Addiction is a strong word, and the scientific community has not yet determined whether individuals can be “addicted” to sites like Facebook and Instagram in the medical sense. However, whether or not an individual meets the criteria for an addiction disorder may not matter as much as the consequences of his or her behavior.
Are the Side Effects of Social Media Clinically Significant?
According to Ofir Turel, Ph.D., excessive use of social media can produce addiction-like symptoms. Here are just a few:
- Social media use interferes with daily activities
- Individuals feel little control over their behavior
- Individuals feel negative emotions, like frustration, sadness, or lack of purpose when their behavior is prevented
If it walks and talks like an addiction, it must be an addiction, right? Not exactly. One reason experts hesitate to label overuse of social media as an addiction is that the consequences are less severe. A heroin addict could overdose and lose his life, or a gambling addict could lose his entire life’s savings. Snapchat overdoses, however, are few and far between, and rarely have such severe consequences. Even if a person exhibits addiction-like behaviors that disrupt his quality of life, Dr. Turel and others remain unsure whether these symptoms are so “clinically significant” that the term “addiction” applies.
Though rarely deadly, the power of social media compulsions and the consequences of overuse are undeniable. Researchers have noticed symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders in individuals who spend too much time online.
Why Are We So Obsessed?
What makes social media so tempting? Like any “addictive” substance, it triggers pleasurable chemical reactions in our brains, which over time conditions us to repeat the behavior. In fact, one Harvard study of MRI images found that the self-disclosure communication common on social websites triggers pleasure centers in a manner similar to sex or delicious foods.
Another study by Chicago University discovered that individuals find resisting social media more difficult than resisting cigarettes and alcohol. Evidently, the pleasure that social media brings is capable of rewiring our brains to crave more. That said, while social media habits might be irresistible for some, trying to quit Twitter won’t result in physical withdrawal symptoms like alcoholism or a heroin addiction might. As such, limiting media use is often a matter of establishing healthier habits.
Take Control Before Your Habits Control You: 4 Tips
If you’re worried that your social media use is getting out of hand, take a few simple steps to curb your internet appetites. Try the following quick tips to better manage your social habits before they become “addictions:”
- Track Your Time on Social Sites
The average U.S. adult spends about five hours online each day, and much of that time is spent scrolling social news feeds. Though this number is the average, it’s far from the ideal. Try downloading a smartphone app to keep track of your usage. Once you know how much time you spend on Instagram or Twitter, you can set realistic goals for cutting back little by little each week.
- Turn Off Your Notifications
If you catch yourself peeking at your phone every time it buzzes, stop the time-suck before it starts. Without notifications, you’ll be less likely to get distracted mid-task by a text or a like. Try turning on “do not disturb” mode for ultimate productivity and compulsion control.
- Figure Out Why You Use Social Media
Many of us scroll through our newsfeed for no real reason; we’re never looking for any information in particular. Instead, we reach for our phone to fill a gap in the day, like when things are slow at work or when we don’t have a friend to talk to. Understanding why you turn to your phone in the first place can help you curb the habit. Do you check your phone when you’re bored, sad, or procrastinating? If you reach for your phone when you’re lonely, find alternative ways to manage that feeling without turning to social media. Try taking a quick walk or make a healthy snack instead.
- Repeat Often and Reward Progress
When establishing any new habit, repetition is key to success. Hold yourself accountable by keeping records of successful and unsuccessful days. When you reach your social media limitation goals for a whole day or whole week, try rewarding yourself. Give yourself an hour of leisure time in the evening, or buy yourself something special for lunch at work. Since social media triggers your brain’s reward center, it’s important to replace that feel-good feeling with positive alternatives.
Today’s research doesn’t fully support the idea that social media overuse is an “addiction.” Regardless of that definition, too much of anything pleasurable can have a negative impact on our health. Try these tips to establish a healthier relationship with all your favorite platforms for more enjoyable tweeting, liking, snapping, and chatting.
*Susie Waltz is a premium writer at HubShout. When she’s not hammering away at the keyboard, she’s cuddling with her rather unintelligent cat or exploring the Finger Lakes via kayak