Are you spending too much time on social media? How to Create Healthy Boundaries on Social Media

by Jennifer Diaz

Not long ago, I was driving through a part of town where some seemingly never-ending construction was taking place. I was bored, and more than slightly annoyed with Google Fiber for the delay, so without a second thought I unlocked my phone and immediately started scrolling, making sure to occasionally look up and move forward when necessary. On one upward glance, the car in front of me was much closer than I expected it to be, and luckily I had just enough time to slam on my brakes before entering fender bender territory. I’m thankful that the only thing out of whack from that moment was my heart rate and blood pressure. It was a stupid mistake, and I was fortunate. Afterwards, my mind recalled a few tragedies I’d heard about involving smartphones and driving, and I thought to myself, “What were you thinking?! Nothing on your phone is more important than what is in front of you right now.”

Technology can be an amazing innovation. It gives us the ability to connect with people we would have otherwise never met, it can provide us with entertainment, and it helps us stay informed on current events around the world. But exactly how much are we willing to pay to stay connected 24/7?

Compulsive phone usage has been linked to a number of negative side effects including depression, anxiety, and lack of focus. It’s been shown to hinder our real life relationships, so much so that 2013 saw the creation of the word, phubbing, the phenomenon of people choosing to be preoccupied by their phones while with each other. If you’d like to test the effects of that one out, next time your friend or significant other starts talking to you, get your phone out, start scrolling, and see what happens. And let’s not forget how it can feel to see everyone else’s carefully cultivated highlight reel while we look around at our messy, imperfect, behind-the-scenes lives.

We live in a world full of instant gratification. If you’re bored, open your phone and scroll. If you’re lonely, swipe right. Need a confidence boost? Post a staged and filtered picture and watch as your self-worth teeters on how many likes it gets. If you feel as though you’re lacking something, you’re only three clicks and two days away from a brand new purchase arriving on your doorstep.

I’ve been guilty of all the above. My phone used to be the first thing I looked at in the morning, it’s what I gravitated towards late at night if I couldn’t sleep, and I’d even feel an urge to reach for it anytime there was a lull in the conversation. I love having access to so much at my fingertips. But when I think about all the potential things we’re sacrificing (community, workouts, healthy meals, rest, true connections) to be on our phones, I can’t help but wonder exactly how much our overall wellbeing is suffering in the long-run.

Because technology and social media will continue to evolve, it’s important for those of us who love it to learn how to use it well. I’m here to tell you there is a way to enjoy all the perks, while avoiding the future regret of wishing we had put our phones down more and paid attention to our real lives. And it begins with setting necessary boundaries that will help us develop a healthier relationship with social media and support a healthy lifestyle outside of our screens.

1. Be honest about how much time you’re spending on your phone

This can be the hardest pill to swallow. Most of us want to be the type of person who has their values in order and are focused on the right things. It can take a lot of effort and self-awareness to come to terms with the fact you may be on your phone too much. I downloaded the app Moment to give me an accurate idea of how much time I was spending on my phone during the day, and it was very eye-opening. The irony of using an app is not lost on me, but utilizing this tool has helped me build a more positive relationship with technology. You know what they say, the first step to getting better is admitting you have a problem. So, I’ll go first: Hi my name is Jen, and I’m addicted to my phone.

2. Check-in before scrolling

Before opening your phone, do a quick check-in to see exactly how you’re feeling. Why are you wanting to open your phone? Are you avoiding something, do you feel bored or lonely, or are you looking for an escape? It helps to know exactly how you’re feeling and the reasons why you’re reaching for your phone, so you can either be more mindful as you scroll, or realize that scrolling isn’t what you need at that moment.

3. Make sure your feed supports your values

Creating personal boundaries is incredibly important for our wellbeing, and it’s no different when it comes to our social feeds. My method for keeping my social media experience an uplifting and positive space is pretty cut and dry. If I scroll and see something that makes me feel negative, hopeless, or less than, I unfollow. If what you’re seeing throughout your feed doesn’t align with your core values and who you desire to be at your best, omit it from your feed. This is one area we have some control over, and if the things you’re seeing consistently take you down a rabbit hole of negativity, it’s not serving you well. Instead, find and follow accounts that encourage positivity, love, and that align with your values.

4. Tell people about your goal

When it comes to being successful, your community can have a major impact. So don’t hesitate to ask your close friends and family for support! When I told some of my best friends my intention to be on my phone less so I could be present for the people in my life, they loved the idea. In fact, most of them said they had been wanting to do the same, so we decided to keep each other accountable. Even if we have a hilarious meme or video to share, we make sure after we share it, the phones get put away. Having our phones out, regardless of whether they’re face up or down, communicates to the person we’re with that they are less important to us than whatever is happening on that screen. We spend time with others to experience true connection, and putting our phones away allows us to do that to the best of our ability.

5. Determine specific phone-free situations

As valuable as they can be, not every circumstance requires our devices. It helps to consciously determine a few situations to be totally phone-free. Maybe pick a few that require your attention the most and leave your phone somewhere you won’t be tempted to reach for it out of habit. Keep your phone in your bag or in another room when you have dinner time with family or friends, leave it in your office during important meetings at work, and tuck it away in the glove box while you’re on dates with your significant other. Being completely present allows us to pay attention and really engage with what’s going on around us, and it will clearly communicate to the people we’re with how much we value them and their time.

6. Schedule time away from your phone

Whether it be a certain block of hours each day or a whole day out of the week, make a commitment to spend a certain amount of time phone-free. Replace that scrolling time with something else you enjoy doing or have been wanting to try! Go outside for a walk, try out a new workout class, or learn how to play a new instrument. This may even give you some much needed extra time to work on the goals you’ve been thinking about. And if you’re really in need of a detox, try a social media fast by committing to stay off your phone for 24 to 72 hours, and see how much it changes your perspective!

7 . Create a screen-free area in your home

Creating a space in your home where you can go to completely de-stress and relax is absolutely necessary! Our home should be a place of refuge and rest. But we can’t recharge ourselves if we never truly disconnect. One of my goals for 2017 is to eventually make our bedroom a screen-free zone. This may mean we have to go retro and purchase old-school alarm clocks (they still make those, right?) But can you imagine how freeing it would be to leave your phone in a totally different room and feel all blasé about it?

By all means, continue to use social media for the benefits it can offer. I know that I will! But let’s not forget that our actual lives happen outside of those little screens, and being fully present for them is what will allow us to feel truly connected, healthy, and ultimately fulfilled.