Young people turning to social media to avoid emotions

Kat Nicholls
By Kat Nicholls,
updated on Apr 14, 2021

Young people turning to social media to avoid emotions

New research shows over half of people aged 18-24 are scrolling social media before bed

What’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep? Do you take a moment to reflect on your day? Meditate? Read a book? Or do you scroll through social media just one last time?

If you scroll, you’re not alone. According to research carried out by healthcare provider Vita Health Group, 50% of British adults use social media apps in bed before sleeping at least once a week or more, with 27% admitting it’s a daily habit. These numbers increase when we look at younger age groups with 56% of those aged 18-24 scrolling social media every night before sleeping. Of this same age group, 76% say they don’t put time aside to reflect on their feelings and emotions daily.

Scrolling can be an effective numbing tool. Rather than sitting with our own thoughts and feelings we can flood our minds with other people’s. We take in their words, ideas and opinions, quieting our own. At the time it may feel like a great way to distract ourselves before sleep, but in the long run it can be damaging.

Head of ergonomics and wellbeing at Vita Health Group Tom Bivins believes this emotional avoidance tactic of using social media in bed is contributing to the deterioration of mental health in young people.

“The danger of scrambling for a distraction is that emotional avoidance is only a temporary fix.

“Not only will your body be using considerable effort to keep them quashed, but it is likely that the feelings you are avoiding will grow stronger, more intense, and uncontrollable over time.” He says.

“Taking a little time each day to engage in self-reflection can be really beneficial. It can help people to process their thoughts and feelings and offers the opportunity to put things into perspective. This is particularly relevant for all of us right now given the impact of the pandemic, especially when life can feel repetitive and challenging.”

Making space for reflection is something many of us don’t do. According to Vita’s research, 75% of Brits don’t consider it necessary to reflect on feelings and emotions day-to-day. When we do take this time however, we give our emotions room to breathe. Instead of staying coiled inside us, threatening to pop up at any given moment - they can get acknowledged, processed and even released.

So, how can we do this and change our before bed scrolling habit? This is where being intentional comes in as we set up a new wind-down routine.

Creating a wind-down routine with space for self-reflection

As humans we are creatures of habit. Instead of simply trying to stop an existing habit (like scrolling before bed) our brains actually find it easier to make new habits. Here are some tips for creating a new wind-down routine to replace your scrolling habit:

  • Set a wind-down alarm on your phone, this can help prompt you to turn off devices and start winding down. If you haven’t already, this can also be a great time to get ready for bed - lower the lighting, get in your PJs and feel physically ready for sleep.
  • Try using the downtime feature (if you have an iPhone) or apps like freedom to block social media apps after a certain time.
  • Make some time to reflect on your day - you might like to try journaling, meditating, drawing or simply thinking about how you’ve felt today. What’s come up for you? Remember, you don’t have to come up with solutions if you’ve had a tough day, acknowledging it and recognising that tomorrow is a new day can often be enough. Just getting your emotions ‘out’ can help ease a racing mind and encourage more restful sleep.
  • Do something relaxing, not numbing right before bed. Listen to calming music, a meditation or sleep story. Have a warm bath, use some sleep-inducing aromatherapy oils or read a book - anything to help you decompress after the day.

Try challenging yourself to keep this up for a month and see how you feel afterwards. If you’re finding it difficult to cope with negative feelings and emotions, you may want to consider talking to a professional.

VitaMinds offers free mental wellbeing support to residents in certain districts in the UK, alternatively you can find a private therapist on Counselling Directory.  

Kat Nicholls

By Kat Nicholls

Kat Nicholls is a content creator and strategist at Happiful.

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