Scroll Free September? Why Not?

Studies have linked social media addiction to bad sleep, relationship problems, depression and perhaps even risk of suicide among kids.

By Liberty McArtor Published on July 28, 2018

I was surprised when my friend told me recently she planned to delete her social media apps for a month. Not long before, she’d done something she wanted to do for years: launch a public account on Instagram to share fitness tips, healthy recipes and spiritual motivation. I knew how much work she put into it, and it was paying off. She counted new followers every day.

Still, she said, it was time to take a break. She wanted to make sure her head and heart were in the right place before continuing that, or any social media.

That’s the kind of self-discipline the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is trying to encourage in the UK. On Friday the BBC reported the service’s new initiative, Scroll Free September.

“Emerging evidence is raising concerns about the potential impact of social media on our mental health and wellbeing,” RSPH’s website states. “By going Scroll Free for a month, you’ll have a chance to reflect on your social media use — what you missed, what you didn’t, and what you got to do and enjoy instead,” RSPH says.

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RSPH is encouraging people in the UK of all ages to quit social media cold turkey for 30 days. For those who can’t give up scrolling altogether, there are some suggested alternatives. Like putting one’s phone away during social activities, after 6pm, or at school or work.

Social media addiction has a wide range of negative effects. Multiple studies have linked it to poor sleep, relationship problems, depression, anxiety and perhaps even risk of suicide among teens.

Experts have called for more awareness about the problems of constant social media use, including efforts from governments and organizations to help people curb addiction.

Social Media a Poor Substitute For Real Connection

What causes social media addiction? There are plenty of explanations concerning the psychological behaviors behind it. But there could also be cultural reasons.

Last month I interviewed A.N. Turner, millennial author of Breaking the Feedback Loop: How I Liberated Myself from Internet Addiction, And How You Can Too. In the book, he notes the demise of “bulwarks of society” that traditionally connected people. Institutions like church, stable family homes and long-term employment.

Experts have called for more awareness about the problems of constant social media use, including efforts from governments and organizations to help people curb addiction.

Now, social media sites purport to replace or enhance that kind of social connection. But they’re a poor substitute.

“I think a lot of people thought … as you connect with more people online, that would be better than having a local community neighborhood or a church,” Turner told The Stream. But “it’s made people generally more lonely.”

Indeed, loneliness is one of the side effects researches have traced to social media addiction.

Let’s Join the Challenge

So what’s the solution? A start, experts claim, is to give yourself a “digital detox.” In other words, what the RSPH is encouraging the UK to do for the month of September.

It’s not that social media is all bad. As the RSPH notes, “it has revolutionized the way we communicate and share information.” But that doesn’t mean we need to be checking it 24/7.

Even if you think you’re not on it that much, you may be surprised if you really consider your own habits. Try downloading one of these apps. They’ll track how much time you spend on your smartphone throughout the day, and remind you to set limits.

You can also take this quick quiz to see how close you’re edging to full-on social media addiction.

Finally, here’s a challenge: Join our cousins across the pond for Scroll Free September. Whether you decide to limit your social media use in one of the ways the RSPH suggests, or cut it out completely for 30 days, there’s no doubt you’ll benefit from a digital detox.

I’m inspired by people like my friend who are self-aware enough to know when they need a break, and self-disciplined enough to take it. Maybe after a true digital detox, more of us will have that kind of awareness and discipline.

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