While social media allows us to form and maintain bonds, share information, and be entertained, excessive use of it could lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and FOMO. Many studies have found that habitual usage may result in addiction and negatively affect social behavior. It can also deplete productivity and lower performance and is linked to poor physical health.
More than 4.8 billion people around the world use social media daily. And although not everyone has an unhealthy relationship with it, a number of people engage in heavy and compulsive use, with some developing dependency. In fact, it is estimated that over 210 million people worldwide suffer from social media addiction, with nearly a third of American adults thinking they have it.
Teens or adolescents are the most vulnerable to this type of addiction, but other age groups can also be at risk depending on how they use different social media platforms. Talking to a mental professional through in-person or video chat therapy can help you assess whether your social media use is healthy or not and what you can do to break the habit.
What is social media addiction?
Social media addiction is a type of behavioral addiction that causes you to use social media compulsively and excessively. It can lead to an overwhelming urge to log on to or stay logged in to social networks and devote so much time on them. Scrolling through posts and other content has also become harder to control to the point that it interferes with your daily life.
Addiction to social media can be attributed to its ability to trigger the brain to release dopamine, also known as the “feel-good” hormone. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that serves as a chemical messenger between neurons and is involved in helping you feel pleasure and satisfaction. It is the same chemical released when you eat delicious foods, gamble, exercise, or have sex.
Overusing social media can lead to possible downsides including:
- Anxiety or depression
- Increased feelings of isolation and loneliness
- A fear of missing out (FOMO), which can result in more unhealthy usage of social media
- Low levels of self-esteem or self-worth (due to skewed perceptions that others are leading better lives)
- Disrupted sleep or poor sleep quality
- Poor work performance or grades at school
- Avoiding personal interactions or ignoring real-life relationships
- The onset of social anxiety disorder
- Reduced levels of empathy toward others
Warning signs of social media addiction
Below are the signs you may be addicted to social media:
- You spend lots of time thinking about social media or planning to use it.
- You spend more time on social media than with your friends in the real world.
- You feel anxious or restless when you cannot log in or check your social media.
- You check social media during work or in school, hindering your productivity and performance.
- You use social media as a way to cope with negative or unwanted emotions.
- You suffer from sleep problems due to excessive social media use.
Face-to-face or video chat therapy with a mental health professional can help you determine whether you have social media addiction or not. It can also help you adjust your social media use or teach you ways to use social media platforms in a more responsible way.
What you can do: Modifying your social media use
If you have social media addiction or have been using the platforms more than you want to, there are ways to reduce your usage to improve your mental health. Continue reading to find out how you can create a healthier balance with social media.
Cut back on your social media use
Doing so will free up more time to stay focused on your tasks and spend on activities in the real world. In fact, a drastic change like reducing your usage to 30 minutes a day, according to a 2018 study from the University of Pennsylvania, can significantly reduce levels of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
This 30-minute limit, of course, is not realistic for many of us, but there are still benefits to taming your social media use. Here are five ways that can help you cut back:
- Set a goal for how much you want to use social media. You can also use an app to track your usage daily.
- Turn off or disable notifications to all or most social media platforms.
- Don’t bring your phone to bed. Leave electronic devices in another room.
- Don’t use or turn off your phone when doing other things such as eating, driving, hanging out with friends, taking care of the kids, or going to the bathroom.
- Limit your social media checks to once every 30 minutes or an hour, then gradually increase it to three hours or more.
Assess your motivation for checking social media
It is easy to get caught up scrolling through posts, videos, and images when you’re bored or killing time. This is why it makes sense to change your focus and identify your motivation for accessing social media. Are you using it because you’re lonely or feeling depressed? Invite a friend to hang out instead. You could also take a walk, go to the gym, or try a new hobby.
It is also important to be an active social media user, rather than a passive one. The former means using social media to maintain connections and improve their real life while the latter refers to mindless scrolling due to boredom. Passive use doesn’t provide meaningful engagement and can even lead to increased feelings of isolation, depression, and FOMO. Be an active user, so you can have a rewarding experience.
Spend more time with friends in the real world
Don’t let online connections replace face-to-face interactions. The good news is there are lots of ways to form and maintain meaningful bonds without solely depending on social media platforms.
- Devote a time and day each week to spend with friends and family offline.
- Join a club or an activity you enjoy and meet with the members on a weekly or regular basis.
- Keep a friendship alive or reach out to an old friend by arranging a meetup. You can also exercise or do errands together if you both lead busy lives.
- If you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to or spend time with, consider reaching out to a neighbor, coworker, or classmate for lunch or coffee.
- Interact with strangers or connect with those you cross paths with in stores, coffee shops, or public transport. Sometimes, saying hello or smiling can improve your mood or even lead to a friendship or connection.
Seek help from a mental health professional
If you excessively or compulsively use social media and find it difficult to control your habit, talking to a mental health professional is worth considering. The treatment for social media addiction can involve different types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other behavioral strategies.
In-person or video chat therapy can also help you manage difficult feelings, so you won’t always feel the need to log in to social media to improve your mood. It can also help you with procrastination, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that could leave you more susceptible to developing problematic social media behavior.
Social media should be used in a way that enhances or improves your real life. If it is detracting you from your life or affecting the way you feel about yourself, support from trusted loved ones and a mental health professional can help. Both in-person and video chat therapy can help you use social media responsibly, improve your psychological well-being, and reduce feelings of anxiety or stress.