Ever close Facebook and tell yourself you’re done for today, only to catch yourself automatically scrolling through your feed just 5 minutes later?
Maybe you have a Facebook window open on your computer and pick up your phone to open Facebook without really thinking about what you’re doing.
These behaviors don’t necessarily mean you’re addicted to Facebook, but they could become a cause for concern if they happen repeatedly and you feel unable to control them.
While “Facebook addiction” isn’t formally recognized in the recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, researchers suggest it’s a growing concern, particularly among youth.
Keep reading to learn more about symptoms of Facebook addiction, how it might happen, and tips for working through it.
Experts generally define Facebook addiction as excessive, compulsive use of Facebook with the goal of improving your mood.
But what’s considered excessive? It depends.
Melissa Stringer, a therapist in Sunnyvale, Texas, explains, “What’s considered problematic Facebook use varies from person to person, but interference with daily functioning is generally a red flag.”
Here’s a look at more specific signs of excessive use.
Regularly spending more time on Facebook than you want or intend to
Maybe you check Facebook as soon as you wake up, then check it again multiple times throughout the day.
It might seem like you’re not on for long. But a few minutes of posting, commenting, and scrolling, multiple times a day, can quickly add up to hours.
You might also feel an urge to spend increasing amounts of time on Facebook. This can leave you with little time for work, hobbies, or a social life.
Using Facebook to boost mood or escape problems
One generally agreed on symptom of Facebook addiction is the use of Facebook to improve a negative mood.
Maybe you want to escape workplace difficulties or a fight with your partner, so you look to Facebook to feel better.
Maybe you’re stressed about a project you’re working on, so you use the time you set aside for that project to scroll through Facebook instead.
Using Facebook to delay your work can make you feel like you’re still getting something done when you really aren’t, according to 2017 research.
Facebook affects health, sleep, and relationships
Compulsive Facebook use often causes sleep disruptions. You might go to bed later and get up later, or fail to get enough sleep as a result of staying up late. All of this can result in a range of health issues.
Facebook use can also affect your mental health if you tend to compare your life to what others are presenting on social media.
Your relationship might also suffer, since compulsive Facebook use can leave you with less time for your partner or contribute to romantic dissatisfaction.
You might feel jealous of your partner’s interactions with other people or experience retroactive jealousy when looking at photos of their ex.
Stringer adds that Facebook can also become a replacement of sorts for face-to-face social interactions, which can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Difficulty staying off Facebook
Despite trying to limit your use, you end up right back on Facebook, almost without realizing it, whenever you have a free moment.
Maybe you set a daily limit of checking Facebook only once in the morning and once in the evening. But on your lunch break you get bored and tell yourself there’s nothing wrong with a quick look. After a day or two, your old patterns return.
If you manage to stay off, you might feel restless, anxious, or irritated until you use Facebook again.
Stringer explains that Facebook and other types of social media “activate the brain’s reward center by providing a sense of social acceptance in the form of likes and positive feedback.”
In other words, it offers instant gratification.
When you share something on Facebook — whether it’s a photo, a funny video, or an emotionally deep status update, instant likes and other notifications let you know right away who’s viewing your post.
Admiring and supportive comments can provide a significant self-esteem boost, as can a high number of likes.
After a while, you might come to crave this affirmation, especially when having a tough time.
Over time, adds Stringer, Facebook can become a coping mechanism for dealing with negative feelings in the same way substances or certain behaviors might.
There are several steps you can take to rein in (or even eliminate) your Facebook use.
The first step, according to Stringer, involves “becoming aware of the purpose of your use and then determining if that aligns with how you truly value spending your time.”
If you find that your Facebook use doesn’t necessarily jibe with how you want to spend your time, consider these tips.
Total up typical use
Tracking how much you use Facebook for a few days can provide insight on just how much time Facebook takes up.
Keep an eye out for any patterns, such as using Facebook during class, on breaks, or before bed. Identifying patterns can show you how Facebook interferes with daily activities.
It can also help you develop strategies to break Facebook habits, such as:
- leaving your phone at home or in your car
- investing in an alarm clock and keeping your phone out of the bedroom
Take a break
Many people find it helpful to take a short break from Facebook.
Start with a day offline, then try a week. The first few days might feel difficult, but as time passes, you may find it easier to stay off Facebook.
The time away can help you reconnect with loved ones and spend time on other activities. You may also find your mood improves when you aren’t using Facebook.
To stick with your break, try taking the app off your phone and logging out in your browsers to make it harder to access.
Reduce your use
If deactivating your account feels a bit too drastic, focus on slowly reducing your use. You may find it more helpful to slowly cut back on Facebook use instead of deleting your account right away.
Aim to decrease use with fewer logins or less time spent online each week, gradually reducing the time you spend on the site each week.
You might also choose to limit the number of posts you make each week (or day, depending on your current use).
Pay attention to your mood when using Facebook
Recognizing how Facebook makes you feel may provide more motivation to cut back.
If you use Facebook to improve your mood, you might not notice right away that using Facebook actually makes you feel worse.
Try jotting down your mood or emotional state both before and after using Facebook. Pay attention to specific feelings like envy, depression, or loneliness. Identify why you’re feeling them, if you can, to try and counter negative thoughts.
For example, maybe you leave Facebook thinking, “I wish I were in a relationship. Everyone on Facebook looks so happy. I’ll never find anyone.”
Consider this counter: “Those photos don’t tell me how they really feel. I haven’t found anyone yet, but maybe I can try harder to meet someone.”
If you find it difficult to stay off Facebook, try occupying your time with new hobbies or activities.
Try things that get you out of your house, away from your phone, or both, such as:
- sewing or crafting
If you’re having a hard time reducing your Facebook use, you’re not alone. It’s pretty common to develop a dependency on Facebook. An increasing number of mental health professionals are focusing on helping people reduce their use.
Consider reaching out to a therapist or other mental health professional if you:
- have a hard time reducing your Facebook use on your own
- feel distressed by the thought of cutting back
- experience depression, anxiety, or other mood symptoms
- have relationship problems because of Facebook use
- notice Facebook getting in the way of your daily life
A therapist can help you:
- develop strategies for cutting back
- work through any unpleasant emotions resulting from Facebook use
- find more productive methods of managing unwanted feelings
Facebook makes it much easier to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. But it can also have a downside, especially if you use it to cope with unwanted emotions.
The good news? Using Facebook less can keep it from having a negative impact on your life.
It’s often possible to cut back by yourself, but if you’re having trouble, a therapist can always offer support.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.