Your Brain on Social Media: Plus the Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Picture this: You wake from a perfect eight hours of sleep and open your eyes to sun streaming through your window. The smell of freshly brewed coffee drifts in from the kitchen. You stretch and smile. Life is good. 

Then you reach for your phone and check your social media accounts.

Instantly, you’re immersed in other people’s lives. You study the perfectly lit images of beautiful homes, joyful children, and adorable pets. You read accounts of the parties your acquaintances hosted and learn about their upcoming European vacations. Suddenly, your bedroom looks pathetic with its piles of laundry and its carpet in desperate need of a vacuum. You drag yourself out of bed feeling depressed. 

Anyone with social media accounts knows the appeal of mindlessly scrolling, as well as the gratification inspired by sharing personal highlights with friends and strangers. But longtime users may also know a thing or two about social media obsession, burnout, bullying, and the mental health dangers of comparing ourselves and our lives with the carefully curated images we see on our screens.

Your Brain on Social Media: Plus the Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Are You Addicted?

What would you do if you had a spare three hours and 15 minutes a day? That’s how much time the average person spends on their phone, according to an analysis of RescueTime app data. Top users spend a whopping four and a half hours a day scrolling and tapping. According to another study, we touch our phones 2,617 times a day. The numbers don’t lie: Many of us are addicted to our phones, and specifically, to social media. 

Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and the like can keep us connected with friends and family members and build communities around common interests and goals. However, spending too much time on social media also contributes to anxiety and depression. Hours spent doomscrolling can leave us feeling helpless and hopeless. Heated social and political debates, whether we’re a witness or a participant, can enrage us. The constant pinging of notifications makes us inattentive, unproductive, and tense.

How to Cut Back

Limiting social media to 30 minutes a day can decrease feelings of depression and loneliness, according to a study. Use the hours you save to catch up in person or via Zoom with friends, pursue a favorite hobby, or get a coffee and chat for a moment with your barista. Research suggests all these actions can boost your mood.

Still, it can be difficult to kick the social media habit. Here are some ways to do it.

Delete the social media apps on your phone 

You may naturally cut down if social media is more difficult to access. Of course, you can still access social media using your web browser, and you may want to give yourself permission to mindfully check your accounts for ten minutes over a mid-morning coffee break or lunch. 

Download a time-tracking app

If you’re sneaking extra minutes, consider downloading an app such as Social Fever, which tracks the time you spend on various websites. When you look at the hard numbers on your phone habits, it may inspire a behavior change. 

Hide your phone

If you’re still spending more than half an hour a day accessing social media on your phone, consider putting your phone in another room so you can’t see it. When you’re out exercising, leave the phone at home and train yourself to notice your surroundings. Invite friends to join you for a walk, run, or bike ride. Speaking of friends, keep your phone out of sight in a purse or pocket when you share a meal or game night. The visible presence of a phone can compromise the feeling of closeness and connection between people even when physically together. 

Create a physical reminder

Consider placing physical barriers on your device. You could install a lock screen with a message reminding you to pause before you automatically log in. Or you could place a rubber band around your phone as a visual reminder of your goals. 

Download a productivity tool

Still scrolling? Download a tool such as LeechBlock, which lets you block sites such as Facebook and Snapchat during chosen times and days. 

Change how you engage

What if 30 minutes of social media a day still leaves you angry, anxious, or depressed? Consider how you interact with the sites. You could resolve to post only positive messages and refrain from negative comments and difficult debates. Or you could hide a difficult person’s posts or stop following people who trigger unwanted emotions. 

The Benefits of Limiting Social Media

Taking a break from social media can help you sleep better, which, in turn, improves your mood. Even if you’re not ready to cut down to 30 minutes of social media a day, turn off your phone an hour before bed. Keep it out of your bedroom and out of sight in another part of the house so you’re not tempted to roll over and check it. You may even want to ask a partner to hide it from you overnight. 

Nervous you’ll miss something when you’re not on social media? Picture this: You wake from a perfect eight hours of sleep and open your eyes to sun streaming through your window. The smell of freshly brewed coffee drifts in from the kitchen. You stretch and smile, climb out of bed, pull on comfortable clothing, sip some coffee, and go for an early-morning walk with the dog. 

You notice the sun rise. You hear birdsong. You feel the air on your face, and you take a moment to breathe deeply. You’re out in the world, comparing yourself and your life to no one for one blissful moment. Life is good.

By Melissa Hart

Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Novels to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens and the award-winning middle grade novel Avenging the Owl. She's contributing editor at The Writer Magazine and a Creative Writing instructor for the MFA in Creative Writing program at Southern New Hampshire University. WEB: