By Zainub Jada
PRODUCTIVE LIFE COACHING: SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION
Nowadays, if you’re not on social media, you feel like you’re not truly living in the 21st century. In everything from businesses to personal and professional relationships, social media has a strong presence and, with that, a luring temptation to spend even more time using its features.
While it still provides platforms to connect with friends and family, it has exponentially grown to an online version of the business hub: advertisements, videos, and links inviting us to turn our attention to the next latest and most significant trend or product.
According to Forbes, having a potent social media strategy is critical for businesses and consumers alike. We make a tremendous amount of purchasing decisions based on content provided to us via social media channels.
Likewise, we also tend to “follow the flock” regarding new trends, ideas, fashion, and, unfortunately, even politics. While the positive side of social media is that we now have more freedom of expression, the shadow side is still just as present: we can quickly lose our sense of individuality.
Social media is a slippery slope and one that often takes a bit of time and consequence to realize and change. This is why the term “social media addiction” has taken root in the health and wellness industry as one of the causes of mental health issues.
WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA?
The term “social media” refers to any website or mobile application that allows users to create and share content, communicate with one another, and participate in social networking. The first social networking platforms were created in the late 1990s, with the most popular sites appearing on the internet in the early to mid-2000s.
Today, some of the most popular social media platforms include Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter. Different platforms operate in unique ways, with their own features, interface designs, and social etiquette. For example, Instagram is a primarily picture-based platform, while Twitter users must compose their content within a constraint of 280 characters or fewer.
If you find yourself losing several minutes (or even hours) at a time after using social media, you’re not alone.
While social media first started as a way to connect with friends and family, it’s since evolved into a coveted hobby used by all age groups.
You may enjoy social media and use it on a daily basis, but are you “addicted” to it?
There’s no such thing as an official diagnosis of “social media addiction.” But social media overuse is increasingly commonplace today, and it may have some serious repercussions to your physical and mental health.
WHAT IS SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION?
Whether you use social media to connect with friends and loved ones, watch videos, or “kill time,” the popularity of this pastime has increased significantly over the last decade.
This is especially the case in children and teenagers and young to middle-aged adults.
So, how does a seemingly harmless hobby turn into an “addiction”?
Social media addiction is a psychological condition that compels someone to be overly concerned about social media, spending so much time on these platforms that it impacts other aspects of their life.
If you have a social media addiction, you may feel an uncontrollable urge to log on to these sites multiple times per day. You may devote so much time and energy to post and engage with other users that you neglect to take care of yourself. In some cases, you may engage in risky behaviours to gain attention on social media.
You may also notice that you begin to use social media more and more as time goes on, developing a tolerance to your regular consumption. When you stop using social media, you may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms until you log on again.
Like other behavioural addictions, using social media can influence your brain in harmful ways. You may use social media compulsively and excessively, and you can become so accustomed to scrolling through posts, images, and videos that it interferes with other areas of your life.
Not everyone who uses social media will develop an addiction. Since this activity is becoming more accessible to more people, though, more people may develop an addiction to social media at some point in their lives.
Checking and scrolling through social media has become an increasingly popular activity over the last decade.
Addictive social media use will look much like any other substance use disorder and may include:
- Mood modification (i.e., engagement in social media leads to a favourable change in emotional states)
- Salience (i.e., behavioural, cognitive, and emotional preoccupation with social media),
- Tolerance (i.e., the ever-increasing use of social media over time)
- Withdrawal symptoms (i.e., experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when social media use is restricted or stopped)
- Conflict (i.e., interpersonal problems ensue because of social media usage)
- Relapse (i.e., addicted individuals quickly revert to excessive social media usage after an abstinence period).
THE MEDICAL TERM FOR SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION
Although there is no medical term or diagnosis for social media addiction, it falls under Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). IAD is known to be problematically excessive social media use/ internet use or pathological internet use, which may cause an impairment of an individual’s ability to perform in their daily life.
Studies have shown that IAD is prevalent in young adults, as they have been exposed to the vices of digitalization the most.
TYPES OF SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION
If you or someone around you is addicted to social media usage, you need to specify the type of addiction the concerned person might be suffering from before looking for a fix.
Here are the five most common types of internet and social media addictions that you need to be on the lookout for.
