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.
Learn how to identify problematic social media use and what you can do about it.
Whether you use social media to connect with friends and loved ones, watch videos, or simply “kill time,” the popularity of this pastime has increased significantly over the last decade.
This is especially the case in children and teenagers, as well as young to middle-aged adults.
So, how does a seemingly harmless hobby turn into an “addiction”?
Like other types of behavioral addictions, using social media can influence your brain in harmful ways. You may use social media compulsively and excessively. You can become so accustomed to scrolling through posts, images, and videos that it interferes with other areas of your life.
Some experts estimate up to 10 percent of people in the United States have social media addiction. However, due to how common social media use is in general, the number of those who have social media addiction may be higher.
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.
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 favorite 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).
Engaging in social media once in a while is unlikely to be harmful. However, there are negative effects to consider when overusing social media.
Some possible downsides 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
- onset of social anxiety disorder
- a fear of missing out (FOMO), which can lead to even more social media usage
- disrupted sleep patterns, especially if you use social media right before bedtime
- decreased physical activity, which may affect your overall health
- poor grades or work performance
- ignoring the relationships in your “real” life
- reduced ability to empathize with others
A mental health professional can help you determine whether you truly have social media addiction or just really enjoy using it a lot.
But there are a few key differences between social media addiction and a habit that you enjoy. These include:
- negative effects to your job or schoolwork due to the overuse of social media (e.g., scrolling through your apps at work or instead of studying)
- increased use during other activities, such as hanging out with friends and family, or while eating
- increased reliance on social media as a way to cope with problems
- restlessness and irritability whenever you’re not using social media
- anger whenever social media usage is reduced
- thinking about social media whenever you aren’t using it, so much so that it’s the first thing you turn to whenever you have the opportunity
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
If you do suspect you have social media addiction, there are ways you can treat it to increase your overall well-being. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help with this type of addiction.