The ultimate guide to breaking social media addiction

In this guide, we will look at various aspects of social media addiction including current research on the subject, what brain researchers and psychologists had to say about social media addiction — as well as provide tips for breaking away from your own dependence on these digital platforms. Here, you’ll learn about:

  • What social media addiction is (and isn’t)

  • How to tell if you’re addicted

  • How to stop being addicted


What is Social Media Addiction?


Social media is a convenient way to connect with friends and family, but it can also be a time suck that takes away your ability to focus and become an impulsive behavior that’s difficult to break. The term “Social Media Addiction” is often used to describe the impulsive and unhealthy use of Facebook, Instagram, and other social apps. When we use social media too much — whether consciously or subconsciously — it can lead to feelings of anxiety when isolated from our devices and even depression if used excessively over time. While there are no official statistics on how many people are addicted to their phones (or anything else), we do know that the number of hours spent on social media has increased significantly over the past decade. An average person spends 2 hours and 33 minutes on their phone every day and according to a research study, 41% of people surveyed felt addicted to social media.

PC —Media vector created by freepik 

How does “social media” addict you?


Are you someone who has to check your phone every five minutes? Do you constantly find yourself browsing Tik Tok or Facebook when you have nothing else to do? Do you turn to social media apps impulsively when you feel overwhelmed or down? What does this mean for your brain? When we use social media, our brains release dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure and motivates you to do the things that make you feel good. But, if you get too much of it, it can cause addiction. Our brains release dopamine during other activities such as social interaction, meditation, exercise, etc. as well. But this is the thing — Social media is designed to be addictive in order to keep users engaged. Whether you’re scrolling through Instagram or playing a game in Candy Crush Saga on your phone, every time you open a new app you get rewarded with an instant hit of dopamine (and other feel-good hormones) that make us feel good about ourselves and give us a momentary boost in self-esteem. Over time, your brain becomes used to this dopamine flow and starts demanding more of it. We turn to social platforms because they offer an ideal combination of instant gratification and perceived value — you get something immediately in exchange for giving up something else (like your personal data). And yet this “give-and-take” cycle can quickly spiral into a vicious cycle where you’re constantly seeking validation from others who don’t care about what’s going on in your life at all. This leads to social media addiction: using social media compulsively even when it’s causing problems in other areas of your life.

What are the common symptoms of social media addiction?

While it can be difficult to diagnose social media addiction, there are some common symptoms and impulsive behaviors that people who are addicted to social media experience.

Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have a social media addiction. But, many individuals with social media addiction have been found to have these accompanying symptoms.

  • An impulsive compulsion to check your phone when you don’t have anything else to do.

  • If you find yourself constantly needing to check your phone, even if it means taking time away from work or other important activities.

  • Using social media as an escape from negative self-talk, feelings, or difficult situations in life rather than addressing our feelings head-on. For example, avoiding conversations and checking out your phone in social situations because you don’t want anyone to know about how unhappy you really feel.

  • Spending too much money on digital games because playing makes you feel good about yourself temporarily — but ultimately these things make you feel worse afterward due to guilt over wasting time and money.

  • You constantly find yourself dragged into conversations, arguments, or fights with other users on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, etc. on matters that look trivial to you later.

  • You find yourself irritated, angry, and agitated every time you finish using social media.

  • You go on social media for a work-related or personal query and find yourself spending time on things that are completely unrelated.

  • You have difficulty with being alone, silent, or doing a creative task without checking your social media feed every now and then.

Now, this is not an exhaustive list and actual symptoms differ from person to person. But if you found yourself nodding to two or more of these symptoms, you might want to read further.

What are some extreme examples of social media addiction?


PC — Google News


Social media addiction is still a recent problem and research on the subject is still at a very early stage. That being said, the media has been reporting more and more cases of social media addiction over the last few years.

  • A 14-year-old Castle Rock girl allegedly ended up sleeping very little, got more addicted over time, lost interest in any other activities, developed an eating disorder, and tried to commit suicide — after using a popular social media platform. Her mother is suing the company for neglect.

  • A study by the University of Georgia finds that higher social media addiction scores, more hours spent online, and identifying as a male significantly predicted cyberbullying perpetration in adolescents.

