Loneliness

Limiting Time on Social Media Increases Well-Being

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

“Today, spend a little time cultivating relationships offline. Never forget that everybody isn’t on social media.” – Germany Kent

 

If you are among those who anxiously check the posts of your social media contacts because you obsessively have to know what’s going on in their world and can’t seem to curb your urge to remain riveted to your feed, new research on the negative effect of too much social media on well-being is worth reviewing.

I recently spoke with Melissa G. Hunt, one of the authors of “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Hunt and her research colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, in a 2018 study, alleged there is a causal link between usage of social media and loneliness and depression. They say that spending inordinate amounts of time on popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat does more than connect users to their contacts. It’s also making them decidedly more miserable, promoting greater feelings of loneliness and depression.

During the period of the study, participants in the research significantly reduced their time on social media for about three weeks. The result was they reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression.

Researchers said that the fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives people to obsess over social media, spending extraordinary amounts of time in this sedentary activity. They strongly recommend limiting screen time to about 30 minutes a day, saying that this simple self-limiting measure may lead to “significant improvement in well-being.”

Why do people use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, if it makes them feel lonelier and more depressed?

MGH: Social media companies hire experts whose job is to make the sites as appealing and addictive as possible.  For example, they use algorithms to ensure that you are getting “new” information, and “likes” on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule.  That is, things appear at intervals to reward you for logging on and spending time.

Social media also gives the appearance of engagement and intimacy and sites like Instagram promise to keep you up to speed on the latest trends.  Women have been reading “women’s” magazines for decades, and we know that reading them decreases self-esteem and increases body image concerns and self-loathing.  Certain types of social media are no different.

What do you say to those who complain that social media is essential in today’s world, that they can’t live without it? Isn’t this an impossible recommendation, suggesting people limit their time? Or, can they get the benefit of social media with less screen time?

MGH: It might be unrealistic to suggest foregoing social media completely (although I do).  That’s why we didn’t require that.  We just asked people to limit themselves to 30 minutes per day.  That’s more than enough time to catch up with friends, find out when your study group is meeting, and like your cousin’s cute kid picture.  It prevents going down the “rabbit hole” of clicking randomly, following celebrities, or cyber stalking your ex’s new flame.

How do you wean yourself off social media? Any quick tips?

MGH: Self-monitoring seems to help.  Although we didn’t study them, apps that increase your awareness of how much you’re using (like In Moment and Space) may well help people become more mindful and self-aware.

Do you know of other studies that document how social media fuels loneliness and depression?

MGH: There are many correlational studies out there that establish the association, and a number that suggest that social media fosters social comparison that makes you feel bad about your own life, and FOMO that makes you aware of all the things you weren’t invited to and weren’t included in.

I think that social media tends to foster inauthentic connection.  True intimacy involves sharing both life’s highlights and the terrible times.  Things you’re proud of, and things you’re sad or anxious or embarrassed about.  Social media tends to reward only the highlights, and that doesn’t lead to true intimacy or social support.

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SUGGESTED WAYS TO LIMIT SCREEN TIME.

It’s not all dire. You don’t have to completely withdraw from social media. Indeed, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Hunt, you can reap the benefits of moderate limitations on your social media consumption. The next and most obvious question is, how do you limit social media time? Here are some suggestions.

Get an app for that.

Apple, the maker of perhaps the most popular smartphone in the world, recently made an update available that helps its users set limits on certain apps they use and track those that take up so much of their time. The update section this pertains to is called Screen Time.

Meanwhile, there are several apps that allow users to limit how much time they’re using their phones. These, of course, vary in terms of how intensely you limit phone time.

Yet another potential help for limiting social media time is the use of browser extensions such as StayFocusd, available through the Chrome web store. The idea is that users are allowed a certain amount of time on the website and then the screen is locked – and there’s no way back in. Check out the so-called “nuclear option” that prevents users from going into a specific website altogether. Now, that is a bit extreme, but it is out there.

Exert self-discipline.

Not everyone is blessed with the ability to not only set limits on how much social media time they’ll engage in, but actually follow through with the discipline it takes to do so effectively. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead of frittering away hours poring over likes, comments, postings and the like. Maybe enlist a trusted friend, a loved one or family member to get you out of the house and doing something in real time, with live people (not digital connections). What a concept!

Disable (temporarily) all social media notifications.

Another helpful way to curb your constant social media obsession (if not quite social media addiction) is to turn off or disable the notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media time-wasting sites. No more suffering through the anxiety-provoking habit of having to instantly reply to every notification. This doesn’t have to be a permanent deletion, just a temporary pause to allow you to get back in the realm of living in the present and interacting with real people.

Go colorless.

In the world of social media, just as in any websites, advertising, TV programs and other forms of media that grab attention, color is king. The brighter the color, the more enticing, right? As an experiment to see if this can help you ratchet down your social media consumption, use grayscale to make the sites less attractive. When everything is in shades of gray, it’s easier to forego the temptation to linger there. On iPhones, hit settings, general, accessibility, display accommodations, color filters (turn this on), and then grayscale. That’s it, you’ve made your screen colorless.

Get rid of your phone – or leave it home.

A bit more extreme is the suggestion you ditch your phone completely. Like that would ever happen in today’s always-on society. You could try leaving it at home while you go out for a walk. That would give you a social-media breather at least. It might even persuade you that you don’t need to be tethered to your phone. After all, you’re not really missing out on anything. All that social media interaction will still be there after you return from a well-deserved (and much-needed) break.

Make it a point to be with people who appreciate you for who you are.

Nobody’s perfect. Each of us has flaws and traits we’d like to minimize, as well as talents we wish we had or accomplishments we’d love to broadcast. The problem with too much time wasted on social media is that everybody else looks better than we do. That’s not reality and it certainly does nothing for our self-esteem. A proven remedy to increase well-being is also one of the easiest to implement: Spend time with those who appreciate you for who you are. Laugh together. Share a meal. Go to a movie. Garden, spend time in nature, take in a concert, do various types of activities together. In fact, once you resurrect the in-person kind of communication, you’ll find that digital connections are a pale and distant substitute.

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A version of this article was originally published on Psych Central. However, the interview with Melissa G. Hunt is new.

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How To Help Your Child Combat Loneliness

 

lonely child

Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash

“You are never alone. You are eternally connected with everyone.” – Amit Ray

 

Many children, especially latch-key kids who must fend for themselves while one or both parents work, suffer from loneliness. Some have it worse than others. I can relate, having endured years of loneliness as a child. While I’m not a trained child psychologist, some of the basic habits I used to overcome loneliness may be helpful to parents of lonely children, as well as to the kid themselves.

By all accounts, I was a lonely child. My older brother, usually charged with watching over me, couldn’t be bothered to play as we were separated by four years. It might as well have been 10, for his friends teased him about babysitting his sister and his interests were far different than mine. With no other kids in the neighborhood my age, this generally resulted in me spending hours by myself. I envied my brother’s many friendships and how happy he seemed to be when around them. I wished desperately for someone to play dolls with me, to cook on my Easy-Bake oven, to build marvelous creations with Legos or Lincoln Logs, all to no avail.

My parents both worked and when they were home, there were chores to do, dinner to prepare and dishes to clean afterwards. I helped as much as I could, yet I was mostly in the way of getting the meals to the table on time. This made me feel left out and didn’t help with how lonely I felt all the time. Little did I know that some of the daily activities I took for granted would greatly assist me in becoming more externally-motivated and less prone to dwelling on how sad, depressed and lonely I felt.

Reading

A bright spot for me turned out to be reading. My love of the written word began early as my mother read to me every evening, no matter how tired she was and how much laundry or other tasks remained to be done before she could rest. I loved the colorful photographs in these books and remember vividly the wondrous tales told by L. Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other chronicles, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and a host of other books. I started reading books on my own before age 5 and my mother took me to the public library once a week to borrow several to keep me occupied for the next seven days. I quickly graduated from typical children’s books to ones with fewer pictures and longer chapters. I read through complete series, several genres at a time, always eager to see what was new at the library.

What reading did for me was open me to new worlds. I identified with the characters, their challenges and journeys, their triumphs and heartbreaks. I wasn’t alone any longer, now that I had a repertoire of favorite characters.

My strong recommendation is that parents today adopt the practice of reading stories to their children. The earlier this habit begins, the better it is to help develop the child’s imagination, foster a sense of self-empowerment and discovery, and a willingness to try new things. It doesn’t take a great deal of time, either. Just 15-20 minutes a night on a consistent basis will work wonders. Research also shows that curiosity helps children become better at math as well as reading. This is a win-win.

