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8 Signs You Might Be Addicted to Social Media – and What To Do About It

May 05, 2023

You’ve just posted a tweet and it’s taking off, getting dozens of likes and retweets. 

It’s no accident that the attention is giving you a little thrill. Whether it’s good food, good sex or a good response to a tweet, your brain is built to release dopamine, a pleasure-inducing chemical, after successful social interactions.

But problems can arise if your desire for dopamine jolts has you overdoing it, and that includes becoming obsessed with social media to the point where habit becomes addiction.

If you find yourself devoting too many hours on the phone or in front of the computer, neglecting work and family, it may be time to reassess your social media habits.

Social Media Pros and Cons

Used wisely, social media has lots of benefits, not least of which is the ability to stay connected with family and friends. It can be a great way to trade important or interesting information about your community, too, especially in times of emergency.

But too much social media can lead to an array of psychological and social problems. Research has connected unhealthy social media behavior with a variety of conditions, including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. This is particularly worrisome for young people, whose rise in mental health issues have tracked with the increased use of social media.

For some couples, the intimacy of a relationship can be displaced by non-stop scrolling.

The reasons why social media can bring people down are staring back at us when our smartphone shows Facebook friends or Instagram followers enjoying what appear to be perfect meals, parties, relationships, jobs and vacations.

Meanwhile, you may be struggling just to whip up some mac and cheese for the kids while getting the laundry under control after a difficult day at work. There’s not enough time for parties and not enough money for a vacation. No wonder you might not be feeling very good about yourself after comparing your life to those portrayed on social media, even though those posts may not reflect reality.

Signs You Might Need a Break

Constantly comparing yourself to others is one of the signs that it might be time for a break from social media, or at least a new set of self-imposed guidelines.

Other signs include:

  • You can’t put your phone down when talking with friends or in other social situations
  • You feel anxious when you’re not online, as if you may be missing out
  • Your level of anxiety increases because of constant scrolling, particularly when it comes to politics
  • You reflexively turn to your phone rather than using it with a specific purpose in mind
  • You freak out if you can’t find your phone
  • Your ability to enjoy something -- whether it’s dinner, a party or some other activity -- depends on your ability to post about it
  • You find yourself doomscrolling, a buzzword that means constantly looking for bad news on social media

Taking a Social Media Break

Call it what you want -- a sabbatical, a break, a vacation, a detox -- but for some people it's healthy to place some guardrails around your social media usage.

The first step is determining how much time you're spending on social media. Most smartphones keep track of your usage – and what sites you’re visiting. One study found that adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media are at heightened risk for mental health problems.

There is no chart that prescribes an ideal amount of time spent on social media based on age or any other demographic. But if you find that you’re spending multiple hours poring over social media, you may be devoting too much of your time.

In addition to keeping a log, consider these steps to keep control over your social media time:

  • Set aside specific time slots during the day to peruse social media to keep yourself from checking it reflexively. 
  • Similarly, pick times of the day when social media is off limits no matter what.
  • Rather than spread yourself over every platform possible, pick and choose a couple that fit your needs and lifestyle.
  • Turn off notifications. Every ding or buzz alerting you to a new like or retweet is a temptation to become distracted from what you should be focusing on.

Or, if you’re worried that social media has become too much of a presence in your life, you may need to take a prolonged break and simply stop using it. Chances are your social life won’t suffer if you stay in touch with family and friends by talking with them directly.

Whatever you choose to do, the goal is to take control of social media instead of letting it control you.

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