What are the probable causes for social media addiction?

Before going further, we need to ask this basic question — why do we get hooked on social media?

The reasons are as varied as the types of people who use it. Here are a few likely causes of social media addiction — 

The fear of missing out (FOMO) — The fear of missing out — or FOMO, as it’s commonly known — is commonly identified as one of the biggest causes of social media addiction. When you’re scrolling through your feed and see that all your friends are having fun without you, it can be tempting to sit down at your computer or phone and check in with them. If you’ve been feeling lonely or depressed lately, this can be an even greater trigger for feeling the need to go online and talk with others.

Social comparison — Another common reason people get addicted to social media is that they compare themselves to others online (and sometimes in real life). You might see someone else’s vacation photos on Instagram and feel like yours aren’t good enough. Or maybe someone has posted an interesting article on Facebook that makes them seem really smart so now all your posts seem dumb by comparison! Whatever the case may be, comparing yourself unfavorably with others is a recipe for unhappiness if allowed to continue unchecked over time — and there’s no doubt that doing so on social media only exacerbates this tendency towards self-criticism significantly

Nomophobia — Nomophobia is the fear of not having your phone with you all the time. The term is constructed based on definitions described in the DSM-IV and it has been labeled as a “phobia for a particular/specific things”.


PC — Social media addiction vector created by pikisuperstar — www.freepik.com


Negative self-talk and social media addiction

Negative thinking or Negative Self-Talk as psychologists call them is basically the inner dialogue that you have with yourself that might be severely limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your abilities to achieve your potential. It’s basically any thought that triggers strong emotions, especially those that make it difficult for you to focus on the task at hand. When such negative thoughts become loud and incessant, they end up making you feel anxious or depressed over time. As mentioned earlier in this guide, studies have found that smartphone use triggers dopamine production in our brains — the same chemical that gets released during activities like eating and sex — but it doesn’t last as long. We get used to seeing notifications from our apps faster than we would if they only came once every few hours or days (or even years). This can lead us into a pattern where we start checking our phones more frequently throughout the day just because there was no notification for a while; then another notification comes along…and then another one…and before long all of those little pieces add up into an addiction! But why do so many people turn to social media when they feel anxious or depressed?

  • We are seeking relief from our emotions and incessant negative self-talk/thinking by turning towards something else entirely: technology instead of human interaction!

  • This can cause further problems such as feeling lonely even though we may have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook who never really interact with us offline.

  • We are using social media as an escape mechanism rather than dealing directly with what’s hurting us emotionally.

Social media as a regulator of emotions

The term Emotional regulation is used to describe a person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. Let’s say you are suddenly flooded with anger by someone’s action. Your ability to talk to yourself and calm yourself down to find an appropriate action for the situation is called emotional regulation. People with properly functioning emotional regulation are considered to be highly emotionally intelligent.

Whenever you are faced with an emotional situation, you either fight or run away. This is your immediate reaction. For people who have poor emotional regulation, social media becomes a way to escape a difficult situation thereby indirectly reducing the effort needed to regulate their emotions. While using social media in extreme cases of emotional overwhelmingness is not necessarily bad, using it as an escape in every emotional situation is an impulsive behavior that enables social media addiction.


How common is social media addiction among internet users today?

Social media addiction has become a serious problem that has many negative impacts on our lives and mental health. Social media addiction is measured by the severity of negative outcomes related to its use. There are many scientific facts about social media addiction among teenagers and young adults, including research studies on what causes it and how it affects their psychological health.

  • A recent study of 1500 young people aged 14 to 24 across the UK found that Instagram and Snapchat are very detrimental to young people’s health and mental wellbeing.

  • Another study found the prevalence of social media addiction among the partaking audience to be 36.9%. The most common health problem identified was a strain on the eyes, anger, and sleep disturbance

  • A research group studied 32 nations found found the prevalence of social media addiction to be 31% in collectivist countries and 14% in individualistic countries.


PC — Social media illustration vector created by freepik 


When does social media use become an addiction?

