Research shows that social media use actually releases dopamine in the brain, just like food, sex, or drugs. It is no wonder that so many people feel that they are “addicted” to social media, and feel antsy or anxious when they try to stop checking Instagram, Facebook, or other sites for more than a few minutes. If you feel that social media is controlling you, instead of you controlling when you use it, then you may want to think about how to better integrate your social media use within your day-to-day life.
What is Social Media Addiction?
While social media can become all-consuming and affect your life negatively in some cases, it can’t be officially diagnosed as “social media addiction” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Social media addiction may also coincide with internet addiction, another term that’s not officially diagnosable but used to describe not being able to control internet use. Basically, “social media addiction” and “internet addiction” are commonly used by the everyday person to describe when someone can’t control their internet or social media usage and are constantly thinking about it. This unhealthy usage and inability to control their social media use can then cause distress and make daily life difficult.
While many people feel like they have issues with social media use, few are truly addicted. Some behaviors that may be a sign you have issues with addictive social media use include:
- You rely on social media to feel happy or energized
- You’re always thinking about social media or what’s happening online, even when doing something else
- Your mood drops when not using social media or you feel physically unwell when not using social media. Or, when you’re social media use is restricted
- Having relationship issues with people around you because of your social media use. This can be with family, friends, partners, classmates, or coworkers.
- Ignoring or not being able to complete important tasks because of social media use
- Using social media to forget about personal problems consistently
- You often try to reduce social media use but fail repeatedly
Someone doesn’t need to have a diagnosed condition to have something negatively affect their life. If you find that your internet or social media usage is hard to control or negatively affects your daily life, finding moderation strategies makes sense!
Understanding Your Social Media Habits
If you find yourself thinking that you can’t cut down on social media use because social media comprises your entire social life, then it is important to explore the consequences of this assumption.
Many people, especially introverts, find it easier and more convenient to scroll through some pictures and “like” them, instead of the hassle of going out and engaging with friends face to face. However, while this may in fact be easier in the short term, there can be harmful ramifications of choosing to socialize primarily over social media.
In the long term, social media interactions are far more superficial than having a face-to-face conversation with a friend. People generally only share the best things that happen to them on social media, and you may be missing out on what is really going on behind your friends’ carefully curated social media façade. You, yourself, also have a curated social media image, and over time, you may start to consider this as your actual self, which can mean that deeper parts of your personality don’t get as much play.
Additionally, social media can take you away from family members, hurt your work performance, and make you appear rude to friends (when you’re posting and liking instead of engaging when you do meet up in person). For all these reasons and more, moderating social media usage is probably a healthy goal.
How to Balance Your Social Media Time
However, as anyone who has tried dieting knows, any sort of restriction can be difficult to maintain. Telling yourself that you can’t do something only makes most of us crave it even more, and social media use is no exception. Instead of restricting the amount of time you allow yourself to use social media, why not take the opposite tack and increase your non-social-media related activities? This is a much healthier and more easily maintained way to moderate your use.
For example, try scheduling an exercise class, asking a friend to come over, planning a date with your significant other. All of these are real-world activities that can greatly enrich your life, and make memories you wouldn’t have if you had spent the same amount of time scrolling through your Facebook feed. If you schedule activities so that you aren’t able to use social media, then you are getting even more of a jump on cracking your social media addiction.
Introspecting about what you like about social media can also, ironically, help you cut back on your use. If you think deeply about why you’re so obsessed with Instagram, for example, and it’s because you love seeing pictures of other people’s travels, then maybe you need to conclude that it’s time to save up for an exotic trip of your own. If you’re drawn to food photos, then maybe you can take a cooking class. If you check your exes compulsively on Facebook, it could be time to devote more of your time and energy to moving on and meeting new potential partners — online and offline.
If you are trying to meet certain needs through your social media use, then figuring out other ways to meet these same needs in healthier ways can be very enlightening.
Regain Control Over Heavy Social Media Use
Social media is not the enemy, but it can feel that way when you’ve recognized that it consumes far more of your waking hours than you’d like.
Here are a few tips on how to start building healthier social media habits:
- Turn off notifications or alter your notification settings
- If you can’t stay off social media on your phone, try deleting it off your phone and only using it on your desktop
- Schedule specific time blocks for social media use throughout the day
- Pick up a new hobby or project when you’re trying to reduce social media use
If you’re interested in more specific ways social media affects our daily lives, we recommend reading the following pieces:
- The Post Break-Up Guide to Dealing with Social Media and your Ex
- Social Media and Moms: Feeling Inadequate in a “Fakebook” World
- This Social Media Star Shows How Instagram Warps Our Realities
- A Quick Guide to Social Media and Smartphone Addiction [Infographic]
Getting back some control over your social media usage can make you feel strong, confident, and ready to take your real-world life in new and exciting directions!