Fall 2014Health tips

Don’t let social media make you anti-social

Maybe it’s time to put your face in a book, instead of putting so much time into Facebook.

Not that social media deserve a bad rap, since they do have their benefits: They’re great for keeping in touch, sharing thoughts and being exposed to new things. That’s why many users are logging onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites more than once a day. In fact, about 14 million Canadians check their newsfeeds daily, making them the world’s most active Facebook users, per capita.

However, moderation is essential. “If you can’t sleep because you’re wondering what’s happening on social media, or if you’re overly stressed, maybe it’s time for a break,” advises Dr. Shaheen Shariff, Associate Professor in McGill University’s Faculty of Education, and an international expert on legal issues related to social communications online.

Simple actions, such as liking, tweeting and sharing, may seem innocent at first, since they’re a handy way of relaxing while killing a bit of downtime. But prolonged periods on social networks may be harmful to your mental health. Your concentration may weaken as you get used to learning small bits information very quickly. Thus, longer activities, such as reading a book or writing an essay, become unnaturally difficult.

In addition, Dr. Shariff cautions, social media have blurred the line between the real and the virtual worlds in some people. To keep up with what their friends are doing, they feel compelled to devise idealized versions of their lives. This constant need for social gratification becomes a major source of stress and may lead to depression.

Other side effects include lack of sleep, addictive behaviour, fear of missing out, isolation, incivility, insecurity and anxiety. That’s why Dr. Shariff recommends that you:

  • limit your online time to 30 minutes a day
  • don’t use your phone at social outings
  • turn off your notifications
  • schedule time away from your phone during exercise or outdoor activities
  • be sure your phone is not the first thing you see in the morning or last thing at night

To learn more about media issues, visit http://mediasmarts.ca and click on “Digital & Media Literacy”.

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