The main difference between “normal” usage and an actual addiction is the intensity of the behavior, how impulsive you feel about using social media, and how much time is spent engaging in it, regardless of whether or not it’s productive for other areas of life such as work or school, healthy relationships with others around us at home/workplace, etc.

  • If you are spending more time on social media than you planned.

  • If you feel like you can’t stop using social media.

  • If you feel like you need to use social media to relax.

  • If you feel like you need to use social media to feel better after bad news.

  • When social media interferes with your daily life and makes it difficult for friends and family members to interact with each other without being distracted by their mobile devices.

A normal user might check their phone every hour throughout the day whereas someone who is addicted may have been using this same amount just minutes ago but now finds themselves obsessively checking again before long forgetting why exactly they were doing so in the first place! This kind of impulsive behavior becomes problematic when we begin feeling overwhelmed without access either via device usage during those times when we shouldn’t be accessing them at all like driving or during important meetings.


How much time are you spending on social media today?

Now to know if your social media usage can be termed an addiction, make a list of the different social media apps you use and calculate the time spent on each one per day. Both Android and iOS provide native options as well as apps to help you monitor your usage. Android OS, for example, has a Digital Wellbeing feature that you can access via its settings. Here you could see on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, how your social media usage is and in fact, where you are spending your hours.



Similarly, iOS offers Screentime for similar options.

PC — https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/06/ios-12-introduces-new-features-to-reduce-interruptions-and-manage-screen-time/

Is social media affecting your mental health adversely?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by social media, it’s important to ask yourself whether your use is affecting your mental health adversely. Some of the questions you can ask to understand this are — 

  1. Have you been having trouble sleeping recently?

  2. Do you find yourself using social media at odd hours — say middle of the night or at 4 am in the morning?

  3. Do you find yourself feeling irritated or overwhelmed after turning off your laptop or phone?

  4. Have you been spending more and more hours on social media without any intention?

  5. Do you find yourself giving excuses to use social media?

  6. Do you seem to be feeling anxious or depressed whenever you use social media?

  7. Do you seem to be fighting with other social media users often?

  8. Is your negative self-talk becoming more and more pronounced lately?

  9. Do you use social media to avoid difficult conversations with others, in awkward social situations, or when you are alone?

  10. Do you experience overwhelming negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger, etc. whenever you use social media?

While some of these questions can be answered using tools, for others you need to be more aware of your internal mental states to answer if your social media usage is impacting your mental health badly.

What’s triggering your social media usage?

If you want to break your addiction or reduce your social media usage, the first step is to figure out what triggers your urge to use social media. You might feel the need to use social media when you’re bored or lonely, or when something upsetting happens in your life. The key here is that these emotions are external — they’re not coming from some aspect of social media itself; rather, they’re stimulated by other factors and then reinforced by the platforms’ features.

That means that whenever you feel an urge to check in on Facebook or Instagram, it can help to stop and ask yourself: “Is this emotion real?” Is there something going on in your life that’s causing you distress? If yes, then you need to address the situation. You will need to explore your emotions without suppressing them and distracting yourself with your phone. You can do journaling, talk to a friend, or even approach a professional if you find exploring your emotions by yourself too painful. It also helps to train yourself on a healthy way of dealing with negative self-talk (more on this below).

Konvos, the self-talk app for better EQ, for example, provides you with a series of explorative questions that can help you make sense of your emotions and break free of negative self-talk/thinking instead of trying to compensate for them by going to social media.

How to know if you are addicted to social media?


PC — Social media addiction vector created by pikisuperstar If you’re not sure if your social media addiction is a problem, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How often do you log on? Are there certain times of the day or week when you’re more likely to check it?

  • Is your mobile phone with Facebook or any other social media app open more than once an hour?

  • Do you have notifications turned on so that a red dot appears on top of the icon of any app whenever someone comments or tags you in a post?

  • Do these notifications cause anxiety when they appear, keeping you from focusing on what’s in front of you at that moment?

  • Are there days when you are too busy to keep up with your work deadlines but still find yourself logging into Instagram anyway just so I can see who liked your photo or commented on it?

This is no exhaustive list but gives you a starting point on the kind of questions you can ask yourself regarding your social media use. Alternatively, you can also try this quiz to figure out if your social media usage is something to be worried about or not.

