If the desire to constantly follow updates on social networks becomes obsessive, and anxiety arises without access to a smartphone, this may be a sign of addiction. The American Society for Addictive Medicine defines addiction as behavior that becomes compulsive or continues despite negative consequences.
In addition, the use of social media can trigger a dopamine response in the brain, similar to that which occurs with the use of drugs or alcohol. Such a reaction can lead us to repeat the same actions, which forms an addiction. Here’s how to deal with it.
How to overcome social media addiction
In 2021, internet-connected people around the world spent an average of 142 minutes a day on social media. However, studies show that it is optimal for mental health to limit this time to 30 minutes a day.
Abstinence is often recommended for the treatment of drug or alcohol addiction, but in the case of social media, the mentally ideal outcome is controlled use. There is no need to completely abandon them, but it is important to have a strategy of restrictions.
Lyn Sternlicht, a mental health consultant at Family Addiction Specialist, recommends that people concerned about social media addiction take the following steps.
Take a break. Challenge yourself to not check accounts for a set amount of time, be it a few hours or a whole week. A 2019 study found that some students who went off social media for five days experienced a “sense of peace,” while others feared missing out by not checking the feed.
Delete apps or turn off notifications. Most surf social media mindlessly, so try setting a little barrier for yourself by turning off notifications. If you don’t see an icon or alert every time you pick up your phone, you’re less likely to spend time there.
Set limits and stick to them. Many devices allow you to control the time spent in certain applications. You can also use a program that will block unwanted sites after exceeding the limit. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advises teens not to use social media during family meals, exercise, or leisure hours.
Dedicate time to hobbies or other activities. This can help curb the urge to log into social media. “The point is to fill your free time with things that are interesting and useful to you,” Sternlicht explains. “There will be less time for social networks, but for life — and, preferably, for personal communication, and not on-screen — more.”
Responsibility is more important than abstinence
A digital detox — or total abstinence from social media for a period — may be effective for some people, but not for everyone, says Neha Chaudhary, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
“For some, it can be a cycle break that has become toxic or negative,” she says. “For others, a complete cessation of use may lead to strong cravings, and they will not be able to endure the break, or they will lose access to useful aspects of social networks, such as the ability to stay connected and seek support.”
Instead of detoxing completely, Chodhary recommends setting limits and getting friends and family involved.
“Responsibility plays a big role in trying to bring about any kind of change,” she says. Try talking to a friend that you both want to cut back on social media, or tell a family member about your goals so they can check on you from time to time. Whatever the case, find a way to have someone help you stay on track, as breaking the habit alone can be difficult.”
In severe cases, you should also seek professional help from a doctor or psychotherapist.