- Net Compulsions
Net Compulsions refers to the unhealthy obsession with online gambling, shopping, forex trading, and auctions. These activities are incredibly harmful as they not only harm your mental wellbeing but can implicate you financially as well. Spending or losing excessive amounts of money can destroy your financial stability and put a massive strain on your relationships as well.
People who are already addicted to such behaviours in their traditional form have a higher chance of being susceptible to such compulsions. The internet and social media apps provide them with ease of access.
- Compulsive Information Seeking
Social media provides us with a wealth of knowledge about what is going around in the world; however, the accessibility of information has given birth to an uncontrollable urge to collect and organize information.
Although it might sound productive, often, compulsive information-seeking sends people down rabbit holes that are entirely off-topic from the task at hand and may end up leading to reduced work productivity.
Believe it or not, some people are addicted to finding and maintaining digital relationships with people whom they have never met or had a chance of ever meeting in their lifetimes. Online relationships are commonly formed in chat rooms on social media networks.
The worst part about this addiction is that most people who seek such relationships regularly keep their real-life identities a secret, giving birth to the term “Catfishing,” which means attracting individuals over the internet under false identities.
- Gaming Addiction
Games were introduced to social media platforms to let people unwind with their friends while playing a simple, fun game. However, it wasn’t long before they gave birth to a new form of addiction, which led people to spend countless hours and dollars on these games that served no real purpose.
People suffering from such an addiction often spend hundreds of dollars on in-game digital products.
- Cyber-Sexual Addiction
One of the most commonly found addictions amongst today’s youth is cyber-sexual addiction, which refers to the consumption of an unhealthy amount of pornographic content. An obsession with such content can affect your real-life relationships and might even induce anxiety and depression. This is considered one of the most destructive of all social media addictions.
SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION AND THE BRAIN CONNECTION
- While social media can seem like mindless and relaxing fun, it actually has a significant effect on your brain.
Whenever you log on to your favourite apps, dopamine signals in your brain increase. These neurotransmitters are associated with pleasure.
When you experience more dopamine after using social media, your brain identifies this activity as a rewarding one that you ought to repeat. Such a reaction may be more felt whenever you make a post of your own and gain positive feedback.
The positive feelings experienced during social media use are only temporary. The way your brain engages in this positive reinforcement is also seen in other addictions.
Thus, as the feel-good dopamine wears off, you’ll go back to the source (in this case, social media) for more.
In some cases, social media can be a welcome distraction if you’re isolated due to work or an illness. The more you engage, the more your brain will tell you that this is an activity that can help reduce loneliness (which may not necessarily be the case, actually).
The phenomena of social media addiction can be largely attributed to the dopamine-inducing social environments that social networking sites provide. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram produce the same neural circuitry that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs to keep consumers using their products as much as possible. Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites cause the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction seen with drugs like Cocaine. In fact, neuroscientists have compared social media interaction to a syringe of dopamine being injected straight into the system.
Due to the effect that it has on the brain, social media is addictive both physically and psychological.
Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort. The brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.
Another perpetuating factor of social media addiction is the fact that the reward centres of the brain are most active when people are talking about themselves. In the non-virtual world, it’s estimated that people talk about themselves around 30 to 40% of the time; however, social media is all about showing off one’s life and accomplishments — so people talk about themselves a staggering 80% of the time. When a person posts a picture they may receive positive social feedback, which stimulates the brain to release dopamine, rewarding that behaviour and perpetuating the social media habit.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND MENTAL HEALTH
Research has shown that there is an undeniable link between social media use, negative mental health, and low self-esteem. While social media platforms have their benefits, using them too frequently can make people feel increasingly unhappy and isolated. These negative emotional reactions are not only produced due to the social pressure of sharing things with others but also the comparison of material things and lifestyles that these sites promote.
On Instagram and Facebook, users see curated content: advertisements and posts that are specifically designed to appeal to users based on their interests. Users may see others posting about their great jobs, excellent partners, or beautiful homes and feel happy or inspired as a result. Others, however, may see these pictures and feel jealous, depressed, or even suicidal due to the fact that their own life is not as “perfect” as those that they see on Facebook or Instagram.
