Your Brain On Social Media - The Loneliness Side Effect

Girl feeling loneliness after using social media laying on bed

Loneliness is an incredibly common emotion that may very well be linked to social media use. If you live in 2019, you're probably addicted to your phone, guilty of scrolling hours of your day away. As part of RUOK day a couple of years ago, researchers discovered that we spend about 46 hours of weekly downtime looking at our screens. That’s a lot more time than the average of 6 hours we spend on catching up with family and friends. Could social media be part of the reason we’re feeling lonelier than ever before?

What’s the link between social media and loneliness?

In a recent study, researchers discovered a link between feeling socially isolated and lots of time spent on social media: the most frequent users of social media were three times as likely to report feeling socially isolated. A similar study in 2016 found that social media use was significantly associated with depression. It’s ironic that the platforms which promise to connect us might be making us feel further apart.

While we can’t definitely say social media causes loneliness, some connection looks likely. It could also be that when we’re feeling lonely or anxious, we spend more time on social media. Checking your social feed might not be the most helpful way to deal with these feelings, though; feeling lonely while seeing your friends enjoying the best parts of their life can start a vicious cycle.

Should you take a break from social media?

We’re so used to living our lives on social media that the mere thought of taking a short break from your social feed can seem frightening. But research has found that it can indeed be a healthy thing to try. A European study found that participants who took a one-week break from Facebook reported “significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and a significantly improved emotional life”. Participants also reported feeling less lonely, and noticed an increase in their satisfaction with their social life.

Does it mean we should quit social media all together? While there may not be any harm in quitting, the research indicate that it might not be necessary to increase one’s well-being. Instead, an adjustment in behaviour is enough to increase your wellbeing and happiness levels.

Try a four day social detox challenge

Keen to cut back? Try this four day social detox challenge.

  • Day 1: if you’re out for dinner or a drink, have everyone stack their phones in the middle of the table. Create a penalty if someone picks theirs up – would everyone be less tempted to browse if they had to pick up the entire bill? Or even better, just leave it in the car.

  • Day 2: stop using your phone in bed and charge it in another room while you sleep. You’ll sleep better and waste less time scrolling news feeds in the morning.

  • Day 3: turn off notifications for social networking apps. They’re all designed to turn one quick check of a notification into a half hour scroll session, literally.

  • Day 4: Use your phones Screen Time app to show you exactly how much time you spend on your phone and what you’re doing. You’re probably underestimating exactly how long you’re spending each day and seeing the figures will give you a clear picture.

It's important to acknowledge behaviours that are helpful and unhelpful. Looking after yourself with healthy social activities and exercise is a sure fire way to feel connected.

James Watts