How Social Media Addiction Affects Our Lives

In this article, we discuss about social media addiction and how apps are designed to get you hooked on them, how social media addiction affects your wellbeing and your life, and strategies on how to cut down on social media use.

Although social media addiction is not a formal clinical diagnosis yet, a lot of users describe themselves as being “obsessed” with social media, if not addicted. Media like Instagram and Facebook may let us stay in contact with our loved ones who live far away, but that’s no excuse for updating your status, commenting on walls, uploading pictures, playing Facebook games, looking for new friends, and reading updates from others every day.

Am I Addicted?

Typical signs of social media addiction include thinking about or planning how to use social media, over-sharing on Facebook, feeling an urge to use social media more and more often, or using them to forget personal problems.

Every time you have nothing to do, you check for updates to your newsfeed or responses to your posts. You may leave your Facebook page open in the background and glance at it every few minutes at work or on your phone at school. You check it even if you’re out with friends, watching a movie or sitting in a bar. Chatting on social media seems more fun than it does in real life. You may even experience anxiety if a certain period of time has passed and you have not checked your social media yet.

The Roots of Addiction

You may not have known it, but social media applications and mobile phones are actually designed to be addictive! Companies like DopamineLab are specifically researching into how to make apps addictive by pushing our neurological buttons. And that’s not the only company that is deliberately addicting users according to Silicon Valley insiders. In an interview with the BBC’s Panorama programme, former Mozilla and Jawbone employee and engineer Aza Raskin likened social media use to having “behavioural cocaine” sprinkled all over your interface, keeping you coming back over and over again.

In 2006, Aza Raskin designed infinite scroll, one of the features of many social media apps that are seen as highly habit forming today. He was working for the computer user-interface consultancy Humanised at the time. Infinite scroll allows you swipe down through content endlessly without clicking. The feature keeps users looking at their screens much longer than necessary because the endless scrolling doesn’t let the brain catch up with the movement and the information being accessed.

Corporations’ business models drive a lot of designers to create addictive app features. To get stock prices up and more funding, people need to be spending more and more time on a company’s apps. You need to keep looking for ways to feed their addiction.

Facebook is as bad as, if not worse, than gambling

According to former Facebook employee Sandy Parakilas, social media is very similar to a slot machine. He says that when he tried to stop using it, he felt like he was quitting smoking. The insider shares that Facebook’s business model is designed to engage users, basically wasting as much of their time as possible in order to “sell” advertisers their attention.

The giant claps back

When asked to comment on the former employee’s statements, Facebook insisted its products were designed “to bring people closer to their friends, family, and the things they care about and at no stage does wanting something to be addictive factor into that process”.

Likes, retweets, thumbs-up…How addictive are they?

Leah Pearlman, who co-invented Facebook’s Like button, says that’s exactly what got her “hooked” on the media. Eventually, her self-esteem became directly connected to how many “likes” she got. When she got less likes than usual, she would get depressed.

Compulsive behaviour is also driven in part by specific use of colour, sound, and unexpected rewards. For example, the notification flag on Instagram being the colour red, is specifically designed to get people addicted to open the app and check what notifications they have received.

The Consequences for Teens

The consequences adults (and former employees of social media at that) face are bad enough. However, those for adolescents, who are more vulnerable, are worse. Studies show links between overusing social media and feelings of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. In the UK, adolescents spend about an average of 18 hours a week on their phones. Most of this time is devoted to – you guessed it – social media.

According to Leah Pearlman, a lot of young people are coming to realize that social media use is becoming problematic for them, and they should try to stop.

Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker has gone on record saying that at first, the company’s main task was consuming as much user time as possible. When asked about Mr. Parker’s allegation, senior Facebook official Ime Archibong told the BBC Facebook was investigating the issue.

“We’re working with third-party folks that are looking at habit-forming behaviours – whether it’s on our platform or the internet writ large – and trying to understanding if there are elements that we do believe are bringing harm to people,” he said, “so that we can shore those up and we can invest in making sure those folks are safe over time.”

Baby steps

It’s good to know that Facebook is making an effort to help people wean themselves off the service. At the time of writing, the giant is working on features to enable users to see how long they’ve been on its app over the past week and to set daily time limits.

The Effects on Relationships, Mental Health, and Physical Health

The increasing amount of time spent on social media is impacting our relationships and social interactions. There’s no way you haven’t noticed this: You’re at a party or another gathering and everyone is sitting together…but they’re all fiddling with their phones. Nobody is talking. Everyone is staring at a screen. It’s gotten to the point where even a phone in a room can distract one from what’s happening in the room. Ironically, we’re so focused on the next notification and alert that we fail to notice cues in our immediate surroundings.

Always Connected

Jaimie Bloch, psychologist and clinical director, explains that wanting to connect with others is a basic human need. However, social media has enabled constant connectivity, which can have adverse effects on relationships, mental health, and physical health.

According to the expert, the pressure of having to be always available and responsive can cause sensations of overwhelming anxiety. You feel “switched on” all the time. You can never relax and unwind. Many people feel like they need to spend their whole lives on social platforms. They are under constant pressure to deliver content, manage and monitor what they’re sharing, respond to others, and be responded to. The strenuous balancing act can create intense feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety in many social media users. 

