduces isolation by connecting people all over the world. However, in many ways, it can be a ‘false reality’ – simply a window through which you see just a snapshot of another person’s life. This snapshot is often carefully choreographed and portrays the subject at their best moment and in their best light. As such, when seeing others though social media it’s natural to make assumptions about how their life might be and you might believe that they, and others, are all having a great time while you are missing out. A recent study by researchers from the University of Houston in Texas has shown that social media is contributing to depression due to users comparing themselves to others.

For some, being online is their main source of social interaction and, over time, this can turn out to be an isolating and lonely experience. And, while the ‘rewards’ of communicating online are instantaneous, it can also create an ‘always on’ state of alertness from which can be a struggle to switch off.

There can be big benefits to taking some time off social media, however, by logging-out and tuning-in to other means of social interaction. Taking a ‘social media holiday’, where you meet and speak to people in person, might just be the break that you need.

If you’re considering taking a social media holiday, bear the following in mind:

  1. Suspend your accounts – suspending them for a week means you can take a break without the temptation to check for any new notifications.
  2. Make an effort to meet with friends face to face – you may find that cutting down on your social media time leaves a temporary void so arrange to see friends and family personally and you’ll feel in touch when you’re off-line.
  3. Enjoy the gift of renewed focus – think of all the occasions when your attention was split between checking social media and having a conversation or watching TV or walking along and just tune in to the moment of what you’re doing without the distraction.
  4. Get an alarm clock – using your phone as an alarm can make it tempting to automatically check the online scene the minute you’re getting up. Having a separate alarm clock removes that temptation.
  5. If you find you crave social media, try checking out apps designed to block certain sites at certain times of the day. This helps to avoid that mindless checking and re-checking we all fall victim to!

Taking a social media holiday can be an incredibly refreshing experience. It gives you time to enjoy life in the ‘here and now’ instead of analysing what others are seemingly doing. It has never been easier for us to stay connected with one another, to receive updates on what each of our friends are doing – but it is easy to forget that this is not always a healthy or desirable option.

This article was written by Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare