• On average, we check our phones every 12 minutes – often to check in with our social media accounts

  • With emails and WhatsApp on top, we're spending more time than ever on our smartphones – here's a five-step plan to switching off

Social media is everywhere. If we’re not updating our connections about where we’ve been or what we’re seeing, we’re no doubt uploading a photo of the delicious meal we’re about to eat. The popularity of sharing our experiences via social channels can’t be denied, with an estimated 2.77 billion social media users globally, and it plays a significant role in our lives – both at work and at home. But has our need to keep people updated on our every move or thought gone too far?

An often debated benefit of social media is that it reduces isolation by connecting people all over the world, as you are able to track what your friend in New Zealand is up to, without needing to stay up late to Skype. However, in many ways, this connectivity can be a ‘false reality’ – simply a window through which you see just a snapshot of another person’s life – you don’t know what they’re really thinking or feeling, emotions which can only be delved into during a conversation.

Additionally, this snapshot is often carefully choreographed, and portrays the subject at their best, without realities to impair the moment. As a result, when seeing these pictures of perfection, it’s natural to envisage their perfect life and compare their experiences to yours, which may not live up in comparison. It’s not surprising to learn that a recent study by researchers from the University of Houston in Texas has shown that social media is contributing to depression due to users comparing themselves to others.

So, bearing this in mind, is it time we put down Snapchat, deleted Facebook or disabled Instagram for a while, to give us not only a break from the perfect lives of others, but also to regain perspective?

If you’re considering taking a social media holiday, keep the following in mind:

  1. Suspend your accounts – suspending them for a week means you can take a break without the temptation to check for any new notifications.
  2. Take the time for face-to-face – cutting down on virtual messaging may free up time to meet your friends in person. This not only allows you to have a proper catch up, it also fills the void in terms of knowing what’s going on
  3. Regain your focus – how many times have you missed a crucial moment on TV due to checking someone else’s holiday photos? Not having these distractions will help you tune into the moment more freely.
  4. Get an alarm clock – it’s easy to use your phone as an alarm clock, but this encourages you to look at it as soon as you wake. Try a conventional alarm clock and turn your phone off overnight. The blue light used by phones disrupts sleep, so it may help your sleep quality too by switching it off completely.
  5. Rather than going cold turkey it’s best to start small and build up to something. Why not start by turning off notifications for an hour, then two, building up to a whole day, or even a week at a time? Check out apps designed to block sites at certain times of the day. This helps to avoid that mindless checking and re-checking we all fall victim to!

Taking the plunge and giving up social media for a week or more can be an incredibly refreshing experience. It lets you live in the present, and remember memories in real-time, instead of via a camera lens. Technology has made it so easy for us to stay connected and to know our friends’ ins and outs, but it shouldn’t replace face-to-face contact as this is not always the healthy or desirable option.

By Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare

Further reading

Am I addicted to my phone?

Envy and FOMO on social media

Can social media reduce mental health stigma?

How technology affects our relationships

How to have a successful digital detox