As we enter the new year, many are vowing to ditch bad habits and embrace healthier lifestyles. This year, why not include your online habits in your resolutions? While staying connected has its perks, excessive social media use can take a toll on mental health, relationships, and productivity. So, how do you know if your scrolling has become an unhealthy addiction?
Professionals provide their perspectives on five indicators of unhealthy social media usage to be vigilant about, along with their advice on how to disrupt this pattern.
Dennis Relojo-Howell commented: “Chronic overuse of social media can lead to a range of psychological issues, including increased risks of depressive symptoms, anxiety disorders, and feelings of isolation. It can also disrupt sleep patterns due to prolonged screen time and exposure to blue light. In terms of productivity, excessive social media usage can lead to procrastination and distraction, impacting both academic and professional performance. Interpersonal relationships can suffer as well, with virtual interactions overshadowing real-life connections.”
Georgina Sturmer commented: “Addictions are the things that we do when we have an ‘unmet need’. So social media, or another activity or substance, becomes addictive when it’s fulfilling some kind of void in our lives. Maybe we’re lonely, sad, anxious, angry, frustrated, or disappointed. And instead of accessing that feeling and exploring it, it’s easier to reach for our devices to offer ourselves a hit of pleasure and ignore what’s going on inside.”
5 Signs of unhealthy social media use
- Losing track of time. Do you lose track of time while scrolling, only to realise hours have passed? Constant checking and mindless browsing are telltale signs.
- Cravings and withdrawals. Feeling anxious or irritable when your phone is away? Experiencing a need to check your feed even when doing other things? These are red flags of dependence.
- Priorities shift. Is social media overshadowing real-life interactions? Neglecting hobbies, work, or loved ones for online time is a sure sign of imbalance.
- Emotional rollercoaster. Does social media leave you feeling down, envious, or disconnected? Comparing yourself to curated online lives can damage self-esteem and foster isolation.
- Sleepless nights. Late-night scrolling disrupts sleep patterns, leading to fatigue and affecting overall well-being.
Keith Foggan, social media expert and founder of social agency System, said: “In the wild world of social media, spotting fake news is almost impossible – it’s everywhere. From airbrushed photos to AI-generated images, there’s a constant flood of deception that’s easy to get sucked into. And then there’s the “compare-and-despair” trap, where everyone else’s lives seem picture-perfect. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, and that’s why it’s so important to take a break and make time for offline interactions.”
Dennis Relojo-Howell, managing director of Psychreg and a doctoral researcher in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh, explained: “Social media addiction – though not officially recognised as a clinical disorder – is a growing concern in psychological research. It is characterised by compulsive engagement on social media platforms, often resulting in significant disruption to various aspects of life, including work, education, and personal relationships. This behavioural addiction is marked by an intense focus on social media, leading to neglect of face-to-face interactions and daily responsibilities.”
Breaking the cycle
If you find yourself nodding to these signs, don’t panic! Reclaiming control is possible. Here are some tips:
Be present in the moment. Practise breathing exercises or meditation to become aware of your urge to scroll and break the automatic habit.
Dennis Relojo-Howell advised: “Mindfulness practices can play a crucial role in mitigating social media addiction. By promoting greater awareness of one’s thoughts and behaviours, individuals can develop a more conscious and controlled approach to social media use.”
Georgina Sturmer noted: “Mindfulness, in many ways, is an antidote to social media. It encourages us to truly connect with ourselves and what’s going on around us. It also helps us to feel present in our bodies, while social media can leave us feeling disconnected.”
Take breaks. Schedule screen-free times and stick to them. Explore other activities you enjoy.
Dennis Relojo-Howell remarked: “Regular digital detoxes – periods where one intentionally refrains from using digital devices – can help break the cycle of addiction, offering time for reflection and engagement in other activities.”
Georgina Sturmer added: “Digital detox is a powerful way to ‘step away’ from our devices and remind ourselves what we are missing out on when we are glued to our screens.”
Define specific, achievable goals to limit your daily social media use. Track your progress and celebrate small wins.
Dennis Relojo-Howell explained: “Setting clear, achievable goals is an effective way to manage and potentially reduce addictive tendencies towards social media. These goals can include limiting daily usage, designating specific times for social media activity, and prioritising offline activities. The key is to create a structured plan that encourages balance and reduces the opportunity for compulsive use.”
Georgina Sturmer added: “Specific goals help us to feel a sense of achievement, and they make the process feel ‘manageable’’ They allow us to be accountable to ourselves and, if we choose to share our goals with others, to other people, to keep us on track.”
Replace screen time with meaningful activities. Spend time with loved ones, pursue hobbies, or explore nature.
Keith Foggan explained: “Regardless of whether you find yourself endlessly scrolling at work or in the comfort of your home, you can reclaim a sense of fulfilment that social media often takes away. Break the cycle of continuous scrolling by recognising the behaviour and taking a pause from screen time. Do you always look at your phone on public transport? Take a newspaper or book on the commute instead; these small steps can be remarkably effective.”
Dennis Relojo-Howell added: “For those aiming to decrease their social media usage as part of their New Year’s resolutions, a step-by-step approach is advisable. A gradual reduction in usage, coupled with the identification of alternative activities that provide satisfaction and engagement, can be more effective than an abrupt cessation. It’s also important to recognise and celebrate small successes along the way to stay motivated.”
Share your goals with friends and family. Seek their encouragement and engage in offline activities together.
Dennis Relojo-Howell suggested: “The role of friends and family in supporting someone attempting to change their social media habits cannot be overstated. They can provide alternative sources of engagement and interaction, helping to fill the void left by reduced social media use. Their understanding and encouragement can be a crucial factor in successfully altering these habits, providing a supportive and non-judgmental environment for change.”
If we plan to disconnect from social media, it’s important to accept that we might sometimes miss out, and that’s OK, explains Georgina Sturmer. “Maybe you’ll miss out on some holiday photos or the latest celeb gossip, but remember that there is a positive side to this. You’re liberating yourself from being at the beck and call of someone else’s newsfeed.”
Breaking free from social media addiction is a journey, not a destination. Be patient, celebrate your progress, and enjoy the rediscovered freedoms of a balanced, mindful life. Remember, the real world awaits – go out there and explore it.