Many of us welcome easy access to technology, lured by the promise of better connection with others, greater engagement and a more efficient life.
But psychological research confirms that social media can actually increase stress, disconnection, inefficiency and feelings of inadequacy.
So how can we harness technology to boost wellbeing and create a healthy digital life? This is what the evidence shows.
1. Check less
A recent survey of social media users found that ‘constant checkers’ – or those who frequently view social media updates and get notifications pushed to their phone – report greater overall stress than adults who check less often. Research also suggests that receiving constant email notifications reduces productivity, while limiting email checks to three times a day lowers stress and increases wellbeing.
Change your settings so you don’t get constant notifications, and limit when you check to certain times of the day.
2. Take care when posting
Think about the impact of your online behaviour on your own or others’ health and do your bit to create a positive online social environment.
3. Take an active role
Passive use of social media often leads to increased stress, social comparison, and envy. But being an active, constructive and respectful contributor has been shown to have mental health benefits by building positive social connection.
Rather than engaging in a passive way, actively create an online world tailored to your interests and values. Seek out social connections that boost your wellbeing rather than undermine it, just as you would offline.
4. Block the bullies
Social media has fuelled the rise of cyberbullying, but one improvement is that it is now easier to report and block individuals who post malicious content.
Be selective about who you involve in your social networks, and ensure your online social network enriches your life.
5. Maintain perspective
Seeing a constant stream of friends or celebrities’ career and social successes can be a stark reminder of how ordinary your own life is, fostering envy and a sense of personal inadequacy. Remember that people post edited highlights that create an image they want the world to see.
Research shows people who are genuine on social media are less stressed and feel better connected than those who present a false image. So avoid competing within your network and be authentic instead.
6. Set boundaries around work
Constant access to email increases the risk of never really clocking off from work. This can result in work issues spilling into family time and can affect other aspects of health, such as sleep. Unless your work involves being on-call, consider turning off email notifications outside of work hours.
7. Guard your sleep
Research suggests that people who use social media before or in bed, and those who keep notifications turned on overnight, are more likely to experience sleep problems, decreased productivity and poor wellbeing during the day. Experts advise turning off all screens, including phones, computers and television, at least an hour before bed.
8. Connect offline
Remember the ‘constant checkers’? They report feeling more burdened by online discussions, less likely to catch up with family and friends, and more likely to feel disconnected even when they do meet loved ones. Psychologists know that those who mindfully engage with people and connect with their environment are healthier and enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing.
If you find that your online world is taking over, take a break to reconnect with the people and world around you. Connect face-to-face, put the phone away and really engage.