Christmas, it is often said, is a time for giving. Perhaps the greatest gift we can offer those we love is the gift of our attention. Our best gift to ourselves may be simply time for mental reflection and emotional renewal.
Both may require a deliberate decision to spend less time in the world of social media.
A University of Pennsylvania study in 2018 revealed not just a correlation but a causative impact between social media use and lower levels of mental health. This applied especially in areas such as anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation and suicidal tendencies.
The report was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
The researchers found that people who limited their social media use - including Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat - to a total of just 30 minutes per day, reported feeling significantly better after three weeks, that people who did not.
They felt noticeably less anxious and suffered less from FOMO - the now infamous ‘fear of missing out’.
A University of Copenhagen study, released in 2016, suggested that an over-engagement with Facebook and other social media platforms can give rise to feelings of envy.
Social media platforms are not the ideal places to visit if you want to reinforce positive self-esteem. One of the reasons for this, of course, is that nobody shows their worst possible life on social media.
People don’t jump on Instagram to upload a photo or video of themselves taken at seven o’clock in the morning, as they claw their way out of bed in a daze, following a torrid night-before.
Most Twitter users won’t tweet about their session clearing the drains, or washing the car (unless it’s a Maserati).
Because social media are largely public broadcast (or narrowcast) platforms, users want to be seen doing interesting, amusing and in some cases even highly dangerous things. Even if viewers are aware of this fact – and most are – they can be left with feelings of inadequacy and the sense that their own lives don’t quite match up to the social norm.
Prolonged use of social media also cuts down on our “eyeball time”.
So many of our relationships now are mediated using screens. As a result, most of us spend less time developing the biometric-reading skills we unconsciously use in normal conversation.
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