03/09/2018 10:01 BST | Updated 08/10/2018 14:28 BST

Can't Stop Scrolling? Sign Up To HuffPost UK's 28-Day Social Media Challenge

This is what scrolling through social media is doing to your mental health.

You’re slumped on the sofa scrolling through social media after a long day –  until suddenly, you find yourself wondering where the past half hour has gone. 

Brits now each spend an average of 40 hours a week online, with social media a significant contributor: it’s not only how we catch up with mates, it’s how we read the news, plan our holidays, arrange group events, make new friends, engage in activism and remember loved one’s birthdays.

But when moderation goes out of the window, social media can also be overwhelming and have a negative impact on our mental health. 

Which is why HuffPost UK is challenging readers to back away from their social media feeds and find new balance by signing up to our 28-day challenge.

[SIGN UP TO RECEIVE YOUR DAILY SCROLL FREE CHALLENGE EMAIL]

HuffPost UK

But before you can reset old habits, you need to understand why you adopted them in the first place and what impact they’re really having. 

Our desire to constantly scroll could stem from our evolutionary need to stay connected, according to Amy Orben, who lectures in the psychology of social media at The University of Oxford.

On the one hand we are social animals and social information has always been key for our survival and for our success, so a lot of evolutionary psychologists agree that having this information at your fingertips is evolutionarily attractive to us,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“On the other hand we know humans have a fundamental need to belong so again, having this instant social network is very compelling.” 

Although this easy-access connectivity can be a good thing, the information we’re accessing about people’s lives isn’t always a true reflection of reality, warns Rachel Boyd from mental health charity Mind.

“People often share their good news or successes – new jobs, relationships, social life or relationships,” she explains. “Many of us can find that we compare ourselves and may feel bad or worried that our own lives don’t live up to this, forgetting that we’re not comparing the whole picture. This can lead to low self-esteem.”

PeopleImages via Getty Images

It’s hard to draw firm scientific conclusions about the impact social media is having on our health, says Orben, because most studies are based on self-reported social media use and emotion, and researchers do not know what external factors may be at play. 

Isabella Goldie from the Mental Health Foundation, says there is however some anecdotal evidence that checking into apps can become addictive.

“People can find it hard to limit their daily usage through the fear of missing out and unsurprisingly links have been shown between social media use, body dissatisfaction and depression,” she says. “It can also disrupt sleep, which we know is very important for good mental health.”

[SIGN UP TO RECEIVE YOUR DAILY SCROLL FREE CHALLENGE EMAIL]

But of course, social media isn’t all bad: Boyd points out it can alleviate social isolation, provide an alternative support network for people to speak about their problems, and help for finding resources for better mental health and wellbeing. 

This is why HuffPost’s Scroll Free challenge isn’t about ditching social media for good, it’s about reshaping our habits and ensuring we’re using technology in its most beneficial way. 

With a new article published each day and a daily challenge newsletter sent straight to your inbox, we’ll be providing support, motivation and sharing the pain and triumph of changing your social media habits to make it a more positive experience. What are you waiting for? Sign up here