Mental Health and Self-Esteem

Platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram create an environment that is based on visual ratings of people. This is particularly detrimental to young women. Recent studies have documented the dire effects of social media on body image and self-esteem. Researchers have found that teenage girls are the most vulnerable and affected by social media, specifically when it comes to body image. Why? Girls are victimized by the relentless exposure to images that portray cosmetically-altered bodies and other unrealistic ideals. This has caused significantly high levels of dissatisfaction with physical appearance.

The rating-based environment created by social media leads to an excessive focus and link between self-esteem, body image, and social belonging. Being bombarded with images of perfect bodies, perfect faces, and perfect makeup can leave women feeling quite depressed because they are mislead into believing that this is reality.

On the plus side, social media ”influencers” are becoming more and more open about how much time and effort it takes to produce their content. Ultimately, perspective and wisdom are things that only age and experience can bring. Adolescents are more vulnerable, so they need guidance from adults, and their use of social media has to be monitored by the latter.

Physical Health: Sleep Deprivation

Not only are social media wasting our waking hours, they’re also depriving us of sleep. A lot of people “unwind” before going to bed with their phone in their hand, scrolling through social media posts from the day that has passed. Technology is being used far too close to bedtime, which is affecting the quality of our sleep. Electronic devices emit blue light, which sends our brains the message that it is daytime. Then, the brain releases hormones that keep us wakeful and alert.

Overusing or being potentially addicted to these devices makes people stay up late and prevents them from getting quality sleep. Jaimie Bloch recommends that people set time limits on social media use during the day, especially before going to bed. Other experts find that people should stop using their phones or computers at least an hour before hitting the sack.

Recently, a Canadian study showed that just one hour of social media use per day suffices to modify sleeping patterns in an adverse manner. What is more, scrolling through social media while you’re lying in bed can increase the frequency and length of sleep disturbances. The combination of blue light, heightened emotions, and distraction all work together to disrupt sleep. In the morning, we feel tired and sluggish.

Screens are really bad for your eyes too. They say they make them safer now than they used to, but we don’t believe it.

7 Tips to Cut Down on Social Media Use

1. FOMO – An Irrational Fear

Recognise how irrational FOMO (fear of missing out) is. How? When you stop notifications from getting in the way of your everyday routine, you will find it easier to focus on your daily tasks without getting distracted. Alerts and notifications are a constant reminder that something is going on in the online world, pressuring social media users to stay connected so they don’t miss out. To mitigate your FOMO, simply turn off your notifications and keep in mind that you’re highly likely not really missing out on anything that important at all.

Another reason to do this is when you do eventually let yourself check your Facebook profile, you’ll have a lot of notifications to look forward to. This will make the experience of using social media more exciting and more rewarding.

2. Don’t Get Bored

A common reason we turn to social media is boredom. Basically, not enough is going on in our lives to keep us occupied. There are many reasons for this – we don’t have any or enough hobbies, for example. Attack addiction at the root by taking up something so you don’t have too much time on your hands. You could learn a new skill, start learning a new language, or whatever it is you want to do but can never find the time.

When you stop scrolling through your newsfeed, you’d be surprised at how much free time you have.

3. Learn to be okay with alone time

Many people are simply not comfortable with spending time alone, without the company of others, and on top of that, without distraction. To just sit and be by yourself feels scary for a lot of people. To deal with this, many people will, without even really thinking much about it, go to pick up their phone so they don’t have to feel or think about the alone time or loneliness or whatever unpleasant emotions are there that they don’t want to look at. Instead, we recommend to truly allow yourself to sit and be with yourself in your alone time, resisting the urge to use your phone as a distraction to whatever discomfort you’re feeling. You may find yourself going to pick up the phone a few times initially. That’s okay, just be aware of what has happened, and then put the phone straight back down. With continued practice, you’ll find the time spent with the phone not in your hands will get wider and wider.

4. Set Limits

As noted, people need to set limits for themselves when they feel their social media use is starting to work against them in some way. Don’t wait for Facebook to implement its policy on recommending limits – set a timer on your phone or watch or somewhere else. We recommend cutting down on the time you spend online gradually and in increments. Start by finding out how much time you spend on social media sites now, and reduce it by 30 minutes a day. In around 2 weeks, reduce it even further. Ideally, it should be brought down to maximum one hour a day.

5. Look Beyond Social Media

What’s beyond social media? The real world, with all its vibrancy and colour, with its pinnacles and tragedies. For better or worse, it’s the world we REALLY live in. So, quench your craving for social connection by actually meeting people in real life. You could attend a lecture, join a club, or just invite some friends over. Whatever it is you decide to do, you’ll be connecting with people in reality.

6. Reward Yourself

By using social media only now and then, it’ll start being like a treat and not an addiction. Allow yourself time online only when you’ve achieved something you’re proud of. However, keep in mind to still set yourself a time limit with this use.

7. See Your Loved Ones More Often

Spend time with your friends and relatives in the real world. Reconnect with them instead of keeping up to date with their lives through a screen. You have no excuse if they live nearby and we’re sure at least some of them do. Yes, it’s safer to communicate through a screen, but it’s less rewarding as well.

ashley gilmour

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