We use social networking sites to share our ideas, communicate with family and friends, and to follow the news. Unfortunately, many of us have developed a craving for permanent connectivity also known as social media addiction.
Although therapists already offer treatment for the problem, social media addiction has not been classified as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. As one study states, our brains react to online activity similar to those of drug abusers but the regions responsible for inhibition remain active. Thus, the chances of becoming truly addicted are low.
Regardless, there are several issues linked to extensive social media use. Those include the increased chance of developing depression as a result of cyber bullying and unhealthy comparisons to other people.
After initial resistance, I decided to change my digital habits because I was spending far too much time online. Indeed, that constant activity disrupted my sleep patterns, stirred my anxiety and affected my ability to focus.
These steps helped me challenge my social media addiction by becoming more self-aware and creating balance.
1. Identify the problem.
According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, there are several warning signs of social media dependency. Among them are tailoring your life so it seems more appealing to online contacts, and oversharing.
“Composing tweets about what you’re doing as you’re doing it or feeling the need to report your thoughts in real-time are all signs that social media is taking over your life,” states Pang. Additionally, he says that feeling anxious when we lack access to social media is another indicator of dependency.
That anxiety was real for me when I lived in New York City and had no phone signal in the subway. In fact, despite it increasing my travel time, I always took the D train home so I could use my phone for five extra minutes above ground.
Pay attention to your social media habits. To help keep track of your thoughts and emotions, try a 72-hour break from the web and journal how you feel without access. That will help you identify negative patterns.
2. Turn off push notifications.
Many of us are familiar with the excitement we feel when we receive a message, comment or like on our latest posts. However, being plugged in to an endless stream of notifications is not healthy.
“There’s almost nothing more compelling than social information, which activates part of your brain’s reward system,” says Paul Atchley, a cognitive psychologist, to TIME. “Your noodle is also hardwired to respond to novel sights or sounds.”
In other words, social media notifications are playing on our brains’ natural wiring. Interestingly, we’re so accustomed to getting those alerts that we often mistakenly think our devices have vibrated or sounded off. This phenomenon is called phantom vibration syndrome, and affects our concentration.
Train yourself to not expect frequent updates on devices by turning off all push notifications and emails from social media. As such, you will get accustomed to not hearing, seeing or feeling an alert every few minutes.
3. Delete social media apps from your mobile devices.
As a person whose business was entirely online, the idea of not having access to Twitter or my Facebook page via my phone was unnerving. Honestly, imagine if one of my accounts got hacked and I needed to handle the situation while sitting on the toilet.
Yet, by first turning off data usage for social media apps, I got used to the idea of not having access when I left the house. Then, I cultivated the habit of only checking my social media on my computer.
Follow those steps before finally deleting all social media from your mobile devices. By going through the process in stages, it will make the transition easier.