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How to use social media, according to a mental health expert

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Six tips from a psychologist for coping with the negative impacts of social media use, which research has linked to social isolation, loneliness, and depression.

More than one-third of American adults view social media as harmful to their mental health, according to a new survey from the American Psychiatric Association. Just 5% view social media as being positive for their mental health, the survey found. Another 45% say it has both positive and negative effects.

Two-thirds of the survey's respondents believe that social media usage is related to social isolation and loneliness. There is a strong body of research linking social media use with depression. Other studies have linked it to envylower self-esteem, and social anxiety.

As a psychologist who has studied the perils of online interactions and has observed the effects of social media (mis)use on my clients' lives, I have six suggestions of ways people can reduce the harm social media can do to their mental health.

1. Limit when and where you use social media

Using social media can interrupt and interfere with in-person communications. You'll connect better with people in your life if you have certain times each day when your social media notifications are off–or your phone is even in airplane mode. Commit to not checking social media during meals with family and friends, and when playing with children or talking with a partner. Make sure social media doesn't interfere with work, distracting you from demanding projects and conversations with colleagues. In particular, don't keep your phone or computer in the bedroom–it disrupts your sleep.

2. Have "detox" periods

Schedule regular multiday breaks from social media. Several studies have shown that even a five-day or weeklong break from Facebook can lead to lower stress and higher life satisfaction. You can also cut back without going cold turkey: Using Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat just 10 minutes a day for three weeks resulted in lower loneliness and depression. It may be difficult at first, but seek help from family and friends by publicly declaring you are on a break. And delete the apps for your favorite social media services.

3. Pay attention to what you do and how you feel

Experiment with using your favorite online platforms at different times of day and for varying lengths of time, to see how you feel during and after each session. You may find that a few short spurts help you feel better than spending 45 minutes exhaustively scrolling through a site's feed. And if you find that going down a Facebook rabbit hole at midnight routinely leaves you depleted and feeling bad about yourself, eliminate Facebook after 10 p.m. Also note that people who use social media passively, just browsing and consuming others' posts, feel worse than people who participate actively, posting their own material and engaging with others online. Whenever possible, focus your online interactions on people you also know offline.

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