Social media has enriched our lives in many ways, from connecting us with loved ones and providing access to real-time news to enabling large-scale campaigns for important causes.
Even so, there are some downsides to social media, and recent studies have found that excessive social media usage can impact our mental health and lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety. Research also shows that if it's not kept in check, social media can lead to behavioural addiction, which is why so many of us experience that irresistible urge to check our phones throughout the day.
Of course, this doesn't mean that if we use social media we're doomed to be depressed and lonely, and considering that the number of social media users is expected to rise to 2.65 billion by 2020, it's clearly not going away any time soon.
However, for the sake of our mental wellbeing, it's important to keep it in its proper place, so here are a few tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with social media.
1. Keep things in perspective
Research shows that one reason social media has the potential to affect us negatively is that we tend to draw unfair comparisons between our own lives and what we see others sharing on social media.
After all, it's easy to see photos of your friends on holiday while you're stuck at the office or video clips of people enjoying a crazy night out while you're at home with the kids and feel like everyone else is having a lot more fun than you are.
In reality, though, what you're seeing are other people's highlights, not their boring routines or daily struggles. So it's important to keep things in perspective and remember that what people share on social media isn't necessarily an accurate portrayal of their lives - we all have ups and downs.
2. Schedule your social media time
The study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who visited social media platforms more frequently (58 visits per week or more) were three times more likely to feel socially isolated than those who visited social media less than nine times a week.
Of course, it isn't clear whether this is because lonely people tend to visit social media more often or because social media increases feelings of isolation. But if you constantly find yourself reaching for your phone, whether you're at work or sitting down to dinner with your family, it might be a good idea to think about limiting your social media time.
One way to do this is to schedule certain times throughout the day for checking your social media, responding to messages and sharing updates. This will help you spend less time staring at your phone and more time connecting with those around you, whether it's your significant other, kids or friends.
3. Disable your notifications
It can be incredibly difficult to focus on the moment when you're constantly being interrupted by notifications that make you feel like you're missing out on something important. So if you've already taken the step of scheduling certain times of day for checking social media, why not enforce this by disabling the notifications on your phone?
You'll still be able to see all your notifications when you actually sign in to social media during your scheduled visits, but you'll no longer be interrupted by messages telling you someone "liked" your status or commented on the same photo you did.
4. Be an active rather than passive user
A study conducted by University of Michigan researchers found that one possible explanation for the fact that social media seems to increase feelings of loneliness and isolation is that some people "lurk" on social media while others actively participate.
The researchers found that when people used Facebook to share photos or talk to their friends; their moods didn't change much over the course of the day. However, when they merely browsed content without contributing anything themselves, they felt significantly worse by the end of the day.
So if you're not actively participating and primarily use social media to keep tabs on what other people are up to, it might be doing you more harm than good.
5. Be honest with yourself
If you want to avoid the negative side of social media, you need to be honest with yourself about how it's affecting you. Start by reflecting on how you feel after one of your social media visits. Do you notice feelings of dissatisfaction or loneliness creeping in or do you feel happy and connected?
Learning to recognise the symptoms of depression can also be helpful. Research shows that many cases of depression are left untreated simply because people aren't aware of what depression can look like, which means that symptoms like low self-esteem, fatigue or indecisiveness are often chalked up to other things.
Of course, social media use is unlikely to be the sole cause of your depression or anxiety, but it can aggravate an existing condition, so it's important to tune in to your emotions and pay attention to how your daily routine might be affecting your overall mood and mental wellbeing.
Marianne Stenger is a writer and journalist with Open Colleges