Recent studies have found that frequent social network users believe that other users are happier and more successful than they are, especially when they do not know them very well in real life. Social media facilitates an environment in which people are comparing their realistic offline selves to the flawless, filtered, and edited online versions of others, which can be detrimental to mental well-being and perception of self. Excessive social media use can not only cause unhappiness and general dissatisfaction with life in users but also increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Constantly comparing oneself to others can lead to feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism and order, which often manifests as a social anxiety disorder.
Another aspect of social anxiety triggered by online media use is the fear of missing out (FOMO), the extreme fear of not being included or missing a social event. Users may see pictures of parties to which they were not invited or glimpses of fun outings that they were unable to attend because of work or school obligations, and experience anxiety that no one misses them as a result — or fear that they will be forgotten since they’re not there. FOMO can take a toll on self-esteem and lead to compulsive checking of social media platforms to ensure that an individual isn’t missing out on anything, which can cause problems in the workplace and in the classroom. A study conducted by Harvard University found that social media has a significantly detrimental effect on the emotional well-being of chronic users and their lives, negatively impacting their real-life relationships and academic achievement.
RECOGNIZING A SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION
There are healthy and unhealthy ways to use social media.
Not all social media use constitutes addiction. Addiction occurs when you develop a tolerance and dependence on a certain substance or activity, have an uncontrollable urge to engage in the substance use or activity, and experience withdrawal when you stop.
Certain thoughts and behaviours can help you understand whether or not you have a social media addiction.
Engaging in social media once in a while is unlikely to be harmful. However, there are negative effects to consider when overusing social media.
However, the nature of these platforms leaves us vulnerable to toxic environments, thoughts, and emotions. If social media is having a negative impact on your mental health and affecting your daily life, you need to seek help.
Although many people habitually use social media, very few are genuinely addicted. To determine if someone is at risk of developing an addiction to social media, ask these 6 questions:
- Do they spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
- Do they feel urges to use social media more and more?
- Do they use social media to forget about personal problems?
- Do they often try to reduce the use of social media without success?
- Do they become restless or troubled if unable to use social media?
- Do they use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on their job or studies?
A “yes” to more than 3 of these questions may indicate the presence of social media addiction.
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF SOCIAL MEDIA INCLUDE:
- Low self-esteem, which may be prompted by incorrect perceptions that others’ lives are “better” than yours
- Increased isolation and loneliness
- Anxiety or depression
- The onset of social anxiety disorder
- Reduced ability to empathize with others
- Fear of missing out (FOMO), can lead to even more social media usage
You find yourself comparing your life to other people’s social media posts often, and experience serious FOMO when you see others posting about their social life or accomplishments.
- You feel like you are not as successful or as important as other people you see on social media, and you begin to think negatively about yourself due to these comparisons.
- You seek validation from social media, and feel sad or depressed if you do not receive as many likes or as much interaction as you expect when you post.
- You can’t stay away from social media, as much as you try to limit your use. Your social media accounts are the first thing you check in the morning and the last thing you look at before you go to bed.
- Disrupted sleep patterns, especially if you use social media right before bedtime
You find it difficult to fall asleep at night. The blue light from phone screens interferes with our body’s circadian rhythm, which controls when we feel sleepy and alert. Scrolling through social media before bed can make it difficult for your brain to relax enough for you to fall asleep.
- You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
One of the most major indicators of social media addiction is withdrawal. People who have an addiction experience unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when they do not engage in the substance or activity they are addicted to.
Social media addiction is no different. If you stop using social media for a period of time or you cannot access the internet, you may experience symptoms such as anger, anxiety, or agitation. Other withdrawal symptoms include intense feelings of boredom and increased urges to use social media.
- Social Media Is Affecting Your Responsibilities/poor grades or work performance
Healthy social media use shouldn’t impact your ability to get your work done or attend school. With social media addiction, you may use your phone in situations where you are not allowed to use it, such as during class or while performing certain jobs.
You might sneak to the bathroom to use social media, or spend so much time fixated on social platforms that you fail to complete your work or school assignments. As a result, you can face consequences such as disciplinary action, suspension, or even job termination.
- You Lie to Others about Your Social Media Use
People who are addicted to social media are often ashamed of how much time they spend on these platforms. You may find yourself lying to loved ones about your social media use, trying to hide the truth out of embarrassment.
- You Lose Interest in Activities You Used to Love
Social media addiction takes over a person’s life, causing them to abandon their previous interests and activities in favour of scrolling through their phones. If you stop participating in hobbies you once loved to spend time on social media, you may have an addiction.