Playing with Dolls

I became an expert at play almost when I began to walk. As a young girl, I had several dollies (my word for my little companions). I’d dress them in various outfits for activities we’d do and little excursions we’d take. The occasional mishap, where a head or limb would fall off during tree-climbing or other strenuous pursuits, didn’t faze me. My dad was, among other things, an expert carpenter. He could literally fix anything. I know. I watched him do it.

How, though, did playing with dolls help me overcome loneliness? For one thing, I developed the art of casual conversation, talking with my little charges as if they were human. I even spoke their responses so that everyone both participated and got their turn to say what was on their mind.

Naturally, this jumpstarted my imagination, as every day the girls (all my dollies were girls) wanted to experience something new. We had tea parties, played hide-and-seek, picked wildflowers in the field behind our house, sampled strawberries and blueberries from our truck garden and got dirty weeding and picking off caterpillars and other insects clinging to the vegetables.

Lots of girls, and some boys, still like playing with dolls. Whether they’re Barbie and Ken or Wonder Woman, Superman or some other action hero toy, such play stimulates curiosity, enriches the imagination and pushes the boundaries inherent in isolation. Besides, if your children do have friends, it’s wonderful to take the dolls on a little road trip to play with other dolls. This is a childhood pastime that never seems to go out of style, for good reason: it works to keep children amused and occupied with healthy activity.

Making Things

Our family was modest of means when I was growing up. I didn’t know this, however, until it came time to buying a new toy or dress or something I fancied for Christmas or my birthday. My mother was the one to let me know we couldn’t afford the most expensive item, although she usually cloaked that disappointment with an acceptable substitute. She’d help me make a new wardrobe for my aging dolls, or she’d take me to the sewing center or fabric store to let me pick out ribbons for a new sash to freshen my dress, or other items for my hair.

She encouraged me to make what I wanted as well, whether that meant fashioning toy cars from cereal boxes or constructing buildings and houses from leftover cardboard, bits of wood my dad gave me, using twigs for trees and flowers for bushes in the communities I fashioned at the side of the house. To an adult, it might have looked like a mud pile or merely an odd arrangement. My parents, however, knew these were my creations and told me how creative my designs were. Thus, began my lifelong interest in making things, seeing how to extend the life of items, transform them into something new and useful. It was also a trait that others found helpful, and I soon had friends who wanted to make stuff with me.

Instead of automatically replacing what’s broken, out of style, a little threadbare or cracked, encourage your child to figure out ways to redeem the item. Recycle various parts, give them a coat of paint, regard them as trusted family members worthy of respect and friendship. This helps your child develop problem-solving skills, discover talents they didn’t know they had, and instills a sense of pride and self-accomplishment. Besides, knowing how to make things is a skill they’ll use the rest of their lives. People gravitate toward those who can be so self-sufficient.

Spending Time in Nature

Another habit I cultivated early was being outdoors. My parents made it a point for their two kids to spend time outside, no matter the weather or season. While we didn’t know they needed alone time, we didn’t need any prodding to scurry out to play. My brother, of course, raced off to be with his friends, while I had plenty to do with my village creation, picking wildflowers, walking the cat on a leash (he didn’t much care for that). There was sledding and ice skating in the winter, making leaf houses in autumn, and so much more. Since there was a city park adjacent our house, I got lots of exposure to nature. Plus, families picnicked in the area and I was often invited to play with all the kids they brought along. Even though I might never see them again, we had lots of fun.

It’s a memory I treasure today. My parents could see me from the window, so I was never far away. I also knew to stay within calling range, so I’d be on time for dinner. Granted, things were much safer decades ago. People were more trusting, and trustworthy. Still, outdoor activity and leisure pursuits are excellent ways to banish loneliness.

Go for walks in nature with your children. Take vacations to visit state and national parks. Go to amusement parks, zoos and wildlife habitats with them. How can you be lonely when you’re able to witness such abundant life, the riches of nature? In addition, you’ll be helping your kids to appreciate what this world has to offer, and love of being in nature is a healthy habit they’ll likely pass on to their children as well.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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5 Tips To Banish Loneliness

5-tips-to-banish-loneliness-photo-myles-tan-unsplash

Photo by Myles Tan/Unsplash

Loneliness is not a very accommodating or welcoming emotion. It is also not a given. Yet far too many of us experience this powerful and debilitating emotion from time to time. While most are able to get past it without too much trouble, there are times when loneliness seems to hang around and is difficult to overcome.

While there can be no substitute for professional counseling should feelings of helplessness, despair and hopelessness persist for more than a week or two, these tips should help give loneliness the heave-ho.

