Setting limits on social media use a healthy choice

BY SARAH KENNEDY
When was the last time you checked Facebook? Have you ever felt compelled to update your status when engaging with family and friends or waiting for your coffee at Starbucks?
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have changed the lives of many, including my own.
Recently, I chose to use an app to track social media usage, revealing that I averaged three to four hours daily. I was amazed to find that these hours, spent on social media, was approximately 50 days per year.
Being a critical-care registered nurse and current nurse-practitioner graduate student that lives an already hectic, anxiety-filled life, I was appalled by my dedication to this cyber world, and quickly realized that I was not alone.
Despite its relevance, enhanced by the nationwide priority to improve mental health, the connection between mental health issues and social media remains surprisingly overlooked. To combat this problem, awareness of social media’s impact on mental health must increase, followed by the initiation of legislative and personalized action plans to reduce daily usage.
Nationally, 69 percent of people engage in social media networks and 20 percent of users cannot go more than three hours without checking their accounts.
These networks allow for constant communication and instant updates. Unfortunately, this has resulted in social media becoming the ultimate determinant of popularity and success, often controlling people’s emotions and precipitating mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Obviously, we cannot call on legislators to ban all social media to eliminate negative outcomes.
In today’s society, due to its popularity, profit and powerful stakeholder involvement, it is unrealistic and costly to simply delete this revolutionary cyber-world.
Despite negative aspects, social media provides noteworthy benefits. Friendships are maintained despite geographic location; politicians, businesses, celebrities, and news outlets can inform consumers on  events; and cultural diversity is enhanced, as individuals from all ethnicities equally partake in these networks.
Recognizing these benefits, it becomes evident that social media, itself, is not the problem. The problem lies in developing creative ways to reduce usage and time spent on social media.
Although policy statements, written by public and private corporations, depict the privacy issues associated with broadcasting personal life events on public domains,  health policies have yet to focus on the affiliation between social media usage and poor mental health.
Just as  studies revealed that smoking increases the risk for many diseases, current studies reveal  excessive social media use increases the risk for many mental health conditions, yet no policy initiatives or acts of legislation draw attention to the issue.
Before accounting for the effects of social media, 40 million Americans  suffer with anxiety, while 16.1 million struggle with depression. Because of this evidence, I propose that state and local legislators develop public policies aimed at creating “No Social Media” zones — similar to “No Smoking” areas —within various locations, such as college campuses or restaurants.
Although banning the usage of personal  devices in certain areas may present ethical rights’ dilemmas, this proposition presents no financial burden on businesses, and, simultaneously, allows individuals to fully embrace in-person interaction and conversation, a concept that social networking has taken away from humanity.
Before we can begin supporting implementation of such policies, it is essential to bring awareness to this issue and gain community support. Unless we broadcast the research and emphasize these negative mental health outcomes, social media will continue to consume our lives, leaving repercussions unbeknownst to governing officials.
Calling myself to action, I reduced my social media usage to the proposed 30 minutes each day to see if there was any difference. After just one week, I felt less anxious and more in control of my emotions.
By setting time limits, I now feel more engaged in relationships and further satisfied with my life, thus improving my health — mental, social and even physical well-being.
I challenge others to attempt  limits, and if it produces positive results, speak up and share your message with your health provider and others. You can even post about it on Facebook, because I guarantee “friends” will notice.
Finally, I encourage you to use this  free time to embrace your  life. Not only can your mental health improve, but you may recognize opportunities that would have been missed while tweeting about how the Starbucks barista messed up your order.
Sarah Kennedy  is a registered nurse and a graduate student within a family nurse-practitioner program.

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