What is Digital Detoxing?

Digital Detoxing is the act of taking a break from the digital world. It’s a way to reduce the amount of time you spend on your phone and other devices. Digital Detoxing can help you reduce stress, improve your health and wellbeing, and improve your relationships.

Digital Detoxing can also help you break down your social media use in a way that’s healthy for you. Many people use social media as a way of dealing with negative emotions like anxiety or depression — and it’s no wonder! The scrolling experience is basically designed to make users feel bad about themselves so that they’ll keep coming back for more content that makes them feel even worse about themselves (and then buy more stuff). This creates an unhealthy cycle where users become dependent on social media for their daily emotional needs — even though it isn’t actually helping them at all!

How to do Digital Detox?

To do a digital detox, you can:

  • Quit social media cold turkey —  You can just stop using it and see how long you’ll survive. I have no idea how long it will last for you but it’s not going to be easy!

  • Take breaks from social media — It’s always better than quitting completely because if you go back after some time, then at least there won’t be any temptation anymore. You can also time-box your social media usage to specific times in a day.

  • Mental Health retreats - You can go for a Vipassana or a yoga retreat where mobile phones are not allowed during the duration of the retreat. You can also try trekking in the forest where internet coverage is low. These activities when practiced for a week, engage you in ways that your digital life doesn’t. While the activities themselves can be very fulfilling, they also give you a head-start when it comes to digital detoxing by providing a barrier to logging back into social media. This way you build your social media resistance muscle stronger before you go back to your world again.


PC — Citizen vector created by freepik 

How do you follow up after Digital Detoxing to avoid relapse?

Once you’ve detoxed and taken a break from social media, there are ways to make sure you don’t fall back into old habits.

The first step is setting up your phone to avoid old social media habits. For example, if you’re checking Facebook at 9:00 pm every night because that’s when the feed refreshes and new posts appear, set it up so that the app doesn’t refresh until 10:00 pm or later. If this happens too often, then consider removing notifications for all social apps on your phone altogether (and don’t worry about missing something important).

The second way is by not using the same old apps after taking a break from them — in other words changing up what you use as well as how often you use it! For example, you can uninstall or put away addictive apps into some random folder and install apps that you find very useful and productive in your life — like a language learning app, a sketching app, or a music app.

As mentioned before, one of the biggest reasons for us to feel like going back to these addictive apps is to fill the void in ourselves when we face difficult emotions. Installing apps that enable you to go deeper into your emotions than avoid them can help you create new emotional habits using your phones. Installing apps around mediation, self-talk, and emotional exploration and using them when in need can help you break the cycle of emotional dependence that makes you crave social media apps.

Successful addiction recovery techniques for social media

  • Set up a plan: The first step in successfully breaking your addiction to social media is setting up a detailed plan for how you’re going to do it. This will help keep you accountable and ensure that you stay on track throughout the process.

  • Find healthy alternatives: The next thing you should do is find healthy alternatives to fill your time, such as exercising or reading a book or painting or writing or reading a magazine offline (yes, they still exist!). The idea is to replace impulsive behavior with habits that are more useful and promote healthy mental well-being. Here are some ideas: a. Read a book b. Learn how to cook (or at least make yourself some food that isn’t processed) c. Go for a walk in nature d. Practice yoga or meditation (which can also lead to relaxation and improved sleep quality) e. Try your hand at Photography f. Paint every time you get the craving to go to social media g. Journal your thoughts and emotions

  • Stay accountable and keep track of your progress: It’s important that if you decide to make changes in your life, like quitting social media cold turkey or limiting yourself to only checking it twice per day instead of five times an hour like before, then make sure someone else knows about them so there can be accountability between the two parties involved (you). Make sure that someone knows how much time you’re spending on social media and how many notifications from these platforms reach you each day; this way, it’ll be easier for them to hold you accountable if they see that things are getting out of hand again. Also make sure that each platform has its own setting so that notifications aren’t too intrusive (for example, turn off email alerts for Facebook Messenger) so as not to distract from other activities such as schoolwork or physical exercise — or even just relaxing at home! Few more ideas —  a. Keep a diary of your progress. b. Make a chart of your progress. c. Track the time and frequency of each activity with a calendar or journal.

