The popular narrative says that social media, smartphones, and constantly being online has had a negative effect on our mental health, especially for adolescents. It can be difficult not to be bogged down by comparing ourselves to others, wanting validation for content that we create through likes and comments, or feeling confused and anxious about a possible subtweet.
One recent study found the opposite result, however. They found out that after surveying about 7,000 people between 15-65, those who felt that they didn’t use their smartphones that regularly were more likely to have worsened mental health conditions.
So, is it possible that not being on your smartphone, and by extension, not being on social media, can actually be worse for your mental health than being on it constantly?
Well, it depends.
Spending too much time on your smartphone can have detrimental effects on your productivity, which can lead to intense feelings of anxiety because you aren’t focusing on important things that need to get done. Spending too much time can also distort your perceptions of people, especially physically, which can lead you feeling self-conscious about your own looks.
On the other hand, smartphones (and the Internet as a whole) are almost vital parts of society today. Nearly everyone has one and has some sort of social media account (if not several) that allows them to talk to others, have access to information, and connect with those who aren’t physically closeby. The study mentions that the primary impact that not using smartphones has on your mental health is that it can emphasize loneliness. Just like you can experience FOMO by being on social media by seeing posts of people hanging out without you (even if you don’t know them!), you can also experience it by not being on it too. Being off the grid may make you feel like you’re missing a lot of things online, and if those things get brought up in person (like a meme), you might feel awkward that you can’t relate and that people will like you less.
So if you experience FOMO and loneliness on social media and experience FOMO and loneliness off of social media, what can you do to avoid it? Battling loneliness can be really difficult – no one wants to feel like they have nobody there for them – but things like battling these negative thoughts by remembering recent times when you were with people you liked or thinking of positive qualities about yourself can help. You can also trick your mind to think of loneliness as alone time. Activities like putting on a podcast and going for a walk, doing a at-home spa day, or going to a coffee shop to read a book gives you time to focus on yourself but is also distracting enough so that you don’t get overwhelmed by negative thoughts about yourself.
There’s always a middle ground when it comes to technology use too: if you feel like you spend too much time on social media and are experiencing loneliness, you can try to reach out to a friend and make plans to hang out in person. Alternatively, if you feel like not using your phone is making you lonely, you can text a friend and strike up a conversation about . Whatever it is, you have the power to navigate how social media and your phone make you feel.
Have you ever gone off the grid? How do you feel when you don’t use your phone for a long period of time? Do you have any advice about how to combat FOMO and loneliness?