Social media has notable benefits—it can help people find connection, engage with emerging trends and news, and maintain relationships that may be disrupted by distance. However, our increasing reliance on technology and social media may be more harmful than we acknowledge.
The harms of constant connection
Research has indicated that some patterns of social media use (high-intensity and high-frequency) were correlated with increased risks of depressive and anxious symptoms as well as self-esteem, time management, and relationship issues1,2,3,4,5,6.
Being “plugged in” refers to that constant connectivity we have with our phones, computers, and social media accounts. This has been found to correlate with several problems, including
- Lowered self-esteem from constant comparison with unrealistic representations of bodies and lifestyles
- Increased stress from “impression management”
- Increased in-person social anxiety from primarily online socialization
- Higher risk of emotional and social issues in real-life situations due to being “insulated” online
- Increased risk of sleep dysregulation
- Increased work-related anxiety due to lack of work-life separation
and, of course, FOMO—the fear of missing out.
Is unplugging the solution?
Breaking out of this hyperconnected lifestyle is not as easy as putting down the phone or deciding not to check Instagram in the morning. Like any habit, it takes time, practice, and maybe some discomfort to develop healthy tech-use habits.
“Unplugging” has become a buzzword in lifestyle blogger circles, and many big tech names brag about their “technology fasts.” There are countless horror stories of people taking cold-turkey tech breaks, but unplugging can be simple if you take the time to reflect on your tech use and make a plan. You don’t have to take a 3-month break from anything that remotely resembles a screen, but moderating your tech use can be incredibly beneficial.
There are a few steps that can make unplugging easier:
Take inventory: What do you use your devices for most and why?
Introduce short pauses between app-scrolls or email checks.
Try scheduling one-hour blocks without your phone or computer.
Take this time to read, talk to a friend, or do some anxiety-relieving exercises[JG1] . If your work requires frequent phone or computer use, set limits on which websites you can access during your work hours or how often you check things like your email or Twitter. Our culture of connectivity has undermined the value of solitude—try to spend time with yourself. Even minor habit changes can have major benefits for your mental health and improve your experiences of the people and world around you.