Despite its ubiquity, social media has been found to have detrimental effects on our physical and mental well-being. Many studies suggest that it can lead to depression and even suicide. But even these studies can’t exclude any latent findings of the exact opposite, so which habits entail a healthy relationship with our preferred digital spaces?

We often don’t realize just how much time we spend on social media each day. Nor how this affects our overall mental health. While some studies suggest that it has a positive effect on our lives, others warn that it could cause mental health problems down the line. Interacting with other people is what triggers the stress-relieving hormones that are known to improve mental health. That is why apps like Facebook and Instagram can never really replace real-world human interaction. Increased social media usage can, ironically enough, exacerbate feelings of isolation and depression.

On the flip side, a lack of social connections can pose just as big of a serious risk to your health. And in this case, social media has proven itself to be a useful tool. Whether social media influences our lives positively or negatively is determined by how we as individuals choose to use these platforms. Finding a balance and developing healthy habits for our social media use is essential in ensuring that it has a functional presence in your life. If you regularly feel lonely or sad due to your excessive use of social media, it might be time to re-evaluate how you consume it.

1. Know when to step away

Set aside time for when to use and when to step away from social media. This is not only important in maintaining healthy social media habits, but also spending quality time with friends or family that you may have otherwise neglected. It can be done in a multitude of ways, including allotting specific time for web surfing, real human interaction, self-improvement, and ignoring those pesky notifications.

2. Know your reason for logging in

It’s not uncommon to log in with the express purpose of simply checking something just to find yourself down some unrelated rabbit hole hours later. Therefore, it can be helpful to have a clear idea of what you plan on achieving through your use of a particular app or platform. Are you catching up with friends? Or maybe making a dormant Facebook account over for work reasons? If so, stick with it. Complete your task and log off afterward so you’re not tempted to pick back up old habits.

3. Focus on things that bring you joy

When online make sure you’re following people, events, and sites that bring some sort of value to your life. Whether it’s a moment of light entertainment or aid in a larger-than-life self-improvement project, most social media apps and platforms can help us in our daily lives. So, if you encounter any troubling content when scrolling through your feed, don’t hesitate to unfollow, block, or mute such posts. And instead, follow things and people that make you happy.

4. Make your real-life relationships a priority

Carve out some time for your real-life friends. Although utilizing social media is a great way to keep up with friends and family across borders, plentiful likes and comments on certain platforms will not provide the same interpersonal connection as an hour-long conversation over the phone or a brief but fun video chat. Focus on these real-time conversations and make social media a secondary tool in the nurturing of your most important relationships.

5. Keep the scrolling to a minimum

Do not take the daily scrolling too far. It’s easy to run out of time when distracted by the often-loud hustle and bustle of social media. However, studies show that people who limit the time spent online to less than 30 minutes a day have improved moods and the overall betterment of mental health. If you find that using social media leads to anxious thoughts and feelings, take a break for a few days.

6. Enjoy the now

When you are out and about, doing your thing with those you love. Make sure to live in the moment. When you are doing something, you enjoy, don’t waste time worrying about getting the perfect picture to capture that moment. Instead, seize it by putting your phone away and fully immersing yourself in the experience. Sometimes we get so caught up in our digital lives that we forget to live in the real world.

An avid reader and freelance writer with a passion for intercultural communication and cultural analysis. A twenty-something social media newbie exploring the good, the bad and the ugly of the many platforms that make up our current worldview.