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Scroll-free September to break your social media addiction

In the first of its kind anywhere in the world, a public health campaign is being launched to help people "take back control" of their lives by encouraging them, for an entire month, to stop scrolling through their personal social media accounts.

The Royal Public Health Society is behind Scroll Free September (#ScrollFree), which is targeting users of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

It believes logging off could improve sleep, relationships and wellbeing. Therapists at Priory Group agree there could be genuine mental health benefits.

Priory psychotherapist Steve Clarke, clinical and therapy services manager at Priory’s Life Works Hospital in Woking, said: “Here, where patients are treated for alcohol addiction, our boundaries ensure that for 28 days there is extremely limited use of social media (and for the first seven days, none at all).

“We often ask people to draw a list of ‘what they think may happen if they don’t use social media for up to 28 days’. When the treatment comes to an end we revisit the list, and it’s surprising to see how many of the fears actually didn’t materialise.

“In the longer term, to embrace some of the positives of social media, without falling prey to the negatives, we adopt the following 5 point plan:

  1. Don’t allow others to influence how you feel about yourself. Why give your power away?
  2. Don’t fall for alluring images of “friends’” lives that bear no reflection to their real lives
  3. We often compare ourselves to those who we perceive to have more than we do, creating a sense of deprivation that isn’t real. Rarely do we compare with those less fortunate
  4. Select friends carefully, remember quality vs quantity; don’t keep communicating with people just to seek their approval. If you don’t wish to communicate with them face to face, why would you share your life with them through social media?
  5. After challenging yourself to a detox from social media of four weeks, see what you actually miss. You’ll be very surprised.

Having trouble "switching off"?

Pamela Roberts, addictions therapy manager at Priory’s Woking Hospital, says those who have trouble ‘switching off’ could try this.

“List the effects that social media might be having on your sleep and health, the time you spend with family, not concentrating on work or studies, or accessing inappropriate internet sites.

“Draw three concentric circles, consisting of an inner, middle, and outer circle. The inner circle will contain ‘harmful’ behaviours you want to stop doing – such as taking pictures for the purposes of social media, thinking in hashtags, obsessive scrolling (barely reading what you’re looking at), hours playing a certain game or lingering on a specific site or app. The middle circle will indicate things that might lead to those harmful behaviours (what might be considered ‘triggers’). This might involve checking phones for music or alarms, holding phones, notifications.

“The outer circle will be healthy options that will enhance your life. These are frequently the things you didn't have time for.”

She said that doing this could increase self-awareness of how much technology is adversely affecting your life – and how you could replace your ‘addiction’ with things that might genuinely improve your happiness levels and mental health.

People may also want to write a "gratitude list" within the outer circle, she said, “where you list all the things, relationships, and activities in your life, that you can be thankful for.

“Many people find that the hardest work is the ‘middle circle’ behaviours. It can be all too easy to slip into the inner circle. But this exercise can help you find out things you might enjoy, for example spending more time with friends and family, trying out new interests. And talking through issues with trusted friends and family members is a healthy way to address difficulties but takes practice.”

Steve Clarke added:  “Instead of communication via social media, why not pick two friends per day, and call them or meet them. Nothing beats real engagement.  If you don’t feel you have the time, use the 2 hours that you may have used on social media.”

Not ready for cold turkey?

Pamela Roberts suggests:

  • Turn your screen to greyscale to reduce the lure and addictiveness of colours, sounds and App styles
  • Remove Apps which encourage and ‘hook’ you in
  • Turn off all notifications
  • Log your time on your device and look for patterns of use on your phone – are you logging in or switching on during times of stress, boredom, anger or sadness?

She said that at the Priory Hospital in Woking, patients undertaking therapy programmes for alcohol addiction are asked to give up their phones for the first seven days of treatment. Phones are then returned, but other electronic devices are relinquished for the 28-day duration.

Scroll-free September is the world’s first large-scale social media-free month.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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