Over the last two decades, the popularity of social media has sky-rocketed. We can share our photographs and points of view to the world with the click of a button. We can reach out to our friends without even leaving our sofa. We never have to lose touch with anyone again. Social media can be a wonderful thing, but if the first thing you do when you switch off your alarm is open up your social apps, it might be time to cut back. Experts are now warning that too much exposure to social media can be detrimental to our wellbeing, so if any of the following things sound familiar, it might be worth taking a break.
Your social media habit is becoming an addiction
When we hear the word 'addiction' we instantly think cigarettes, alcohol and a hard drugs. Scientifically speaking, addiction occurs when something, such as the nicotine from a cigarette, stimulates the pleasure centre of the brain. The resultant increase of dopamine in the body creates a rush of pleasure we just can't resist repeating. Studies have shown that this release of dopamine also occurs when we receive a 'like' or comment on social media, leaving us craving such interactions again and again. No wonder we can't leave our phones alone.
It's damaging your self-esteem
It can be fascinating having a constant stream of access to the thoughts and experiences of other people. But it's difficult to bear in mind that what we're seeing is, in a sense, fiction. Of course people aren't (usually) inventing everything they post, but their posts are an extremely selective, extremely polished highlight reel. When all you're seeing is people looking incredible, getting promoted, traveling the world or cradling their smiling offspring, it's easy to feel that you and your own life fall short.
We can't help comparing ourselves to others, and this constant bombardment of faux perfection means our self esteem can take a serious battering from too much time on social media. Taking a break is a good way to get back in touch with reality; you'll soon realize that the moments between the updates are mundane and stressful, and that nobody looks like a super model all the time.
It makes you more reliant on external validation
Have you ever posted an Instagram photo or Facebook update and then sat back, waiting for the 'likes' and comments to roll in? How do you feel when they don't? Whether we realise it or not, we're becoming more and more reliant on the approval of others through their reactions to our social media content. It's easy to see how ridiculous this is if you translate this into a non-digital situation. If you dress up nicely for an evening out, do you expect people in the street to start yelling 'like!' or 'nice dress!'? Probably not, in fact, it would be extremely weird.
And yet this is how our interactions play out on social media, and it's become central to how we perceive ourselves. It goes back to that pleasure centre in our brain; if people react well to the way we present ourselves online, we feel great. If we don't receive the response we wanted, we feel disappointed and can even begin to feel inadequate. Taking a break from social media means out of this toxic circle and relearning the art of building self esteem from within.
Your attention span is suffering
Recent studies have suggested that prolonged use of social media can reduce an individual's level of attention concentration, resulting in symptoms similar to those of ADHD. This is related to the nature of social media use, which often involves completing short tasks in quick succession. A typical ten minutes on Facebook, for example, could include posting a photo, checking our updates, playing a video, replying to a message, tagging a friend in a meme, then checking the comments on that photo we posted.
Through this type of behavior, our brains learn to process small amounts of information before switching to another type of information. This creates difficulties in concentration when we want to carry out a more focussed task. Disconnecting from social media for a while allows you to begin retraining your brain. Instead of logging into Facebook, spend some time reading, or doing anything which doesn't involve brain-pleasing pop-ups catapulting your attention around like a pinball game. You'll soon feel the difference.
Your productivity has taken a nosedive
In the same way that chewing gum keeps the mouth busy without nourishing the body, social media engages the brain with little psychological or educational benefit. Social media keeps us busy in a way which is minimally challenging; it occupies us whilst demanding little effort or exertion in return.
This is why we so often find ourselves scrolling through our social media pages when we could or should be doing something more productive. And as a result, our productivity and abilities are suffering massively. Avoiding social media means more time to spend reading, writing, exercising, playing an instrument — things you're good at and enjoy. You'll be amazed how much more you fit in to your day if you just go cold turkey on your social apps.
You're stressed out or emotionally repressed
Whilst social media keeps our brains occupied without challenging them, the constant stream of chaotically received chunks of information is tiring. Our brains need time to digest the information they receive; time they rarely receive when our social media usage is so constant. So if you're feeling stressed or restless and are unsure why, social media could be the culprit. Switch off to give your brain some time to recharge.
Social media has also become a sort of an emotional crutch for us. You might have found yourself scrolling through Facebook or Instagram even in times of huge emotional distress; it's a welcome distraction. But engaging with social media instead of addressing our own issues has serious implications. Not only can it result in the suppression of our emotions, causing stress and further emotional problems, it can actually stunt the development of our ability to feel compassion, empathy and love.
So whilst the addictive quality of social networking might make taking a break from the online world rather difficult, the benefits of doing so are multiple. Challenge yourself to go a week, or even just a few days without access, and see if you notice a difference. If you do, you might want to limit your social media access; it takes discipline, but it's worth it.