- Social Media Use Impacts Your Relationships/-ignoring the relationships in your “real” life
People with a social media addiction often ignore their in-person relationships in favour of digital interaction. If you have an addiction, you might interrupt conversations to check your phone, withdraw from your family and friends, and experience issues in these relationships related to your social media use. You may also find it difficult to engage in in-person conversations without constantly
If you experience these negative effects, stepping away from social media may help improve your mental health. If you find it difficult to stop using these platforms, you may be struggling with social media addiction.
HOW CAN YOU DECREASE SOCIAL MEDIA USE?
Whether you have social media addiction or are just on your apps more than you need to be, the good news is there are ways you can help decrease your overall use.
Consider the following tips to help you achieve a healthier balance with social media:
- Only check your social media accounts on one device, such as your phone, and remove your log-in information on other electronics, like your laptop or tablet or delete your social media apps from your smartphone. While you can still access them from your personal computer, keeping them off your phone may help decrease the amount of time spent on social media overall.
- Put yourself on a social media schedule. Turn off your personal phone during work, as well as during school, meals, and recreational activities. You can also adjust the setting on each social media app so you can turn off certain notifications. Only check your accounts during certain times of the day, such as your lunch break.
- Set aside a certain amount of time dedicated to social media per day. Turn on a timer to help keep you accountable.
- Leave your phone, tablet, and computer out of your bedroom.
- Take up a new hobby that’s not technology-related. Examples include sports, art, cooking classes, and more.
- Make it a point to see your friends and family in person when possible.
- It’s also important to take regular breaks from social media altogether to help find some real-life grounding.
- Depending on your needs, your break can last for 1 day per week, a whole month, or an entire season. Let yourself be in control of this decision — not your social media account.
- Limit your social media access in the long-term by means of a digital detox
A digital detox, a period of time during which someone significantly reduces the time spent using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers could be a wise precaution. This can include simple steps, such as turning off sound notifications and only checking social media sites once an hour. Other changes can include having periods in the day where there is self-imposed non-screen time, such as during meal times, or leaving the phone in a separate room at night so as not to disturb sleep. This allows for a restored focus on social interaction in the physical world and reduces dependency on networking sites.
- After engaging in a digital detox, it can be very easy to relapse back into social media addiction. However, limiting your social media access can help reduce your reliance on these platforms on a long-term basis.
- Avoid using social media for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This will help you avoid any of the negative sleep-related consequences that social media can perpetuate.
- Keep all of your social media apps in one folder on your phone or computer away from your home screen. This will help reduce compulsively opening social media when you first unlock your phone or log in to your computer/laptop.
- Turn off notifications for all of your social media accounts. Notifications can compel you to check your accounts more frequently than you would otherwise.
- Follow any tips your therapist provides regarding social media use, who you follow, and what you post. For example, your therapist may recommend you unfollow certain pages that feed into your insecurities and harm your self-esteem.
- Social media addiction can be difficult to break, but with proactive actions and professional help, you can safely detox from these platforms.
IN A NUTSHELL
While many people are able to use social media on a daily basis with no problem, those suffering from a social media addiction are consumed by their need to use and engage on social networking sites. Luckily, the condition is very treatable and many have successfully recovered. Reducing screen time is a great way to combat problematic social media use; however, if the addiction is too severe you may require professional help.
If you have a hard time controlling your social media use and think you may be addicted, think about why you use social media and what the advantages and disadvantages of the time spent on various platforms have been so far.
To paraphrase a famous quote, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is at the very least illogical.
The good news is this: cutting down on harmful social media use is possible, and you’re not alone. We’re all in this together and a healthy relationship with our social selves and our virtual neighbours is more than possible.
Social media is increasingly omnipresent today, but this doesn’t mean you’ll automatically develop an addiction to it.
By taking frequent breaks and setting clear boundaries for yourself and your children, you can help prevent an overreliance on social media before it becomes harmful.
Social media addiction, when left unchecked, can lead us to depression and a lack of self-worth and authenticity. If we “follow the flock” in search of creating a perfect online life, we’re stepping further away from being ourselves.
It is important to nip this problem in the bud before it festers and takes over your life. Regaining control of your life and your time is one of the best things you can do for yourself. In a constantly mainstream world of social media, give yourself the option to retain your individuality and power of choice.