Anything can become an addiction if you do it to a problematic extent.
Let that sink in for a second.
Most of the time, when we think of addiction, we think of people who have been smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or doing hard drugs for years. We think of young adults who keep telling themselves and their loved ones they could quit if they wanted, but soldier on even after constant reminders of the detrimental side effects and psychological problems.
Of course, these stereotypical images of other behavioral addictions don’t paint the full picture. Behaviors that have been normalized in our society can be just as harmful as those that are commonly recognized as “bad”. The same people who claim to never understand why anyone would smoke cigarettes will struggle to keep up a conversation because they’re too busy chasing a fix. Of course, their fix doesn’t come in the shape of a bottle or a pill a needle. Instead, it comes in the form of a smartphone.
It’s easy to shrug “social media addiction” off as a product of naysayers struggling to come to grips with the times. However, there’s nothing fake about it. If you twitch at the absence of your smartphone, don’t know what to do with your hands without the Internet and find your mood significantly impacted by interactions you have on social media, you’re not alone. Psychologists estimate that 5 to 10 percent of Americans fit the criteria for social media addiction. If untreated, this pattern of behavior can take its toll on your mental health, ability to be productive and relationships with others. At its worst, you can find yourself experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Unsurprisingly, it’s especially prevalent in young people.
Sure, it’s the American way to pathologize everything. But if you need convincing, just ask Chamath Palihapitiya, the former vice-president of user growth on Facebook (aka the largest social networking site in the world).
After leaving the company in 2011, he had this to say:
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.”
Wait a second.
A person whose job was literally to get more people to use the largest social media platform says social media use is bad after all.
It was his job to help us get where we are today: the average person spends 2 hours and 23 minutes on social media a day. (More social media addiction stats here.)
He looks at his career as something that harmed the world. He thinks that social media, by nature, “exploits a vulnerability in human psychology.” After seeing it from the inside, he knows that the model is based on getting you hooked and that once you’re hooked, your intellectual independence gets sucked dry.
That speaks volumes.
Now if you’ve read my writing before, you might know that there was a time where I thought I was addicted to social media. You can read about it here, but in short, I found my time getting snatched from me by the relentless and unquenchable need to consume content. I decided that, in an attempt to focus my energy on creating instead of consuming, I would temporarily end my use of social media. I would take a 30-day break from social media and use the screen time I got back to garner my creativity.
However, to get to that point, it took a lot of soul-searching. I needed to carefully consider what it was about social media that had me hooked and seriously entertain the possibility that I might be a victim of Internet addiction, even if I could justify my actions to myself.
Addictive behaviors are nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, if you have the self-awareness to recognize and want to do something about them, you have already proven a great deal of mental fortitude. That being said, acting on addictive behaviors takes effort. Here are some things to remember if you’re trying to leave your social media habit behind and improve your well-being.
Admitting Is the First Step
Just like any other addiction, acknowledging the problem is a prerequisite to finding a solution.
Sure, it seems obvious, but there’s a big chance you have your doubts about social media as an “addiction”, and understandably so. It doesn’t carry with it the lung cancer scare of cigarettes, the cognitive impairment of drinking or the potential to overdose of hard drugs.
That being said, although the physical ramifications are less obvious, there’s an equally important casualty of excessive use: your mental health.
If you think the way you engage with social media is normal and healthy just because other people do it, remember that these apps are designed to get you hooked. If you can feel the weight of social media sites pressing down on you even after you put your smartphone in your pocket, it might be time to take action.
Break Out of The Hunt for Validation
The truth is simple: there’s nothing healthy about chasing validation. Although social media addiction comes in different forms, one of the most prominent symptoms is the constant craving for likes.
Active social media users thrive on engagement. Chances are, if you maintain an active profile on Instagram or Twitter or even LinkedIn, you’ve thought the thoughts “Why isn’t my post getting enough likes?” or “Why does this person have more followers than me?”
One of the most toxic aspects of social media is that it gives everyone a way to quantify their worth. It also ramps up the impact of FOMO, the “fear of missing out” that kicks in when you see other people having fun. Whether you like it or not, people care about things like followers, likes, comments and retweets. Some people even make careers out of attracting attention on social media.
That being said, it’s an unattainable standard. If you find yourself plunging into the depths of your psyche because you aren’t getting the validation you need, remember these three things.
