There’s no denying it: many of us have become fixated on the constant stream of texts, Facebook notifications, and Instagram likes that flood our screens on a daily basis. It’s probably no surprise that our social media habits have some type of influence on our mental health. So what can we do about it?
Besides making us feel validated, a recent study by UCLA found that getting a virtual “like” produces the same feeling you experience when you eat your favorite candy or win a raffle prize. The study found that “likes” activate the part of the brain associated with rewards. The activation of this part of the brain causes the release of the chemical dopamine. The pull of dopamine is what causes us to seek out more “likes”—and it’s the same chemical that makes it harder for people to resist an alcoholic drink or even a cigarette.
When we involve ourselves in this dopamine loop, it becomes harder and harder to stop looking for feedback through social media, texting, and even email. While in the moment we gain instant gratification, this addiction to “likes” can cut back on our productivity and overall enjoyment of life.
In the book Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone? by Dr. James A. Roberts, he suggests that self-control is the key to finding what he calls your digital “sweet spot”—where you call the shots instead of your smartphone controlling you. Here are his top 5 tips:
1. Set phone-free zones. Cell phones should be forbidden in certain places at home and work. Pick and choose where in your house you want to make smartphone “free” zones. An easy spot like the bedroom allows you to reconnect with your partner before you sleep. It also makes for a more restful sleep. As meQuilibrium Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Perlman says,“The bright lights of our phones can disrupt sleep and make it harder to get a good night’s rest.” Another manageable spot is the dinner table where you can have uninterrupted conversations, allowing you to catch up with your family members and practice mindful eating.
2. Out of sight, out of mind. At work, Dr. Roberts’ suggests you designate two to three times a day (at the most) where you allow yourself to check your smartphone for any updates and the remainder of the time your phone should be put out of sight. You can also use your commute in and out of work to check your many social media feeds, keeping usage of your favorite apps separate from work.
3. Focus on your friends. In general, there’s nothing more annoying than hanging out with someone whose nose is constantly in their phone. When you’re with friends, resist the urge scroll through your feeds—and encourage them to do the same.
4. Hair of the dog. Pit technology against technology. There are a multitude of apps that you can use to monitor and control your smartphone use. Dr. Roberts’ suggests Moment, which tells you how many times you handle your iPhone in a given day and how much time you’ve spent on each activity. It also allows you to set time limits from between five minutes to six hours to help you curb your phone and social media use.
5. Set up virtual boundaries. Turn off the notification center for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, to remove the constant stream of notifications that fill your phone and grab your attention. If you can’t turn off notifications, try turning your phone on airplane mode after you post a status or send out a tweet. Then, when you check your phone at the end of the day, all of the notifications will flood your phone and you can take time to enjoy them that much more. You can also organize your “iPhone desktop” so that your favorite apps are not the first thing you see. By making it so these applications are not front and center, you minimize the temptation.