Michelle Paul
Michelle is a registered nurse with a passion for writing and health education, which is channeled into creating and managing content for LIFE Ascent and other LifeOmic wellness programs.

Michelle Paul
Michelle is a registered nurse with a passion for writing and health education, which is channeled into creating and managing content for LIFE Ascent and other LifeOmic wellness programs.

Knowing how to use social media mindfully is now more important than ever. In today’s world, social media is everywhere. Restaurants and large corporations use it to spread the word and lure you in to buy their products. Families and friends use it to stay in touch or keep up to date on their favorite topics.

According to the Pew Research Center, seven out of every ten adults in the United States regularly use social media, a huge jump in percentage from 2005 when 5% of US adults said they used social media sites. 

With social media use so widespread, many people have firsthand experience with some of its more negative aspects. For example, it’s easy to spread misinformation or hide behind a screen when posting rude or hurtful words. 

But does all this potential negativity have a real impact on our wellbeing?

Learn how social media interacts with your mental health and how you can use it mindfully and positively. 

What you will find in in this article:

The Mental health impact of social media

The benefits of social media use

5 tips for using social media mindfully

The Mental Health Impact of Social Media

Recent studies show that a negative relationship with social media can have a big impact on mental health.

It increases feelings of loneliness. Even though you may be interacting with more people through social media than you do face-to-face during your day, social media use can actually increase feelings of lonelinessMaybe you see photos of several mutual friends hanging out at a restaurant together without you. Or you might ignore the people right in front of you to check in on the newest posts. 

Girl texting on smartphone at home

It allows people to hide behind a screen  to say harmful or hurtful things. Social media is an excellent tool to spread awareness for topics and non mainstream communities . However, since everyone has access to the same tools and platforms, social media can also be used to hurt or harm others. 

It can be a tool used for cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to bully others. This type of bullying includes using technology, including social media, to send or spread harmful or false information about someone with the intent to hurt or humiliate them.

It can make it difficult to tell between what’s real and what’s a filter. This could lead to unrealistic expectations and a feeling of failure or inadequacy if your life doesn’t match up with the ideal. 

It can disrupt your sleep. Social media can lead to sleep disturbancesNot getting enough quality sleep can put you at a higher risk of many physical and mental health problems, including diabetes, depression and memory loss.  

It’s addictive. When you do something that gives you pleasure, your brain releases a “feel good” chemical called dopamine. You can get this release from sex, food or activities like gambling or shopping. The feeling is often so satisfying that we continue to pursue these same actions to feel more of it. Social media interaction can trigger this response. It’s rewarding to see comments or likes on our photos or posts. Just the act of looking at social media without knowing what might be there can trigger a dopamine response, and that happy chemical keeps us coming back for more until the whole day has passed us by. 

The Benefits of Social Media Use

However, despite the potential negative effects of social media, the use of this technology is a valuable resource. It’s how we keep involved with friends and family we otherwise might not be able to interact with. It may be how we learn about breaking news or learn new and interesting facts.

The beauty of social media is that it helps us connect with people all around the world, and it helps people of non mainstream communities get their voices heard. 

Through social media, we learn about the experiences and differing viewpoints of other people. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable and challenging, but when we engage in this content in healthy ways, this knowledge can help us expand our empathy and understanding of other people.

Diverse teenage students using digital smart phones mobile at college campus - Group of friends watching cellphones sharing content on social media platform - Youth, friendship and technology concept

Tips for Using Social Media Mindfully

For some people, cutting out social media use completely is the best method to find balance in their lives and protect their mental health. For others, developing healthy social media habits gives the benefit of a peace of mind while enjoying the many benefits that social media has to offer.

Here are some tips you can adopt into your social media interactions to help you enjoy the benefits while reducing the impact of potential negative effects.

Set a time limit 

If you use social media primarily on a smartphone, your phone may have the ability to let you set timers for certain apps. 

For example, you can program your phone to give you only one hour of time on Facebook every day. Once you’ve reached that hour limit, the app closes, and the phone won’t let you access the app again until the following day.

By setting a time limit on your use of social media, you can keep it from interfering with other activities. This can help you focus on content that matters instead of casually scrolling.

Curate the content you consume 

If there’s a page, site, platform or profile that posts content that makes you feel angry or depressed, consider removing it from your interactions. Block the website, remove the app from your phone or unfollow the profile or page. 

Although some discomfort is important for learning, challenging our worldviews and becoming more empathetic, there is no shortage of content on social media that is intended to be harmful or argumentative.

When you encounter this type of content, ask yourself why it’s important for you to see it and engage it. Is it teaching you something new that you would like to understand? Is it having a negative impact on your emotions or mental health? 

Choose to spend your time on content that is valuable and meaningful to you. 

Decide ahead of time how you’ll respond 

The more you use social media, the more likely it is you’ll come across content that makes you feel angry, distressed or disturbed. 

Take time now to decide how you will respond to that content. For example, if you normally jump into arguments, decide that instead of arguing, you’ll put the phone down and take a moment to go outside. 

Check in with yourself before you post 

Before you make a comment, reply to an online argument or post about how horrible your boss is, take a moment to check in with yourself and your feelings. 

Ask yourself some questions. Would you say this to someone’s face? Will your input make a situation better or worse? Is the content you’re sharing based on fact, or does it use language or imagery that provokes a specific response.

Turn off your social media during face-to-face interactions 

Social interactions are important for our overall well-being, not only for developing meaningful relationships but for keeping our minds active and healthy. 

Two female multi-ethnic friends talking on a park bench in autumn.

Although social media can help us have interactions with more people, it can hinder face-to-face interactions by distracting us from what’s right in front of us.

During face-to-face social interactions, turn off your social media or put your phone out of reach where you won’t be tempted to check it. Stay engaged in the conversations in front of you and take the opportunity to consciously value that time.