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Popular social media apps like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are all in a race to steal your attention. Spending time occasionally on these apps is unlikely to affect your mental health, but things can quickly spiral out of action if you use social media excessively.

What makes these apps so addictive, and what can you do about it? Explore some of the ways smartphones are grabbing your attention, the negative mental health effects this presents, and how you can refocus your attention in healthy and productive ways.

1. Distracting Short-Form Content

Social media apps folder on smartphone

With the rise of TikTok and YouTube Shorts, online content is becoming shorter. As a result, online platforms no longer require 10 minutes of your time to grab your attention. A major issue is that short-form content also encourages scrolling, which may develop into a mindless scrolling habit. In this state of mindless scrolling, you may also be more vulnerable to misinformation.

Another issue is the variety of content. Several studies, including an article in the journal Cerebrum, demonstrate the negative effects of multitasking and highlight how our brains perform best when working on one thing at a time. Rapidly jumping between content can, however, lead to overwhelm, among other negative mental health effects of social media.

2. The Mass of Content

Netflix logo on landscape phone screen

Another factor that can contribute to everyday overwhelm is the mass of content available on social platforms. Research from Statista shows how, as of June 2022, more than 500 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded every minute.

To ease the harmful effects of binge-watching, there are many online tools to help you adopt healthier online habits. Rabbit Hole for YouTube helps reduce YouTube content by blocking different parts of the site. You can hide the homepage and sidebar, and you can block other distracting features such as comments.

For a minimal version of Facebook or Instagram, you may consider using News Feed Eradicator. The Chrome extension replaces the feed of popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram with an inspirational quote. Without an overload of media, you can enjoy a more productive use of your time online.

3. Addictive Online Content

Social media addiction is an increasingly alarming issue. It’s helpful to spot the warning signs early. However, this isn’t the easiest of challenges, as many social media apps are designed to be addictive by nature.

AppBlock is a mobile app to help you limit excessive social media usage. You can instantly block apps using the Quick Block feature. Alternatively, you can set up a schedule to block apps using the Scheduled Blocking tool. Tracking your social media usage is simple—head over to the Statistics tab to view patterns of your smartphone usage.

If you’re having a hard time, you may consider the Strict Mode as a more forceful method to block yourself from social media. Here, you can stop yourself from editing schedules or bypassing apps. Whether you’re dealing with social media addiction or showing warning signs, AppBlock will help reverse this dangerous habit and take care of your mental health.

Download: AppBlock for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)

How to Win Back Your Attention

There are many strategies you can use to limit your smartphone usage and take back control of your time. By being more aware of your time online, you’ll protect your mental health and avoid the dangers of addiction or being chronically online. Here are some ways you can limit unhealthy mobile usage.

1. Make Apps Harder to Access

As smartphones have evolved, it has become increasingly easy to access apps. For most phones, you scan your fingerprint, then tap an icon to gain instant access. Being more restrictive will help you think twice before resorting to addictive apps.

AppLock on Android offers a clever way to make distracting apps harder to access. Before accessing an app, AppLock requires you to enter a pattern or pin. You can set up a primary and secondary unlock method, and change how frequently apps relock. Settings can be customized for each app.

You can easily manage your locked apps by hitting the Locked Apps dropdown at the top of the homepage. To reduce distractions further, you can block push notifications from apps.

Download: AppLock for Android (Free, in-app purchases available)

Download: AppLocker for iOS (Free, in-app purchases available)

2. Find Healthier Offline Alternatives

If quitting social media for good sounds too challenging, you can protect your mental health by finding healthier offline alternatives to common smartphone apps.

As an example, you may wish to take paper notes instead of digital ones. This way, you push yourself away from other distractions sitting on your device. Another option is to play some offline mobile games for a better way to spend downtime. Turning off Wi-Fi restricts notifications from distracting apps, so you can enjoy gaming without disruptions. Offline gaming also helps you avoid unhealthy habits from online games, such as skin gambling.

3. Understand Your Smartphone Usage

If using your smartphone is taking over important aspects of your life, such as seeing family and friends, you may consider tracking your smartphone usage.

RescueTime helps to track how you spend your day by providing detailed analytics of your phone usage. The app allows you to track both online and offline activities to gain a broad perspective of your time management habits. RescueTime tracks app usage automatically, and you can input time spent offline manually. You can also rate how productive a session of time has been.

To help make long-term progress, you can set targets in the Goals tab. Viewing usage insights is easy—RescueTime sorts tasks into categories such as News and Communication automatically. The app provides further encouragement with its intelligent alerts. Enabling real-time notifications can help you understand your usage patterns as you go about your day.

Download: RescueTime for Android | iOS (Free, subscription available)

Protect Your Mental Health With These Simple Changes

Smartphones are addictive by nature. But being more aware of your relationship with tech can help prevent damage to your mental health. Short-form content means apps can grab your attention in little time. Add a bad scrolling habit, and you can soon become addicted to your device. Don’t let your phone control you—take control of your time using these simple tips.