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Can Taking a Social Media Holiday Benefit Your Mental Health?

15/04/2016 16:32

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?

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.

Take the case of Faye Smith, for example. Faye is founder and director of Keep Your Fork Marketing. Although she might not seem like the type of person who would take time off from social media, with two email accounts, three phone lines and five business social media accounts, being constantly online isn't actually for her. Like so many others, she has learnt that, for her mental health's sake, she has to take a break from it.

She comments: "If I'm out of the country I don't connect my phone to emails, social media channels or the internet. Last year I went to Portugal with friends for ten days. It was bliss. No social media leaves time for contemplation and enjoyment of the now - not how the images will appear on Instagram or Facebook. Instead, I watched the sunset, read novels, played games and reflected. I rarely had my phone with me and the usual work stresses slipped away. The beach holiday resulted in a social media holiday which was actually much more beneficial to my mental health."

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.

*Global social media research summary 2016. Smart Insights:
http://www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing/social-media-strategy/new-global-social-media-research/

**Mai-Ly N Steers, Robert E Wickham and Linda K Acitelli (2014). Seeing everyone else's highlight reels: how Facebook usage is linked to depressive symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 33(8): 701-731:

http://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/jscp.2014.33.8.701

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