In our current society, technology has become more popular than ever. Social media helps us stay in touch with family and friends, and is a way to express ourselves by sharing parts of our lives or our interests and a way to connect with others. Social media becomes a problem when it begins interfering with your daily life leading to addiction.
Addiction is a compulsive behaviour that leads to negative effects. With most addictions, individuals engage in certain behaviours on a regular basis that they become harmful habits which interfere with life, such as work or relationships. In regards to social media, an addict could be considered as someone with a compulsion to use social media in excess such as constantly checking Facebook status updates or posting selfies on Instagram for long hours a day.
Since social media is available 24/7 and is constantly updating, the addictive aspect stems from fear of missing out (FOMO). Our brains are wired for collaboration and we are fully aware when others are doing something that excludes us triggering primitive survival responses. Constantly checking social media allows us to meet this primal need by becoming involved in the lives of others ensuring we are never left out.
Social media is also addictive given the validation factor. Getting ‘likes’ on pictures or ‘follows’ on news feeds affirms our existence similar to someone smiling at you in real life. Quite simply, being acknowledged makes us feel good. Due to the constant availability of social media this validation is available at our fingertips.
Social media however can have a negative impact on self-esteem. It allows us is to hide behind screens and present the lives we want others to think we have. Most people would not post unflattering photos of themselves or share about fights with their partners. We often see pictures about holidays, fun activities and photoshopped bodies. This leads to comparisons which inevitably can affect your self-esteem. It’s all too easy to think ‘Why are they so happy when I’m struggling?’ The truth is, we don’t know what is truly going on with people’s lives.
Signs social media is negatively impacting your life
- Going online is your first priority in which you check it as soon as you wake up, many times a day and it’s the last thing you look at before bed.
- Your mood is affected by what you see on social media. If you start feeling sad/depressed/angry/jealous by what you see online, this is a sign your self-esteem is being impacted.
- You feel a sense of happiness when things go wrong for others. For example, if a friend’s status changes from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’ and you find yourself elated, you’re really validating your own unhappiness by comparing yourself to others.
- You measure your success by others’ responses or reactions. If you find yourself frustrated when your posts are not getting enough ‘likes’ or comments, it is a sign of low self-esteem connected to social media.
How do you break social media addiction?
- Recognise your triggers for turning to social media. Is it when you’re lonely or bored? If you are struggling with depression, stress, or anxiety, social media may be a way to self-soothe moods. Instead, find healthier ways of managing your moods, such as practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
- It is necessary to take a break from social media if you find yourself getting upset every time you login, find yourself writing rude comments or thinking negative thoughts, or are getting happiness in other’s pain.
- Turn off your phone and computer for a night and enjoy doing something free from technology such as enjoying a nice meal, meditating or taking a warm bath. After taking the first step to disconnect, begin thinking about taking a longer break and getting back into real life.
- If cutting out social media seems too difficult, turn off all notifications so you aren’t getting alerts when new items are posted and schedule times in which you check social media (such as only during your lunch break).
- Find alternative ways of connecting to others such as using phone calls instead of text messaging, going out without taking selfies, and getting out with friends instead of being on Facebook.
There are a lot of positives about using social media. But, used the wrong way, social media can often tap into our insecurities. And we don’t want this to interfere with our lives.
Kimberly Hershenson is currently a therapist at a group practice in Manhattan, New York where she specialise in eating disorders, addiction, among other conditions.