4 Common Signs of Social Media Addiction
by Ryan Hook | July 14, 2020, updated 3 months ago
Am I Addicted to Social Media?
Yeah, probably. Here’s why—
I am writing and researching an article about social media addiction, meanwhile, unrelated to my research, I have Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram open in my tabs, and I’m regularly checking them—you know, just in case I need quick access to a cute cat video, or need to send a funny GIF while I’m writing.
People say that they’re not addicted to social media, “So-and-so is, but I’m definitely not,” but I bet they’re not really engaging in much self-examination.
Studies have linked social media addiction and substance addiction to similar brain systems. Symptoms of both include mood modification, salience, dependency, and relapse. Social media interactions affect the same systems that many addictive substances do—gotta love dopamine. There are also studies that link increased consumption of social media to mental health problems, such as increased envy, loneliness, narcissism, and depression. The kicker is, people are aware of the harmful toll social media has on their self-esteem, and self-worth. One study found that 60% of social media users reported themselves as having negative self-worth.
Addiction is what social media companies want. It’s what they’re trying to accomplish. The BBC reported in 2018 that engineers in social media companies intentionally bake addiction right into the product. Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, said Facebook was setting out to consume as much user time as possible. Makes sense at a business level, but at an individual level it’s not great.
So, if you’re still in denial, here are 4 ways to tell you’re addicted to social media—
You’ve gone off social media, but quickly relapsed.
It’s hard not to think of relapse as something reserved for addicts of the ‘hard stuff’ like alcohol and narcotics, but it applies to all addictions including shopping, gambling, and yeah, social media. Have you ever said you’re going off of social media, and then gone right back on after a few days, or hours, to post about it? You might be addicted. Relapse is a deterioration of progress after a period of improvement. I know people who go off social media only to visit that cycle over, and over again – they desperately need to get rid of social media, but after a few days they start to think “I need it for work,” or “I need it to stay informed.” If you believe that using social media is the only way you can do your job, and you don’t work in social media, or you believe it’s the only way to stay informed, you’re probably justifying an addiction.
You’ve used social media to avoid real conversations.
Hard conversations are hard. Sometimes conversations in general are hard. I can say I’ve used my phone to distract myself from a real life person trying to communicate with me. It’s easier to live life in the land of false positivity that is social media. It creates a feedback loop that’s often completely ingenuine. Social media is like a game where you’re trying to win the ‘best life’ prize. Are you trying to show people that you’re #winning life via pics and updates? Why talk to real people when you can get a hit of dopamine right now?
You always reach for your phone when something happens.
I can genuinely say I’m friends with people that feel the need to post about every little piece of their day-to-day. My first reaction is to roll my eyes, but maybe I should be asking “Why?” Social media validates everything you do—the lunch you ate that day, the political views you share, and the outfits you wear. We physically crave validation, and once we stop receiving it, we feel bad. Social media provides the immediate approval, and social accolades that we can only really acquire quickly and in volume, online. Talking to people who are standing next to you can be scary, because they might see the real you. Why do that when you can show everyone nothing but your best?
You feel “lost” without your phone.
Smokers often light up during pauses in conversation, do you reach for your phone in the same circumstances? What if you left it in your car, what would you do? In another scenario, imagine you’ve deleted the whatever-social-media-app, and a few hours later you swipe to where it used to live on your phone, and then you remember that you disappeared it, what do you do? Do you run out to the car, despite inconvenience? Do you go into your app store and return the app to its former place on your phone? These are symptoms of a social media addiction. Without a phone we feel lost and like we might be missing out on something, a.k.a. FOMO (fear of missing out). What about what you’re doing right now? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to miss out on that?
Hopefully, these signs don’t sound too familiar, but if they do here are a few tips on how to curb that addiction—
Your addiction might say a lot about the things you need, and what you are subconsciously missing. Do you need constant attention? Constant validation? Therapy can help you identify why you rely so heavily on social media. Hey, you’re already online, why not open one of those tabs to seek counseling online. Therapy is a positive tool to help you make change, but trust me, it takes work.
There’s an App for That
It seems almost counterproductive to get an app to help you with your addiction to social media, but sometimes seeing physical evidence of how much time you spend on these sites helps you prove your addiction to yourself. There are apps that block social media for you, and put your use on a timer. You might even be able to set your phone to give you a weekly rundown of your usage. Those numbers can get troubling. Seeing just how much time you spend on social media can really make you think twice about your usage.
Put the phone down. Maybe talk to that real-life person standing right in front of you. Living sincerely isn’t easy, and rarely comes with immediate dopamine based rewards. Why bother if it’s not instant? Delayed gratification builds character, it helps people become comfortable with themselves. Tell a friend how you’re really doing over a cup of tea. Next time you go for a hike, drink in the scenery with your eyes, ears, and nose, and put the phone down. I’m not saying never document your adventures with photos, but consider letting some experiences belong to you, and whomever you’re with. Let people see all of you, and not just the curated version of you that you show to the world on social media.
Leave the Phone at Home
Baby steps, right? Before you go cold turkey, leave your phone at home while you go grocery shopping. See how it goes. Can you do it? It’s okay if you can’t. If you’ve vowed to go off Face-twi-gram-chat one day, and then you’re back on it the next, that’s normal. Relapse is a sign of addiction, but it’s also a sign of a recovery. Try again, and notice that it gets easier and easier. Congratulate yourself when you notice your own progress. Remember, your phone will be waiting for you when you get back. It’s important to engage in the world sans screen sometimes.
Social media has become an omnipresent part of our lives, and it easily turns into an addiction, but as long as you’re aware, willing, and active about trying to monitor your use, you’re on the right path. I look at my tabs now that I’m finishing the writing of this article, and there are no social media tabs open—it’s a relief. It also means I got my work done faster… which is probably a good thing.
Ryan Hook is a writer, photographer, musician, and spoken word poet. Born in St.Albert and living in Edmonton, Alberta, his mission is to bring Sound and Story. He has worked as a music journalist for Vue Weekly, BeatRoute, and Exclaim! as well as been a published short story writer. When he's not writing he is an accomplished songwriter and recording artist for his band, Baby Boy and the Earthly Delights. Whether it's writing, music, or travelling, he bides by the philosophy that life is a playground and nothing is off limits.