Manage social media wisely

Every month, Martha Roberts invites you to road-test research around feeling good. This time it's our social media usage in the spotlight


Manage social media wisely


Spending too much time on social media can lead to dissatisfaction.


Limiting the time you spend watching the world through social media can make you happier.


Research shows we are wedded to the internet and we check our phones during meals, in the middle of the night and even in church*. As Tom Chatfield, author of How To Thrive In The Digital Age (Macmillan, £7.99) puts it, the internet can be ‘library, friend, prison as well as comforter, facilitator and seducer.’

A recent study from the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark found that 94 per cent of the 1,095 participants visited Facebook daily. The respondents were split into two groups; one who used Facebook as they normally would, and the other stopped using it altogether. After a week, they were asked to evaluate their ‘life satisfaction’ out of a score of 10, and this was compared to the rating before the start of the study.

Researchers found that the group that continued to use Facebook only had a marginal increase in happiness levels (from 7.67 to 7.75), while the group who’d abandoned the site saw their happiness levels increase (from 7.56 to 8.12).

Not only that, but the non-users were found to be less worried, lonely and stressed compared to those who remained on Facebook, as well as being more enthusiastic and decisive.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that spending more than an hour on your smartphone each day may be a sign that you are suffering from depression. The research found that the average daily usage for depressed people was about 68 minutes while for non-depressed individuals, it was about 17 minutes.

But does internet overuse make you unhappy or does unhappiness lead to internet overuse? Experts still aren’t sure. Research by the University of Leeds Institute of Psychological Sciences in 2010 found that of the 16 to 51-year-old participants, just 18 (1.4 per cent) were internet addicts. And these people had a higher incidence of moderate-to-severe depression.


  • Monitor smartphone use. Excessive use may indicate that you’re depressed. An app called Moment automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone and iPad and allows you to set daily limits and choose a warning sound when you go over.
  • Break the habit. A recent study of internet use among students showed that they spent many hours on social media sites but that the amount of time ‘may suggest habit formation rather than addictive properties.’ Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit (Random House, £8.99) says it’s crucial to identify ‘keystone habits’ which have a ripple effect over other parts of your life. Start with reducing your habitual smartphone-checking to once every half hour, then every hour, until you feel you are controlling it and it’s not controlling you.
  • Get a hobby that doesn’t involve a screen. It’s all too easy to be trawled into interests that involve the internet, TV, smartphones, video games or portable media players. But getting a ‘real’ hobby such as a team sport, club, choir or gym activity is one way of extricating yourself from the iron grip of technology.

MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at

Photograph: iStock