Find something to do

When you’re lonely, feeling like you’re enveloped in loneliness, you’re likely spending too much time thinking about your situation and not really doing anything. Those who obsess over being lonely are going to be convinced there’s nothing they can do about it. That’s a misconception that should be put to rest.

The first step is to identify something you can do today, and get busy doing it. What that is doesn’t matter much. Doing something, other than thinking, you gets you out of your present surroundings and mindset.

Go out in the garden and yank weeds. Sweep the garage. Wash the car. Spend some time talking with your neighbor. Call a friend and meet for coffee, lunch or a movie. Go for a walk. Any of these will provide a change of scenery and get you outside your dismal thoughts for a while. When you’re actively engaged in doing something, you’re not suffering from loneliness.

Be good to yourself

The tendency to beat up on yourself when you’re blue is not beneficial. Unfortunately, we all do this, even without meaning to. We stumbled and made a mistake at work that was costly, we got into an argument with a significant other or friend and now find ourselves not talking with each other, the bills pile up and we’re not sure how we’ll get out of this mess. Instead of talking about what’s bothering us, we bottle up our emotions. The result: We feel a tremendous sense of loneliness.

When we hurt, we need to take care of ourselves. This self-care likely took a back seat to other pressing problems. Sleep may have suffered, as well as diet, lack of exercise, pushing ourselves past our limits. It’s time to hit the reset button and do something that will help us regain our equilibrium, make us feel physically better (a long soak in the tub works for some), and quashes feelings of loneliness.

Be with others

Most people who say they’re lonely spend too much time alone. While you can experience loneliness in a crowd, most people find the interaction and distraction of others takes away the lonely feelings – at least temporarily.

The best antidote to being lonely is to get out and be in the company of others. Friends are an excellent go-to resource, but groups involved in a hobby, recreational activity, educational or leisure pursuit, skills building, community get-togethers and travel also work.

When you are with others, listen, smile, communicate in a reciprocal fashion and be in the present. Should thoughts of loneliness seek to intrude, remind yourself that you’re taking active measures to counter that negativity. Find someone to talk with and strike up a conversation. It’s hard to think about being lonely when you’re chatting about something you enjoy.

Go somewhere new

The discovery process is an almost guaranteed way to get past loneliness. When you activate your curiosity gene and pursue something that intrigues or interests you, the inevitable result is that you follow your enthusiasm as far as you can. There’s no room for feeling lonely when you’re eagerly going after that beckoning beacon.

Take a drive using a different route than you normally take. Or, chart a course for a day trip that allows you to check out a small town, state or national park, wildlife refuge, botanical garden, museum, a restaurant you’ve long wanted to try. While you’re on the road, anticipate learning something new, meeting people, making memories.

Not only will this help dispel any loneliness you may have felt before starting out, the good feelings will remain with you on your trip home.

Help someone

If you’re wrapped up in yourself, feeling sorry that you’re lonely and not able to get past it, another method to employ is to go out and help someone. This doesn’t mean that you walk the street looking for a person who’s down-and-out. There are other more effective ways of helping others that you can use.

Go through your closets and find usable clothing that you no longer wear and donate it. There are many charitable organizations in desperate need of clothing. The still-working small appliances, electronic devices, dishes, furniture items, linens, toys and other items also are much in demand for those less fortunate. When you donate, it’s good for the recipients and it’s good for you.

Perhaps you know of a neighbor who’s elderly, unable to get out, a widow or widower or single parent. Bring a food item, flowers, a board game or just call and ask to come by for a visit. If you experience loneliness, you can imagine how a shut-in must feel. Two people visiting have more of a chance of dispelling loneliness than either one sitting alone ever will.

Remember that you don’t have to suffer loneliness. But it is up to you to do something to get past it.

 

This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Related Articles:

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Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of Is You

Are You Lonely Tonight? How To Combat Loneliness

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*  *  *

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Are You Lonely Tonight? How to Combat Loneliness

Photo by Molly Belle/Unsplash

Photo by Molly Belle/Unsplash

 

Are you lonely tonight? Do you feel powerless about how to combat loneliness? You’re not alone. But there are things you can do about it.

 

Loneliness is a powerful emotion that can be devastating in its consequences. Being alone and isolated has been shown to be an underlying factor in some of the most common health conditions, including depression, substance abuse and chronic pain.

