As the parents of three young children, Paul and Milena Berry spend a lot of time thinking about the role of social media in their lives.

On the one hand, social platforms fuel their businesses: Paul is CEO of RebelMouse, a social content distribution platform, and Milena is CEO of PowertoFly, an online community that connects women to tech jobs. On the other, their reliance on the digital world can come at the expense of their real-life relationships--especially with their children. Like many entrepreneurs, the Berrys find themselves stuck between a need to be plugged in and a desire to unplug.

According to a study published this week by the Pittsburgh-based market research group CivicScience, digital device addiction is at an all-time high: 59 percent of U.S. online consumers over the age of 13 consider themselves at least "somewhat" addicted to their digital devices. Worse, the report found a direct correlation between users' addiction and their level of unhappiness.

For those who wish to take a step back from social media, the effects of overuse are all too clear. But the solution remains elusive, especially for those whose jobs require them to be frequently, if not constantly, connected. We spoke with five social media and behavioral experts to get their tips on how you can kick your most pernicious social media habits if cutting yourself off completely isn't an option.

1. Set boundaries, and stay mindful of them

Consider approaching your social media use as you would approach a diet, says Kat Glick, the director of quality and compliance at Talkspace, an online therapy platform where she also counsels clients. "Start small, and define which aspects of social media are a problem," she says. If social media wastes your time, set a daily limit, or confine your use to a certain time of day. Likewise, if it limits your engagement in other important activities--family time, business meetings, or social events--try keeping your phone in another room. A social media-blocking app can help, but self-correction is best. "Mindfulness is key to any behavioral modification," Glick says . When you notice you want to check Facebook, slow down and consider why. If it's just boredom, find another way to entertain yourself.

2. Have someone else keep you accountable

In the Berry household, the best strategy is teamwork. Given the global nature of the Berrys' businesses, conventional work hours don't exist, so having a cut-off time for answering emails and addressing social media notifications has been an important step toward finding a healthy level of use. "My wife and I have a pact to try and catch each other when we're overusing," says Paul. When one or the other is doing so, all it takes is a reminder to put the phone down.

3. Disable push notifications

If social media apps keep your phone buzzing all day long, it would take zen levels of concentration not to check up on what's going on. Short of throwing your cellphone into a vault, hitting the "off" switch in the settings of your apps could be the quickest fix. "It might sound silly, but you can really trick yourself into thinking no one is messaging, tagging, or liking your social media if you don't know about it," says Aristotle Eliopoulos, social media specialist at 9thCo, a Toronto-based digital marketing agency.

4. Delete the app--or decide whom to unfollow

If you find yourself continually opening and re-opening the same apps to refresh your newsfeed, consider deleting the app, says Tina Clark, manager of digital and social media strategy at Roberts Communications in Rochester, New York. "Your accounts are still active, but you won't have the constant desire to check them," she says. If that seems too drastic, try doing a social media cleanse within each of your accounts so that the most addictive (or most negative) feeds disappear. "Unfriending someone entirely may feel a bit too harsh," she says, but if people in your social circles are regularly posting negative content (especially during election season), you could get a much-needed mental break by engaging with them less frequently.

5. Reward yourself offline

Finally, one easy way to hack your social media habits is to consider their psychological roots. Social media use directly activates the areas of the brain linked to pleasure. This "reward system" is a group of neuronal structures that are crucial for learning and forming habits, says Dr. Lisa Strohman, clinical psychologist and founder of the  Technology Wellness Center, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based organization focused on digital overuse. "Breaking the habit can be as simple as creating offline experiences that activate this reward pathway." Try putting down the phone and engaging in something you love, such as drawing, listening to music, or exercising.

Published on: Jul 15, 2016