To your health: Taking break from social media for the sake of your health

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health
Alfred Casale To Your Health -

Kate and Rowan have been visiting with us for the last few days. It’s been a hoot!

Seeing the animals at The Lands at Hillside Farms has been a highlight, as has opening and closing the gate in our yard about 40 times on Sunday afternoon. Ro absolutely loves Canteen 900 and The Café on Route 315 and continues her exploration of great places to eat in NEPA and investigating the best places to find sticks (yes, little branches, her new obsession) in our area.

On Sunday, we spent a wonderful few hours with friends at a lovely brunch, which, despite three energetic young boys and two toddlers, was elegant, relaxing and really special. I noticed that during the whole time at our friends’ beautifully refurbished iconic downtown Wilkes-Barre mansion, none of the parents or kids spent any time watching a screen.

That’s right, three surgeons, two spouses, five kids, for more than two hours and no one on a phone! After eating, the kids all played outside in the yard … digging holes, climbing, running, jumping and riding a variety of muscle-powered vehicles. What a throwback! It was very reassuring to see that non-electronic playtime is alive and well. Lots of us adults can take a lesson.

What is the last thing you do before bed and the first thing you do when you wake up? If checking your smartphone for the latest update on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat is you answer, it may be time for a self-imposed hiatus from social media.

We hear frequently about how addicted teens are to their phones — and, by some definitions, they are, spending as much as nine hours per day on social networks. But adults are just as susceptible to the lure of connecting with friends, snapping the perfect selfie and checking for likes and updates. Check your iPhone. Go to settings, battery and scroll down to see how much of your battery was used on different apps … you’ll be shocked at how much of your “short battery life” is because of the social media sites!

Apps and social media are engineered to keep you engaged and interacting on a near-constant basis. While that’s good for the social network and its advertisers, it can be bad for your mental health.

It seems harmless, but social media can create the feeling that you need to keep up or outdo the people you’re connected to. It creates unrealistic expectations about your appearance, your popularity and how perfect your life should be.

In a recent study, researchers tracked the social media habits of teens and young adults. They found that Instagram and other social networks can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

Additionally, there was a close connection between the frequency of social media use and associated mental health issues: The heaviest users were more likely to feel anxious or depressed.

Social media can make you feel bad when you compare yourself to others, even when what you’re seeing may be manipulated to look better with filters and editing. This can result in a negative self-image, poor self-esteem, a fear of missing out, and anxiety and depression.

If you’re questioning whether or not you need a break from social media, you most likely do. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself these five questions regularly:

Am I happy while I’m checking Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or other social networks? Being mindful of your emotions while using social media is important. If you feel worse after checking in, you may need a break.

How frequently am I checking? Monitor how often you check in on social media. Keep track of times it has taken you away from other activities or your friends and family.

How does my body feel while I’m using social media? Your feelings can manifest themselves physically. If your muscles are tight, your jaw is clenched or your stomach hurts while checking social media, it may be a sign that you’re experiencing stress and anxiety.

Am I comparing myself to this person? If you look at a friend’s selfie and compare yourself to their perfect pose or body, you may be sabotaging your confidence needlessly. Keep in mind that filters, angles and editing can make anyone look good.

Is this a good use of my time? Some studies estimate that teens spend the majority of their waking hours on social media, and adults aren’t far behind. If you’re spending more time on social media than at school, work or sleeping, you should rethink your habits.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a break or limiting your social media use to a few times a day or one day per week. It may help your mental health and give you a chance to reconnect with some of the other important things in life … like looking for sticks or bird feathers with a toddler.

Alfred Casale To Your Health Casale To Your Health

By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]