Social media is very nearly universally attractive and there can be few people who don’t know what these platforms are.
For many individuals, it’s a way of keeping up with friends, checking out the latest memes, snorting at politics, religious views or medical processes they don’t agree with, and generally, just an interesting way to pass a few minutes or hours.
It’s a part of life which they can leave when they need to get on with something else and they suffer no ill effects from it.
But for some, it’s a wholly different situation. They feel anxious if they don’t check their status every few minutes to see how many ‘likes’ they’ve amassed or if somebody has managed to cap their latest pronouncement with something more exciting or profound.
Or maybe it’s something very dark and they are being ridiculed for the way they look or are being told they are such an apology for a person they should do away with themselves. Maybe even, somebody has posted a photo of them taken in an unguarded, maybe intimate, moment or situation.
Those people often seem to be glued to their phones as if their life depended upon them, and it might well seem to be the case as far as their subconscious is concerned. We have inherited a process that kept our ancestors safe and that was fear, sometimes in the diluted version, anxiety.
The subconscious uses those two reactions to keep us safe, either by beating the source of the threat or running away from it. It uses anxiety or fear to make sure we remain watchful if there is any indication of possible danger. And what if it’s hatred you experience instead?
Well, although it might not seem like it, as far as the subconscious is concerned, hate is based on fear, because we only attack that which we fear.
- The stronger the hate response to any stimulus, the more the subconscious will regard the source of the stimulus as a threat.
- If the viewing portal to this threat – the smartphone or other device – is closed, the threat is not being monitored and therefore might become more dangerous as far as the subconscious is concerned.
- It doesn’t take long for the subconscious to assume that checking the status is what is keeping the threat at bay, and so the longer the interval between checks, the more the anxiety rises.
If you’re addicted, you’re probably one of two types: Compulsive or obsessive. The first one enjoys social media, doesn’t get unduly upset about anything on it, but tends to spend far too much time on it.
Then they get irritated with themselves (and usually nagged by others) about how much time they’ve wasted instead of getting on with other important ‘stuff’ in their lives.
But the second one, the obsessive type, is the one who suffers anxiety, depression or fear around the whole social media experience and it might be worse when they have checked the current situation than if they have not.
For these unfortunate individuals, breaking the habit and losing the fear is extremely difficult but it can be done. It’s worse for teenagers since they genuinely do feel events more acutely than those who’ve gone a few years past their 20th birthday. To some, they appear to be over-reacting but they’re not.
This is because their brains have not yet completed a process known as ‘synaptic pruning’ and they essentially have more connections still active than they will have in their twenties. As a result, they feel things more acutely and have a higher sense of idealism and the ‘rights and wrongs of life generally.
If you believe that you or a member of your family is addicted to either compulsive or obsessive manner, there are ways to get free.
The easiest way is to seek help from a professional therapist – a new Social Media Addiction course has just been launched by The Terence Watts BWRT Institute and the practitioners who have taken it have learned specially targeted skills to help the problem far more quickly than most other methods.
But if you want to go it alone, the only way to do it is what is best referred to as ‘progressive cold turkey’ – you’ll use a three-step approach, rather than trying to do it all in one go. But you do have to be strict with yourself to find success.
The first step is to take on board the idea that social media is a bit like a film or television a lot of the time. There are true life stories, drama, comedy, tragedy, made-up stuff and manipulation, and the problem is you can never really be sure which it is at any one time.
What people say about themselves and their lives is often not based on reality but on what they want you to believe and it may or may not be true. When you can recognise the great truth of that, you’re ready to move on to the next two steps which are slightly different for each type.
Compulsive – Step one
You can log on to your favourite platforms and stay there as long as you want to, but when you absolutely must post something, you immediately close the app after you’ve hit ‘send’ and power down the device.
At first, it’s difficult but you’ll soon discover it starts to feel normal and it stops you from getting hooked into long threads of responses. You can go back online of course, but you must still follow the same rule – look for as long as you like but as soon as you post, close the app and power down the device.
Obsessive – Step one
Again, you can log on to your favourite platforms and stay there as long as you want to, just scrolling and viewing, but when something winds you up and has an effect on you whether it’s blind fury, sadness, frustration, hurt or anything else where you want to type a reply.
Immediately close the app and power down the device before going back online (though you might decide you can’t be bothered and that’s OK) and either posting and powering down again, or just scrolling on by, letting whatever you feel the drift evaporate into the air around you.
After a while, you’ll start to discover a wonderful sense of being in control, a recognition that nobody can any longer control what you do while you’re online.
Step two – both types
You can move on to this part any time after step one has started to feel ‘normal’ (even if it’s a bit aggravating!) though it’s best if you’ve completed at least a week of the step one work. One of the most important things to decide on here is what you will do with the time that you will not be spending on social media.
It must be something important, like ‘writing a book’, ‘finishing the DIY job’, ‘landscaping my garden’, ‘learning computer programming for example. It must be something that excites you, at least a little, but preferably a lot! ‘Have more time for my friends’ or ‘keeping up with things’ doesn’t work anywhere nearly as well.
If you decide on this one, swap your smartphone for a dumbphone that does only texts and phone calls and deletes all your social media accounts. It’s easier than it sounds and the pride you feel at having beaten the addiction will be fantastic! If you relapse (possible, but not the end of the world) repeat step one.
Here, you will write down your start and end times for each session (and it’s best to keep it to three or fewer each day) and stick rigidly to them no matter what’s going on when it’s time to leave.
You can set a timer on your device to give you a ‘five-minute warning’ so you can politely start to wind up whatever conversation you are involved in, and agree to pick up the thread, if you want to, on your next session.
Social media, whichever platform you favour, can be fun. But when it starts to cause you a problem, be it anxiety, depression, frustration, anger or anything else, it’s time to break the spell and get back into real life.
Terence Watts is the creator of Brain Working Recursive Therapy (BWRT).