- You can never quantify your worth
- You’ll never be satisfied with the attention you get
- None of this fucking matters
I’m serious. People spend so little time thinking about what you do on social media. Their likes and comments might give you a quick dopamine fix, but they reflect nothing about who you are in real life.
Even the people with the most followers and likes on social media want more. Do you think influencers don’t compete with other influencers over who can garner the largest following, or promote the most prestigious products?
It’s all a game and there’s absolutely no reason to make that your life. If you’ve fallen into the trap, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. But if your mood depends on social media, you need to step back and realize that it’s all fake. It only matters because people think it does. Once you free yourself from that mindset, you can invest your energy in other things, more rewarding things that impact the world outside your smartphone.
Recognize That You’ll Never Get the Time You Spend on Social Media Back
You ever notice how time flies by? If you’re reading this article, you might be younger than I am. And if I can tell you one thing it’s that, as you get older, you look back on the amount of time you spent doing shit that didn’t add anything to your life and long to get that time back.
But here’s the harsh truth: once you spend time doing something, you can never get it back, no matter how hard you try.
The habit of social media use isn’t only a problem if it impacts your mental health. You might just be a casual lurker on social media platforms, yet still, you find Instagram and Twitter eating up hours of your day.
Now, just because you have time to spend doesn’t mean you need to spend that time being productive. However, if you find yourself dedicating hours of your day to interacting with people’s carefully curated brands on social media and take nothing from it that you can use to better yourself, it’s the definition of a waste.
Just like video games, the dopamine reward that comes with social media addiction can be jarring to reflect on once you break out of the loop. In other words, you can look at all the temporary fulfillment you get from things like video games and scrolling through social media and think “wow, why did I care so much?”
Now, if you use social media in moderation, it can be a great way to keep up with people you care about and share your message with the world. However, if you find yourself going down the endless rabbit hole, one that is designed to leave you unfulfilled and tailor-made to suck you in with the most clickable content, you will find hours of your life disappearing.
The key issue here is that there is much more to the world outside of your screen.
You can spend that time exploring the outdoors. There’s no overstating how much better getting fresh air is for your mental health than giving in to the intoxicating hypnosis of Instagram or Snapchat.
Or, even better, you can spend that time creating. Find something you are proud of, something you love doing that can add to the world in its own special way. If you zero-in on that passion, you can create a relic of your life to look back on, products and tangible experiences you can tap into and share with others.
If you spend your time slipping into the abyss of social media, you’re not even coming close to reaching the potential of what you have to give to the world. Most people with ideas are too distracted by things like social media to share those ideas with the world and become who they want to become.
Don’t let yourself be one of those people.
Consider A FULL Digital Detox
Now, if you’re looking for an action item, here it is: delete every social media app from your smartphone and promise yourself that you are not going to redownload them for a certain period of time.
Yes, that sounds drastic, but if you can prove to yourself that you can live without social media, you will give yourself the opportunity to explore all the other things that you don’t even know you love doing, things that leave you far more fulfilled.
Check out this article I wrote for the specifics of how to move forward with a digital detox. However, the principle is simple. Whatever negative impact social media is having on your life- lowered self-esteem, wasted time, distraction from creative outlets- can be overruled by simply cutting that shit out.
Sure, it might seem hard at first, but once you see how a life without social media usage looks, you might find yourself questioning what had you so hooked in the first place.
Social media is a canvas for many. It’s a great place to explore how we want to be perceived. It’s also wonderful for interacting with the polished images other people put out there, getting a window into the lives of those we admire. However, casual browsing can quickly turn into overuse, and in the case of social media, the negative impacts have already reared their ugly heads.
Even if you don’t qualify for the relatively high bar of “addiction”, there’s a chance excessive social media use is doing more harm than good. If you find yourself feeling the negative consequences and thinking “why do I spend time doing this?”, it could be rewarding to see what happens when you try to cut it out for good.
If this article has helped you reconsider your relationship with social media, that’s all I can ask. I’m not trying to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong by using social media. It’s not that getting satisfaction from social media use makes you a weak person. All you need to know is that while technological development can do wonders for society, the issues it brings can be so complex. Just because the detrimental effects of online addictions can be normalized doesn’t mean they should be ignored.