Opinion: Cutting back on social media can improve mental well-being

Harmful social media
Photo by Claire Keener

In 2022, it can often feel impossible to escape social media, especially for younger people who grew up with the various apps and websites at their disposal. A lot of people probably have no desire to escape at all — for a while, I didn’t either. 

I told myself my social media usage was fine, that it didn’t have any effects on me. 

As much as I told myself this, I think I knew that it wasn’t true. I found myself scrolling through TikTok almost every time I picked up my phone, even if I was picking it up for another reason entirely. 

It was a habit. A distraction. An epic tool of procrastination, entertainment and, let’s be honest, an addiction. 

An addiction that, for a long time, I had no desire to kick. I would end most of my days curled up in bed with my phone, endlessly scrolling on TikTok, sometimes without even processing the videos I was seeing. It didn’t make me feel good; I wasn’t gaining a single thing from this new-age addiction. 

TikTok was not the only drug that had me hooked. I would scroll on Twitter and Snapchat just as often, not even looking for human connection or anything similarly valuable. It was just for stimulation — for something to do so I didn’t have to do everything else I needed to do. Yikes. 

I began to notice these patterns. Sitting at my desk with a blank Google Doc, scrolling. Sat with a movie paused halfway through, scrolling. Lying in bed past midnight, scrolling. 

Harmful social media
[Photo of a student on their phone scrolling through social media.]
Photo by Claire Keener | The Arbiter

After a few days of observing this behavior from myself, I finally felt a desire to stop. To quit. So I offloaded the apps (iPhones let you uninstall an app without losing your login information or your data). 

The following day, I stared at the offloaded apps on my phone. They were still there, just a download away from being reopened and scrapping the idea completely. 

No one would fault me for it. No one but myself. Finally, I deleted them completely. I even deleted my saved passwords to make it just a bit harder for me to redownload and log back in. 

I did not feel good at first. Every time I hit a lull in stimulation or productivity, I would stare at my phone for a few minutes, with nowhere to go. I wanted little more than to open up TikTok so I could scroll, just for a few minutes. Just to see something funny, to laugh for a second. 

But now, I’ve noticed something. I’ve begun to sleep better than I have in a long time. I’ve notoriously had issues with sleeping; insomnia and sleep paralysis often plague me. If I fell asleep before 1 a.m., I was awake before 6 a.m. Not to mention multiple times throughout the night, I’d wake and toss and turn for 20 minutes before falling back asleep. 

Of course, part of the equation was definitely the fact that I wasn’t scrolling through TikTok for hours before I fell asleep, but this also meant that I wasn’t using my phone nearly as much before bedtime. 

I’m falling asleep faster and staying asleep longer; if I fall asleep around midnight, I usually don’t wake until 5 a.m., and I’m able to go back to sleep until 9 or 10 a.m. 

There have been some studies to back up these positive effects on my sleeping habits. One study found a connection between social media usage, especially during the evening, and poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem

I’ll have to continue my observations a little longer before I can decide if I’ve seen any permanent positive changes in anxiety and other aspects of my mental health but, honestly, the changes I’ve seen in my sleep habits are enough to keep me off of social media for the time being. 

I think it’s hard to say definitively that social media is bad — or, on the other hand, that it’s good. 

Social media is a means of connection and communication, something very invaluable in a world as big as our own. There’s an inherent loss I feel without having Twitter or TikTok instantly at my fingertips. I’m missing out on the latest memes and trends; I’m not seeing what’s happening outside of my local bubble. 

But for now, the positive consequences outweigh the negatives. 

If you’re struggling with sleep or anxiety and find yourself losing time on social media, consider deleting these apps. See how you feel after a few days. It may benefit you in ways you hadn’t considered.

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