Social media is an incredible resource. It makes it possible to have a social life even when you’re stuck at home, live in a remote place, or have working hours that get in the way of going out. It means that you can find other people who share your niche interests and people who understand your problems. Like any social space, however, it has a dark side, and when things go wrong, continuing to spend time there can be bad for your mental health. These are some of the signs that you might need to take a break.
Do you find that minor critical remarks are upsetting you more than they should? Are you losing your temper and behaving in ways that, on reflection, you’re not very proud of? It’s important to be able to step back from social media and see it in the wider context of everyday life, rather than becoming overwhelmed by it. If you’re struggling to do this, you may need some time away from it in order to recover your perspective.
You can’t stop thinking about things people have said
Because they encourage people to package their ideas into short comments that are easy to remember, social media platforms are easy places to pick up intrusive thoughts that just won’t go away. This can be particularly distressing if they’re negative comments about you or if they keep bringing you back to thinking about subjects that upset you. This is often a sign of developing anxiety. Sometimes, talking over these things in person with a friend or loved one can help, but if that isn’t working, you need a break in order to avoid developing a debilitating habit.
You’re being bullied
Some people struggle to understand that the people they’re interacting with online are real, or struggle to empathize with them, and this makes it a prime environment for bullying. This is especially problematic when groups of people get together to flood other people’s timelines with hostile messages. It often goes along with prejudice such as racism or homophobia, but it can happen to anyone. If this is happening to you, it’s important to realize that it doesn’t mean that you’re weak. You don’t have to ‘win’ unfair arguments – you don’t owe the bullies your time or attention and the chances are that they won’t listen to what you have to say anyway. Reporting them can be useful, reducing the risk that they will do the same to others. However, there comes a point where you should just ignore them.
You’re getting obsessive
Are you spending more time online than you can really afford to? Do you constantly keep track of how many online friends and followers you have, worry when you lose them and try to get more? Do you sometimes choose to be on social media when you should really be spending time with your loved ones? All these things can mean that you’re developing an unhealthy obsession. Try setting a firm limit on how much time you spend there each day. If you can’t stick to it, it’s time for a complete break.
You’re anxious about the state of the world
Is it important to know what’s going on in the world? In general, yes. Is there reason to be concerned about things such as climate change and pandemic disease? Yes – but there’s a difference between a healthy level of concern and anxiety. If you’re having depressive thoughts or panic attacks, struggling to sleep, or finding it hard to focus at work because of your worries, you need to spend more time offline – and away from the news.
A safer place to talk
When you’re struggling with problems like these, it can be tempting to pour your heart out to an online audience – which often makes the problem worse. What you need to repair your mental health is to talk to somebody who is committed to helping you and has the skills to do so effectively. The good news is that you can do this online with a platform such as Talkspace. The Talkspace cost is lower than you might think, and it gives you access to professionally trained therapists who will build up your ability to cope both on social media and in the rest of your life.
When to return
If you’ve been taking a social media break, how do you know when you’re ready to go back? Try to wait until you don’t feel emotional about it anymore, and then make short visits. Don’t be tempted to go back and read anything from before you left, and if you want to know how people responded to you leaving, get a friend to investigate rather than doing it yourself.
Social media can still be an enjoyable part of your life going forward. You just need to know when to take time out.