Many sources claim that social media impacts our mental health. Those that are adversely affected can experience a lower self-esteem, envy of other people’s lives, lacking face-to-face contact and struggle to do anything without feeling it should be shared online, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
On the other hand social media can offer many benefits to society such as platform for our voices to be heard and the power to bring together voices of concern about particular issues.
At Create, being a specialist digital content agency, we were interested to find out if it really does affect our subjective well-being and conducted our own (very small) experiment. Our two participants, Jasmine (22) and Anna (29) are both avid users of various social platforms and were keen to find out how they’d feel if they were completely disconnected for one week.
How often do you log onto Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter on a daily basis?
Jasmine: I opened Facebook the most out of habit, I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for anything but I’d unlock my phone and open it just because it’s one of the first apps I see on my home screen. On average I spend 30 minutes a day on Facebook, 5 minutes on Instagram, 10 minutes on Snapchat and 10 minutes on Twitter.
Anna: On average I use Facebook 14 times a day. For Instagram my average usage is less at 9 sessions a day. I don’t Snapchat or Twitter. I browse Facebook for almost half an hour a day. On top of this Instagram takes up almost 20 minutes of my time every day.
What times of day are you most likely to log on?
Jasmine: I mostly use social media while I’m on the bus travelling to and from work as I like to keep myself occupied. However, a bad habit I noticed is that I regularly get distracted while watching TV and aimlessly scroll through Facebook, but I am the kind of person whose mind can’t stick to one thing at a time.
Anna: My usage of all social media is a lot less at the weekend. For Facebook it dropped from around 20 sessions to only 5 or 6. I mainly use social media to ‘wake myself up’ in the mornings and to chill out in front of the telly in the evenings after work.
On a scale from 1-10, how hard was it not to log on?
Jasmine: Maybe a 2 or 3? I moved all of my social media apps in to one folder and moved them off my home screen so that I couldn’t see them. I avoided removing the temptation completely because I wanted to use my willpower rather than force. But I did need to do some reshuffling of my home screen just to stop me opening them by accident through force of a habit.
Anna: 7. It’s a habit that is tricky to break!
Reasons that made you want to access it?
Jasmine: I found that I wanted to use it mostly in conversation, for example we were having a conversation in the office about people who look like famous people and I wanted to share some examples of friends who looked like actors or musicians and when I realised I couldn’t the conversation felt slightly ruined.
On Wednesday morning the water supply to my house cut out and I wanted to go log on to see if anyone else was experiencing problems and find out more information, instead I listened to the radio to find out that a burst water main had left 35,000 homes without water.
Anna: Notifications appearing on my phone were hard to ignore! Who’s birthday had I forgotten?!
What did you do instead?
Jasmine: While I was on the bus I played Pokemon Go or a Sudoku app.
Anna: I scrolled through news sites like the BBC or the Daily Mail. I also checked work emails.
How did you feel?
Jasmine: I didn’t really feel overly different. Whether that’s because I was busy on the weekend and didn’t really have any time where I wasn’t occupied or because I replaced the time with games I’m not sure. Often when I do feel anxious that is when I pick up my phone, so I think if the experiment had totally removed use of my phone it would have been a very different situation (please don’t sign me up for that…).
Anna: I was able to concentrate more on whatever task I would have normally interrupted with social media. For example; watching the telly. If I’m not particularly enjoying a programme I will often turn to social media when my mind wonders. Without this as an option it meant I wanted to be more engaged with everything I watched.
On scale from 1-10, how excited are you to log back on?
Jasmine: I actually totally forgot on Monday morning that I was allowed back on! Although I will say about 7? I mostly wanted to clear the notifications that had built up because that little red circle gets a bit annoying ha! But I was also looking forward to catching up on everything I’d missed so I definitely spent a lot of time online on the Monday going back through everything.
Did you miss out on anything?
Jasmine: I missed an invitation to a friend’s gig, year friendship anniversary with my boyfriend, photos from a weekend break with my boyfriend’s family and trip to theme park with friends and my best friend’s graduation photos (although I did also get her to message them to me because I was missing out). My best friend is currently travelling Australia and I really missed seeing her posts about what she was up to. I know this is something that is often talked about as being a bad thing because you can feel like your life isn’t as interesting, but personally it makes me feel more connected as we don’t often get chance to catch up.
I mostly missed being unable to share in the grief of Chester Bennington’s death, lead singer of Linkin Park. I felt disconnected from what had happened; it’s events like this where the need to share and be part of a community are vital, I couldn’t share see tributes to him which was quite upsetting.
Anna: I hadn’t appreciated quite how much I used Facebook for news – both to find out about breaking news (ie: Facebook is the first place I go for information when there’s a big event like a terrorist attack) and also just to generally stay up to date. For example; I follow the Labour Party, BBC and The Independent. I missed the access that Facebook gives me to easily digestible news and political information.
I also missed being able to keep up with birthdays and events; for example I’m hosting a leaving party for a friend and I previously set up a Facebook event page for this. When I logged back on to Facebook after the 7 day break a lot of my notifications where from this group. I missed not being able to keep track of how many people were planning on attending and relied on my friends to keep me in the loop.
How often do you now log onto Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter on a daily basis?
Jasmine: I’ve mostly gone back to how I was before, but I do feel I have cut down some of my time as I decided to keep the apps in a folder so that I can’t click between them as easily.
Anna: I have made no conscious effort to change my behaviour and it hasn’t changed from before the experiment.
Have your feelings about social media changed? If so, how?
Jasmine: Not particularly, if anything I feel like it’s reinforced my feelings that social media gets a bad rep for
making mental health worse. Obviously it should be used in moderation and I totally understand how spending too much time on it can be over consuming. But rather than the expectation that it makes you feel isolated, I ultimately feel it makes me feel more connected.
Anna: I hadn’t realised how different my attitudes and habits were between Facebook and Instagram. I use Facebook more like a resource – a place for information (about friends, events, what’s on in Bristol, news etc). Whereas Instagram is more just for scrolling through pretty pictures! Just for fun!
Anything else you’d like to say?
Jasmine: We’ll always find ways to occupy ourselves. Be it with social media, games, TV, or books. All I did this week was replace my time on Facebook with Pokemon Go or other gaming apps. It didn’t actually make as much of an impact as I thought it would, which was a refreshing thought, I just wound up feeling slightly disconnected from my friends which wasn’t enjoyable.
Anna: I’m 29 so I think probably a little older than the people that this ban would really effect. As I’ve gotten older my attitude to social media has definitely changed; I share less and it has become more about escapism and a way to wind down or kill time.