 

This is borne out by the findings of a recent study conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of more than 2,000 American adults surveyed said they have felt loneliness, while nearly a third (31 percent) admitted to feeling loneliness at least once a week.

 

What Loneliness Is…And Isn’t

 

Do not confuse loneliness with being alone. You choose to be alone or solitary, sometimes to meditate or think through problems, sometimes for other reasons. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a state of mind. When you are lonely, you may feel unwanted, empty and isolated. Most lonely people desperately want contact with others but find it difficult to make connections because of their state of mind.

 

10 Effective Ways to Combat Loneliness

 

As dire as loneliness sounds, it can be overcome. Whether your loneliness is situational due to travel, business or other circumstances, or the kind that almost always accompanies the loss of a loved one or close friend, there are things you can do to combat it.

 

Get checked out. To rule out any underlying conditions, physical or mental, it’s important to get a thorough medical checkup by your doctor. This is especially true if your loneliness has spiraled downward into depression that lasts for longer than two weeks. If there is a medical reason at least contributing to your lonely feelings, your physician will be able to offer approaches to remedy the situation, perhaps with professional counseling, a prescription for medication or other treatment.

Recognize loneliness for what it is. Just saying you feel miserable isn’t going to make things change. You need to recognize that what you’re feeling is loneliness in order to make a decision to change.

Understand the effects of loneliness. Talking with your doctor and reading about the effects of loneliness will give you a clearer picture of how loneliness affects your physical and mental well-being. If you’re so lonely you don’t want to eat, for example, your physical and mental health will suffer as a result of poor nutrition. Once you know the ways loneliness is bad for you, you can concentrate on working to change those areas of your life that need attention.

Learn to be resilient. Instead of breaking under the weight of your problems and withdrawing even further into a shell of self-imposed isolation, work on cultivating resilience. Granted, this might seem impossible at first, but learning to bend with the wind and not snapped by its force will help you nurture resilience.

Adopt a positive outlook. When everything seems dark and hopeless, it might appear to be counter-intuitive to look on the bright side. Yet, when you adopt a positive outlook and see life’s possibilities instead of its negatives, you’ll find yourself more willing to go after opportunities. Furthermore, you’ll be more motivated to be with others and end your self-limiting isolation and loneliness.

Be sparing with social media. Connecting virtually with others on social media isn’t the same thing as one-on-one and face-to-face interaction. When you’re lonely, the last thing you need to do is immerse yourself on Facebook and other social networks.

In fact, studies have shown that social media addiction actually contributes to feelings of loneliness and depression. For now, go for a hiatus on using social media. At the very least, limit your time there. Get out and interact with people real-time.

Take care of yourself. When you’re lonely, you tend to ignore good self-care. You likely aren’t getting enough sleep, or the sleep you do get is fitful, interrupted, plagued by unsettling dreams. You wake feeling exhausted and even more lonely.

Sleep deprivation erodes mood, contributes to getting sick, saps energy and becomes an ingrained pattern. Along with ensuring you get sufficient, quality sleep, also work on eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, and getting a good amount of physical exercise.

Create a list of goals and plans to achieve them. Many times, when a person says they feel lonely, they also describe feeling that something is missing from their life. Spend some time to determine what that might be.

o Is it that you have no hobby or interest to devote your time to?
o Do you feel unable to make any progress in your career?
o Is the house just too empty?

Once you know what that missing piece is, you can work on finding potential solutions. Most of them, you’ll find, involve interaction with other people.

Take action. In order to stop feeling lonely, you have to take action. Sitting around the house feeling sorry for yourself is not the solution. If you identify that there’s no one in your surroundings that you can hang out with, join a club or group.
o Connect with others at work with whom you share something in common.
o Go visit your neighbors.
o Volunteer at church.

Making new friends and keeping your social calendar filled will help dispel loneliness.

Consider a pet. For some people, there’s nothing like a pet to help banish loneliness. Why is this? For one thing, pets need nurturing and attention. Along with feeding and grooming and cleaning up their mess, pets naturally gravitate toward displays of affection. They give as well as receive. As the pet’s owner, you benefit from this loving exchange. It helps you feel less lonely when you have your constant pet companion.

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Also see these articles for inspiration and uplifting messages:

7 Tips on Mastering Change
Self-Care: The Most Important Person to Take Care of is You
5 Tips on How to Make Plans
Stuck in a Rut? Tips on How to Break Free from Monotony

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To automatically get my posts, sign up for my RSS feed.

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