If you’re an iPhone user, you might have noticed that Apple recently introduced a sobering new feature called ‘Screen Time’ that tells you, in minutes and hours, how long you spend on social media.
Apple CEO Tim Cook’s new roll-out was designed to empower smartphone owners to take back control of their phone usage, but for a lot of us, it provided a startling insight into how hopelessly addicted we are to scrolling through apps like Instagram and Facebook.
While it can be a great way of staying connected with friends and family, experts are warning that too much time on apps can trigger feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-worth.
The scariest thing of all though? Research has found that the more you binge on them, the worse the feelings become. Our own Ryan Tubridy spoke about giving up his smartphone for the month of February this year, comparing overusing smartphones to "lighting up" at parties.
Arguably, it’s never been more important to make sure you’re taking regular breaks from your phone, so here, Juliet Hodges, senior behaviour change expert at Bupa UK (bupa.co.uk) has outlined her top tips on taking a well-needed break from social media.
Set yourself an achievable goal
If the thought of deleting your Instagram account fills you with dread, start with a less daunting timescale. "A lot of people set unrealistic goals that are too big to stick to and achieve," says Hodges. "The thought of never using social media again may be daunting, and you’re more likely to give up. But if the goal is achievable and you have a clear deadline in mind, you’re more likely to succeed, or even exceed your expectations."
She believes Christmas is one of the best times to give up social media, because you can commit to the logging off for just a short period of time, and you’ll have a week of festivities to distract you from your newsfeed.
The best way to make sure you stick to a ban? Tell people you’re going off-grid for a while.
"I know it sounds ironic, but tell people around you that you’re ‘logging off’, or if it suits you, share it on your social media accounts," says Hodges. "We like to be seen to act consistently, particularly in front of others, so one way to make sure you don’t fall off the wagon is to tell the people around you what you’re planning to do."
"Studies show that people with the best willpower aren’t unusually strong in the face of temptation – they just avoid putting themselves in that position," reveals Hodges. "It may sound like a bold step, but consider deleting the social media apps from your phone." Like the old saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.
Know your triggers
Research shows it’s much easier to form new habits when we link them to activities or triggers that already occur in our daily lives.
"Why not use your morning coffee or afternoon walk as times to be completely device-free?" Hodges suggests. "Take a book with you instead, or use it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness."
Don’t beat yourself up
Habits are incredibly difficult to break, and most of us fall off the wagon at some point when we try to make changes, but what’s important, says Hodges, is how you treat yourself in those moments.
"Those who have self-compassion, treating themselves with kindness and understanding when they slip up, are much more likely to be successful in the long-term than those who beat themselves up for every mistake.
"It’s equally important to celebrate your successes. Set yourself short-term targets (they could even be daily goals) and give yourself a pat on the back for your achievements."