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Tips for Cutting Social Media Use and Being Online in a Healthier Way

You don’t have to quit Instagram and TikTok cold turkey. Use these strategies — some practical, some more philosophical — to be online in a healthier or less harmful way.

Maybe it’s a happy couple, toes in the sand, on a Grecian beach vacation. Or that family who always seem to be hiking together, no one ever complaining about the hot sun and how long it’s going to take to get back to the car. Maybe it’s even that perfect meal, expertly plated on a busy weeknight.

These images of contentment and positivity can easily leave some who see them on Instagram, TikTok or Facebook feeling as if everyone else is enjoying life more fully.

Mental health experts say there are strategies that everyone can use — some practical, some more philosophical — to engage with social media in a healthier way and limit harm.

At the same time, she avoids videos that circulate online when the police shoot unarmed people, which can be traumatizing, she said. And with all of the trolls and bad actors online, she said, “I have no problem unfollowing, muting and blocking folks that I don’t want in my threads.”

“It’s really about curating the experience for yourself and not completely leaving it up to these algorithms, because these algorithms don’t necessarily have your best interests in mind,” Dr. Bounds said. “You are your best protector.”

Your social media usage might be excessive if it is getting in the way of other activities like going outside, exercising, talking to family and friends and, perhaps most important, sleeping, said Jacqueline Nesi, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.

Dr. Nesi recommended a more “mindful” approach, which involves “taking a step back and thinking about what I’m seeing.” If the content makes you feel bad, she said, simply unfollow or block the account.

Being mindful of how we use social media is challenging, Dr. Nesi said, because some apps are designed to be used mindlessly, to keep people scrolling through an endless stream of videos and targeted content — selling clothing, makeup and wellness products — that seems to feed our desires.

When people reach for their phones, it can be helpful to get “curious” and ask “what caused me to do that?” said Nina Vasan, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

“Am I looking for connection because I’m lonely?” Dr. Vasan said in an email. “Or am I looking to distract myself from a difficult feeling?”

She suggested asking yourself: “What do I need in this moment, and could I meet this need without turning to social media?”

After people take stock of why they are picking up their phones, they should unfollow accounts that make them feel anxious and depressed or that lower their self-esteem, Dr. Vasan said.

“Think of these actions like spring cleaning,” Dr. Vasan said. “You can do it today, and then should repeat these behaviors periodically as perhaps new things come up in the news or in your life that are triggering to you,” or as your passions change.

Dr. Nesi recommended that people charge their phone outside the bedroom at night, not use it an hour before bedtime and generally set tech-free times of the day, when they put their phones out of reach. Dr. Murthy suggested that family mealtimes be free of devices.

Dr. Bounds said she deleted Facebook and Instagram on her phone after her son, who is 20, deleted Instagram on his phone. It helped her cut the amount of time she wasted online. “I did it when I was grant-writing,” she said. “It was a tactic I needed to focus.”

Category: Technology

Source: NYTimes Technology

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