Ask Merly: the Countertalk problem page 22.02.21

I feel like social media is making my mental health worse, but it’s also keeping me connecting to the outside world as I’m feeling pretty lonely lately, so it’s really hard to not scroll. I used to be pretty good at managing my time on my phone (I now realise work helped me to stay me away from it!). But nowadays, I have noticed that I have a physical need to pick up my phone out of pure habit and scroll aimlessly, like an addiction that I have no control over! Is this normal behaviour? It feels like it’s taking over my life.


The simple answer to your question is ‘yes’. What you are experiencing is totally normal and many find themselves in the same boat. Over this past year we have been so blessed to have a portal that allow us to connect with what’s going on out there; however it’s a real double-edged sword and can leave people feeling worse and even more isolated. Technostress is a now a coined term and it’s on the increase.


I have had a love-hate relationship with social media over the years and talked to many clients about this same topic. We can feel inspired, part of a community and receive the gratification that we need at the click of a post or story. Then on other hand, we can be left feeling inadequate compared to others, unproductive, unworthy, more anxious, fearful and depressed than before we aimlessly begun scrolling.


In 2019, The Centre for Technological Futures at Lancaster University Management School looked into the habits of 444 Facebook users.  They found that as stress levels in the users increased due to the content being viewed. Instead of switching off or using the platforms less, users would instead remain on the device and just switch between activities. Therefore, they would flit between scrolling, chatting to friends, scanning news feeds and posting updates across the different platforms in which they used, in order to escape the causes of their stress without actually leaving the medium on which the stress originated. The study found that this behaviour leads to an increased likelihood of technology addiction, as they use the various elements of the platforms over a greater timespan


Professor Monideepa Tarafdar, Co-Director of the Centre said “Social network users risk becoming more and more addicted to social media platforms even as they experience stress from their use. While it might seem counter-intuitive, social media users are continuing to use the same platforms that are causing them stress rather than switching off from them, creating a blurring between the stress caused and the compulsive use.”


The reality is that perhaps now is not the right time, as currently you are feeling lonely and it does offer you some connection and distraction. Taking it away entirely could create additional issues. But here are few things that could encourage you to cultivate a healthier relationship with it again and reduce the compulsive need to pick up your phone…


Have a Spring Clean TODAY


If you aren’t going to leave social media entirely then, I would say that this is the most important thing you can do for your mental wellbeing is look at who you are following. Our relationships with others change over time and sometimes relationships aren’t suited to who we are currently. This is the same with who we are following on social media. When I remind clients that they can unfriend or mute people/ media or brands that are causing a negative impact on them, they all react as if they have forgotten that they have choice!


Take more control of what you are seeing and how you are allowing yourself to feel as a result of this.  Think about the accounts that give you something valuable and enhance your time in some way. Follow what interests or inspires and gives you a giggle or humbles you. Like a radiator, your time on social media should keep you warm and make you feel good, not drain your time and energy.


Out of Sight, Out of Mind…


With any kind of addiction, initially it can be unrealistic to go ‘cold turkey’ (it works for some but not all) so if that isn’t possible then weening yourself off it slowly may help you to reduce the amount of time you spend on it and how it impacts your mental state:



  • Turn devices off for 30 mins – 1hour each day. Depending on what seems realistic.


  • Place devices somewhere out of sight. Remove the risk of temptation by taking your devices out of eyesight (place it in another room or in a drawer).


  • Do something else to replace the need to think about or physically touch the device. You can’t erase the thought of needing your phone, but you can replace it with another activity or task. Go for a walk, food shopping or anything else that takes your attention away from it.


  • Extend the time by 10% each day– building your time off the screen slowly will be more sustainable and less noticeable to you. Make a mental note of the benefits as this will encourage you to continue.


The How and Why


It is really quite astonishing to see how these social media platforms ‘hook’ us is in and use strategies that we as the users are unaware of. If you haven’t already, one documentary I highly recommend you watch is Social Dilemma on Netflix, which explores how addiction is all a intentional part of the experience and AI and algorithms are evolving quicker than the human brain. Having more insight and understanding in to this might help to put your use of social media in to perspective.


Also, a good book on this is the Twittering Machine by Richard Seymore which looks at how it impacts our relationships with others, the psychological as well as political effects and ideas on how we can resist it.




Hi Counteralk community,


You know that we’ve got you right? When you’re dealing with those big issues, you want someone who really gets it. Merly is an ex-chef, therapist, stress reduction coach and founder of @me_myself_inmind, which provides workshops, one-to-one therapy and group therapy for you incredible, hard-working, hard-caring people in the hospitality industry. Their mission is built around educating others on stress reduction techniques, mental health awareness and the importance of learning coping skills, emotional resilience and self awareness. Maybe you are working right now, or maybe you are at home learning to adjust. Those skills are still sorely needed to boost our wellbeing whatever we are up to.


Each week Merly is on hand to answer some of our community’s problems. If you would like to submit a problem, please email merly@countertalk.co.uk. All questions are completely confidential and kept 100% anonymous, now and always.

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