The science is pretty clear: Facebook can be both addictive and depressing.
One Danish study, for instance, showed that people who quit the social network were 55 percent less stressed, and reported both enjoying life more and, ironically, being more social. Other research suggests constantly checking your friends’ highly curated updates leads to decreased life satisfaction, loneliness, and envy.
And yet many of us can’t stop ourselves from clicking. Why?
As with other addictions, our compulsion probably stems from a combination of unpredictable rewards — we never know when a Facebook check will yield a genuinely juicy piece of gossip or heartwarming update from an actual friend — and a faulty understanding of what really gives us pleasure.
What’s the cure?
According to experts, there is a way to pick apart this tangle of unconscious drives and self-reinforcing behavior to get yourself on a healthier footing when it comes to your social media use. And, no surprise, it’s the same prescription offered for almost any type of tech overload (like email) — more mindfulness.
Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, for instance, has advised those who are worried about their social media consumption to begin to pay attention “to the process and how it works. Do you even know what the itch to check your phone feels like?” Once you’ve observed the urge, you can “surf it” to psychological safety.
“Think of the urge like a wave you are going to surf, and breathe through it. Like a wave, it will crash and dissolve,” she explains.
Which is all well and good, but “surf the urge” might be a little too abstract for some people. If that’s the case for you, Bill Duane, a Google executive and meditation teacher, offers a more practical approach to taming your out-of-control social media use. In the New York Times recently he suggested you, “take a moment before you log on to your phone or computer. Evaluate your intentions” by asking yourself these three questions before you proceed to post anything:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
“Post only if the answer to all three is yes,” he concludes.
A glance at my Facebook feed, at least, suggests following this approach would radically reduce the time most people spend on the site.
Is the same true for you?