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Social Media Addiction: Recognizing the Signs and Taking Action

As of April 2024, over 62% of the world’s population uses social media, representing nearly an 80% increase since 2017. This means that social media in today’s digital age is incredibly prevalent, and there’s no stopping its growth.

In fact, the average person spends 2 hours and 20 minutes per day on social media. Given the increase in global social media usage and the increase per day, it’s important to recognize the signs of social media addiction. If you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction to social media, you need to learn how to break the addiction safely and effectively. 

What is social media addiction?

Social media addiction is the same as any other addiction in that it causes a change in your brain function, which controls psychological and physical manifestations as a result of too much social media usage.

This happens because social media triggers your dopamine system the same way other drugs trigger your dopamine reward system. Activities like scrolling or posting a picture and constantly checking the comments or responses stimulate the release of dopamine, a pleasurable hormone in the brain that can create a similar feeling to being high.

With a substantial amount of social media usage, individuals become addicted to that feeling and eventually find it difficult to trigger the same level of dopamine release from other activities that are meant to be rewarding for survival, like eating healthy foods, exercising, or having sex.

social media addiction

Common signs of social media addiction

So, how do you know if you are addicted to social media? Addiction to social media presents several common signs, including psychological and physical signs.

Excessive time spent on social platforms

One of the biggest indicators of social media addiction is when you spend excessive time on social media platforms. Even the average time span of over 2 hours per day is considered excessive, but for those who spend significantly more than this, not only during the work day or school day but in the evenings, it might indicate the need to figure out how to stop social media addiction.

Neglect of personal, academic, or professional responsibilities

As is the case with any addiction, if you are addicted to social media, you will neglect your personal, academic, or professional responsibilities in exchange for focusing instead on social media. 

  • This might mean avoiding work so that you can instead scroll through pictures or share pictures. 
  • It might mean not paying attention in school because you’re too busy communicating or commenting on social media platforms.

Mood changes related to social media activity

Other indicators of addiction to social media involve behavioral changes, specifically mood changes. These mood changes are often related to your social media addiction and can be things like:

  • Constantly checking your phone and getting upset if you don’t have access to your social media accounts.
  • Noticeable changes in your mood not just based on social media access but on what interactions you have via social media, like positive changes to your mood if you receive “likes” or negative changes if you get negative comments.

Then, there are psychological and physical signs as well.

Anxiety, depression, and loneliness

It’s not uncommon for people, especially young people, to find it difficult to overcome the addictive behaviors associated with social media addiction. It’s imperative to understand how to break social media addiction if you are struggling with psychological impacts like anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Social media usage and addiction can lead to the development of anxiety disorders or depressive disorders, especially when more time is spent on social media platforms than is spent engaging with people in real life.

Some examples include:

  • Becoming overly concerned with your social media accounts
  • Letting the information or activity on social media change how you feel about yourself

Physical symptoms

Those who struggle with addiction to social media will also begin to manifest physical symptoms. Physical symptoms include things like reduced physical activity in exchange for being on a phone or computer, as well as sleep disturbances that often result from being unable to stop scrolling or interacting on social media platforms, even when it’s time for bed. This can lead to significant eye strain as well.

Other symptoms extend to the impact on your personal life as well as your academic or professional performance.

For example, someone who is addicted to social media might experience severe mood swings based on their inability to access social media platforms during the work day or school day, which can lead to irritability and fights at work. It can also take away from workplace or academic performance because your focus is on social media, and you can’t tear yourself away from your accounts, and if you do, you can’t focus on what you need to be doing.

Strategies to overcome social media addiction

If you see signs that you or someone else is struggling with addiction to social media, there are strategies you can use to overcome this social media addiction.

Set specific time limits

The first step in figuring out how to stop social media addiction is to set specific time limits. Time limits control how much time is spent on social media.

If you start with this, there are plenty of apps you can download on your phone or time based features you can add to your computer that monitor how much of your day is being spent on social media. You might be surprised to learn that even though you don’t sit on your computer or phone for over 3 hours at a time, you end up spending three or more hours throughout the day because of the amount of time you spend during breaks and meal times.

If you have time limits, you cannot only control how much time you spend but be much more aware of your time.

Digital detox

Another option is a digital detox. A digital detox functions the exact same way as any other detox for addiction in that it provides you an opportunity to completely step away from any digital interaction and give your brain a chance to reset.

If you can, a good way to start with digital detox is to plan a trip like a camping trip or a vacation where you won’t need your devices so it won’t feel as challenging or urgent to be without them.

Replace social media with healthier activities

Much the same as any other addiction treatment, figuring out how to break social media addiction comes down to replacing your social media activities with other activities that are healthier for your mind and body.

This can include going outside and taking a walk. you might start something where each time you reach for your phone or you find yourself on social media, you have to put it down and go for a walk or a bike ride. These small activities can give you a way to replace social media with something healthier and soon you will find that the urges which might have seemed uncontrollable before are much more controllable.

detox from social media

Mindfulness and self-awareness practices

Mindfulness and self-awareness practices can go a long way toward helping you recognize where your time is being spent and how it makes you feel. Understanding all of your emotions might give you more control over what triggers prompt social media reliance or how you feel after social media usage.

Seek professional help

If you continue to struggle and setting simple time limits or going through a digital detox proves insufficient or unattainable at present, your social media addiction might require professional help. Professional psychiatrists and psychologists can help you work through any underlying factors that contribute to your addiction and recognize the way in which addiction is changing your personal and professional life for the worse. You can learn healthy coping mechanisms that work for you.

Summing Up

Overall, it’s important to recognize and address social media addiction. Over 10% of Americans meet the criteria for this addiction, and in teenagers, this level can be much worse, as can the subsequent impact on things like self-esteem, body image, depression, and anxiety. With continuous effort and an adaptation of different, healthy coping strategies, you can find a way to maintain a balanced digital life.

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