Again and again, there we sit, unconsciously opening social media app after social media app, eyes glazed over, binging on any new content we can get our hands on. We sometimes realize what we are doing and put the phone down, only to be drawn back in by a new notification soon after. The process feels exhausting, and all the while there really are productive things that could be done, but they just don’t seem as satisfying as this – what is it they say about insanity again?
I don’t have to tell anyone that our generation, like many others, loves their cellphones. Or maybe, rather than loving them, we feel an eminent sense of connection to them; they are one of the constants of our lives, however strange that might be. Our dependency on our phones, and the never-ending access to social media that comes with phone use, has been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. Our phones have become our central hub: the place where most of our social interaction and experimentation is taking place; where our lives are able to expand past our own homes and those in our immediate circle.
Phones also offer us quick entertainment and what we might consider a break from the stress of our world. However, our phones and the entertainment that we are offered by them may be causing more harm than good, especially when social media use is happening at really high rates. It is a problem when it becomes a passive behavior rather than an active one.
This is not to say, however, that social media is bad and we should shun it from our lives completely — mostly because there is just no possibility of that ever happening and to even suggest it feels like a sort of joke — but also because social media does have its benefits. The ability to stay connected to other people, interact with new and exciting information and feel like we are still actively participating in society are just a few of those benefits, ones that feel especially important right now. But this is not how we are always using our phones; scrolling can become an unconscious habit rather than something we are really engaging with. It can suck away our time, pulling us away from things in the physical world and diminish our productivity.
There is staggering evidence that decreasing the amount of time that we spend on our phones, and specifically social media, would not only help to improve our mental health but also help to encourage more meaningful phone usage when it does occur. This is especially true if you are experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression.
One 2018 study in the Journal of Social and Physical Psychology found that limiting one’s use of social media can result in significantly decreased feelings of loneliness and depression. Another study from 2018 in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking demonstrated how passive social media use (that would be the eyes-glazed-over, caveman-like interaction that I described earlier) results in higher feelings of depression than active use.
Next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling, try to find something besides your phone to occupy your time. Go for a walk, watch a movie, cook a new meal or maybe even do the reading for that online class that you have been putting off since the semester started. But do it without the company of your phone. By making sure that your personal time is not always being gobbled up by your phone, you are doing your mental health a huge favor, and probably getting more done in the process.