Escaping the Rabbit Hole: When to take a break from social media

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Photo by Pankti Patel

Between maintaining relationships at a distance and staying informed about social movements far and close to home, maintaining a healthy usage of social media can seem like a balancing act. 

However, now more than ever, we must reflect on when we should take a social media break, and how to go about it.

“As soon as you find your mood changing, especially in a negative way, it’s absolutely time to get offline,” Dr. Christine Purdon, a registered psychologist who studies anxiety as a professor in the department of psychology at UW, said

There are various signs, both in the mind and body, that people should look out for to know if it is time to take that break.

“If people find that they are getting more anxious rather than less anxious when they are on social media, that right there is an indication that they should take a break,” Dr. Aimée Morrison, who is associate professor in the department of English at UW, and who teaches new media studies, said.

Our bodies and personal feelings can give us many signs that a break is needed as well.

“If you find your heart rate increasing, if you are overwhelmed by the comments people are making on your posts, or the demands people are putting on you to share things and re-share things, it’s time to step back,” Dr. Morrison said.

Being mindful of our habits and the signs that it is time for a break is extremely important, as social media use can have various effects on our mental health and overall well-being. 

“You can fall down rabbit holes of fear, as anxiety focuses your attention on threat,” Dr. Purdon said. “When we’re anxious, we are geared towards trying to get the information we need to flee or fight. So, we seek more and more information until we can get a concrete plan to do so.”

Photo by Pankti Patel

As easy as it may seem to set vague social media goals, we often find ourselves hours deep in a rabbit hole shortly after. The key is to set real boundaries for yourself. 

“Even go as far as figuring out how much time you want to spend on social media and set an alarm. When that alarm goes off, put down the phone and do something that you enjoy, in the real world,” Dr. Purdon said.

As we navigate maintaining these healthier habits, keeping notice of the signs and knowing ourselves is most important. 

“People may need a break and not even realize it,” Dr. Morrison said. 

“If they find that they’re forgetting to eat, missing out on doing work, chores, or self-care that normally they would be doing, that is a sign. If every time they have a free moment, they reflexively pick up the phone and go through social media, it may be time to put the phone down.”

Throughout all of this, the most important thing to do is to stay mindful. Understand your personal use for social media and maintain a specific purpose.

“It’s about a constructive purpose,” Dr. Purdon said. “Rather than time-wasting or procrastination, really consider what it is that you are going on for and stick to it.”

At a time when we are all getting used to a new normal, what better time to implement healthy social media use?

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