  • Setup your social media limits: You can set options on your phone in a way that reduces your need to use social media beyond limits. For example, you can use your app settings to set bed timings and choose the times you need to focus.

Bedtime mode silences your phone and changes the screen to

black and white at bedtime.


Focus mode allows you to identify times during the day you don’t

want to see any setting or be able to access the apps you find

addictive.

Many of the social media apps themselves provide ways for your

to monitor and control your usage. Youtube, for example, provides

you an option to remind you when you spend more than a certain

time on the app. It also can help you restrict your ability to view

comments, a feature a lot of social media addicts find very useful. You can also use an app like StayFocused or Time Limits (iOS

only) to set up a daily limit on the amount of time you will allow

yourself on each app. For example, if Facebook is your main

problem, maybe set yourself a limit of 20 minutes per day on

Facebook, and then no more! This way if someone tags you in

something interesting that keeps going viral, but it’s already been

20 minutes since your last check-in and there are still 8 minutes left

before bedtime…you won’t be tempted by FOMO (fear of missing

out).

  • Stick to your social media limits: Once you’ve set up your limits, it’s time to make sure you stick to them. You can do this by keeping a log of the amount of time you spend on social media each day. You could also set up a reminder on your phone that tells you when it’s time to take a break from social media and be mindful of what else is around you at that moment (a great way to stay focused in the present). It’s also helpful if there are healthy alternatives for filling your time so that when those reminders come up, there will be something for you to turn towards instead of just nothingness.

  • You can also join an accountability group where other people are working towards similar goals — social media addiction can feel isolating sometimes but having someone else understand how hard it is, makes the process so much easier!

  • Get help from tools and professionals —  There are many ways in which people can get help when trying to break their habits related to using technology devices such as smartphones. For example, apps like Momentum help users track overall usage statistics over long periods of time along with offering suggestions based upon those stats. You can also find many types of professionals who are trained in this area: therapists and counselors, coaches, family members/friends, and support groups all have valuable insight into your situation and they can help provide the encouragement that keeps you honest about your goals. Therapy companies such as Talkspace can help you find such professionals online.


There are many ways to break social media addiction.

PC —Human illustration vector created by freepik


There are many ways to break social media addiction. You can use the following techniques:

  • Professional help — If your urge to check your phone is causing you distress, whether it’s in your personal relationships or at work, consider seeking out the services of a professional counselor. A therapist may be able to help you identify the source of your anxiety and offer strategies for managing it so that it doesn’t control how you live your life.

  • Therapy options — Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, and group therapy have also been found effective in treating social media addiction; these types offer insight into why some people feel compelled by their devices while others do not.”

  • Self-help apps/sites — There are numerous sites and apps designed to aid people who want to stop checking their phones so frequently — they’ll typically provide tips on breaking habits and strategies for curbing cravings (such as reminders).


List of self-help tools that can help you with breaking your addiction

With the recent evolution in technology, especially mobile apps, there have been a number of tools that can, directly and indirectly, help you break your addiction You can use some of these tools to help you break your addiction:

  • Konvos — Self-talk rewiring routines

  • Headspace — Meditation techniques to sleep easy

  • Breathwrk — Breathing techniques to sleep easy

  • CBT companion — A companion app to practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques.


Further resources on social media addiction


Conclusion

Overcoming any addiction is challenging but not unachievable. Social media addiction, even though has the capacity to diminish the meaning and satisfaction in our lives, is still not considered by professionals as big as a risk as other types of addiction like alcohol or drug use. Recently, a lot of researchers have been questioning the approach of just using the time spent on social media as a qualifier for addiction — how we use social media is as important as the time spent. As long as your usage helps with your goals, as long as your mental health doesn't get badly affected, and as long as you are able to break free of social media whenever you want, social media can be a great enabler for your personal and professional lives.


 

About the author -

Kavya Patnaik is an emotionally-driven tech Leader who believes that Neuro-diversity is the key to a sustainable future. She currently runs Product at Konvos.me. You can reach her on LinkedIn.