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How To Better Manage Social Media Phone Use

You bolt out of bed each morning eager to check your phone. While you were holed up for eight hours you must have missed out on plenty new social media posts. You think:

I need to get back on track and catch up. Okay, let’s start with any new messages on WhatsApp. Did they like my latest post on Instagram? What were my former colleagues and friends up to on Facebook? How many likes do I have? How many tweets on my Twitter feed? How many followers do I have now? Oh and while I’m here, let me check my emails too…

Does this checklist sound familiar? Well, it might for many of you – myself included – who compulsively check your smartphones. Ironically, this device is often keeping us apart from people that actually matter in our lives. Instead of spending quality time with loved ones, talking to people and connecting with them in person, we are busy browsing on our smartphones with our heads down and eyes fixated onto the screen. We continuously check our smartphones, even when we know there’s nothing new! Checking our phones excessively is an addiction, and experts say that among the millennium generation, checking phones up to 150 times a day is not unusual. And we haven’t even mentioned those who play games on phone apps for hours at a time. Spending time on our phones has become common practice regardless of age. So, why has it become an addiction for so many of us? Can’t we practice self-control? What compels us to keep checking social media? Well, first let’s examine the scientific part that enables smartphone use to become a compulsion.

The Science of Addiction – Notification Rewards and Seeing Red

According to experts, the addiction stems from the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters known as dopamine that are released when we see a good response, such as many likes or positive comments to our posted picture (which most often than not was filtered and carefully curated). This response gives us a high and makes us crave more of the same. You also can now see little red icons in the corner of each app when you have unread messages. They have actually been designed to be quite obvious. So, why are they red and not another colour you might ask? Well, we have spent a lifetime looking at stop signs, flags and warnings teaching us that we usually have to pay attention to red signs. This colour makes us uncomfortable on a subconscious level. Seeing it can release a small dose of cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes us want to click the app to get rid of this feeling of anxiety. Once we click and see the notification, there is a release of dopamine (a quick fix) and the cycle continues: posting, receiving notifications and reaping the ‘rewards.’

To elaborate further on picture posts, when people post their photo, more often than not, it is filtered or carefully curated, so they look their best. In other words, what people put out there is not usually a full or real portrayal of their life. If we forget this, we fall into the trap of comparing our life to what someone else chooses to share. Constant comparing via social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anger and envy. Also, remember the amount of likes you get has nothing to do with who you are, how attractive you are or how popular you are. Some people or brands actually pay for likes. Young adults are most vulnerable and impressionable to this type of thinking. If you have teenage children, encourage them to be outdoors, to play more sports and to engage in activities, such as music or crafts. Get them to play board games and read books. Limit their screen time and they will feel happier in the long run.

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Avoid Text Neck

Another problem with excessive smartphone usage is the position we take on while bending our neck. This gravitational pull on our head and the stress on our neck increase pressure, and over time this position leads to incremental loss of the curve of the cervical spine. The symptoms consist of headaches, neck spasms, and creaky shoulder joints. Coined “Text neck” this problem is becoming a medical issue that more and more smartphone users are suffering from. To avoid this we need to constantly remember to sit up and look at the device straight at eye level.

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Okay, while we have mentioned some of the main trappings of excessive smartphone usage, we also acknowledge that the smartphones are very useful (we can’t deny that). After all, they tick so many boxes in one device: they take our pictures, organize our calendars, store our music, let us work on the go, give us access to the internet and provide us with entertainment. The social media apps we add also allow us to stay in touch with geographically scattered family and friends, communicate with like-minded people around our interests, and join with an online community to advocate for causes we believe in.

With so much on offer smartphones are not going to disappear anytime soon from our lives! However, we can learn to better manage how we use them. Here are some things we can do to help curb the urge to constantly check our phones:

Stop the Phone Wake-up

Many of us use our phones as an alarm clock. Swap your smartphone for a traditional alarm clock to wake up in the morning. That way you can put your phone far away (preferably in another room in the house) and you wont need to see it first thing in the morning to turn off the alarm. Remember the LED screens on phones disrupt restful sleep too. Try falling asleep with a book or magazine in your hand instead of your phone.

Make a “No Phones at the Table” Rule

Set a policy at home so no phones are allowed at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table. In fact, some restaurants are even embracing that idea. One high-end restaurant in Los Angeles, California offers discount on meals if everyone in a party decides to leave their cell phone at the front desk! Great idea, don’t you think?

Make Your Phone Less Distracting

If you see the social media icons on your phone you are tempted to open it regularly. On the other hand, if you specifically seek out an app to use it, you’ll cut down on its usage, as you will need to spend more time finding it. So, go ahead and remove addictive and non-essential apps from your home screen. You can also turn off notifications for all non-essential apps. To make viewing easier on the eyes, you can also activate your blue light filter (but again do try to refrain from using your device for at least an hour before you sleep, regardless of having the filter. As mentioned earlier using the phone just before sleeping can result in sleepless nights and fatigue due to its strong artificial light). Also, if you want to make your phone ‘less obvious’ put it on grayscale mode. It might make Facebook and Snapchat less appealing in black and white than in colour!

Take a (Real) Break from Social Media

Make a point to hold off on social media completely for a period of time. If, however, it’s too big of a commitment right now, allocate a certain day of the week. (Maybe make it one day on the weekend or make it for a few hours everyday). It can be hard at first but once you make it a habit it will get easier. You will find yourself able to focus more on another activity. Remember, if you’re posting or scrolling through social media all the time, you’re not living in the moment! Well, this is what I’m getting to next…

Practice Mindfulness and Pay Attention to Your Emotions

Mindfulness is focusing on the present moment and being fully engaged in what’s going on in the now instead of being distracted or somewhere else based on what may be going on in your mind. Allen Weiss, who is director of the Mindful University of Southern California (USC) initiative and a professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business, offers useful detox exercises in one of his courses. He tells his students: “Ask yourself, what is going on internally when you feel the need to check your phone Don’t just go into autopilot, but consider: Is it a need to avoid a sense of boredom, a difficult emotion, or the feeling of being left out? Do certain actions, like checking your email or social media, make you feel better or worse? Ask yourself these questions each time you have the urge to check your phone.”

And life is too short to not be in the moment. So embrace mindfulness with less social media! Of course, you can practice mindfulness everyday and make it part of daily life. If you want to know more, here is an informative article about practicing mindfulness and meditation.

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Well, that a wrap for now! Hope you found something useful here. Remember, while social media platforms can have their benefits, using them too frequently can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing. Digital detoxes have never been so popular as they are now and for good reason! The more sophisticated smartphones get, the more we spend time on them. We can’t stop technology from advancing, but we can certainly control when and how we use them!


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