Through the development of technology and the continuous development and emergence of mobile devices such as mobile phones, desktop systems and tablets etc, social media has become part of everyday life for millions of people. Social media in all its forms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tinder etc – could even be accused of becoming the ‘cornerstone’ of modern communication and the ultimate means of staying in communication with friends, family, celebrity and the outside world in general.
Whilst social media has not been around for long, Joseph Rock PsyD says that ‘research is just emerging on how our behaviours surrounding social media could be measured against standards for being diagnosed with addiction’. He further quantifies this by saying ‘one of the pitfalls of social media is that, for some, it can produce feelings that keep people coming back for more’.
There is some good news; very few people are genuinely addicted to social media. It’s more likely to be habitual use that spills over into other areas of their lives that can cause other problems or even dangerous consequences such as checking social media whilst driving, checking your smart phone whilst taking part in a social activity, at work etc. In more severe cases, some snub social contact altogether and prefer to interact via social media platforms instead of in person.
It’s also worth being aware that if you’re in recovery from another addiction, such as drugs, alcohol or gambling, you may get the same ‘feel-good factor’ from the excessive use of social media. See Cross Addiction for more info.
Mark Griffiths and Daria Kuss are psychologists at Nottingham Trent University, UK and they specialise in the impact of technology and social media on cognitive and social behaviour.
They recommend in an article published in April 2018 that you ask yourself six simple questions:
- Do you spend a lot of time, when you’re not online, thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
- Do you feel urges to use social media more and more over time?
- Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?
- Do you often try to reduce your social use of social media, without success?
- Do you become restless or troubled if you are unable to use social media?
- Do you use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your job, relationships or studies?
If you answered YES to a few questions, you are probably just a habitual social media user who may benefit from a ‘digital detox’. However, if you answered YES to most or all of the questions, then you may have or be developing an addiction. Like any other addiction or psychological disorder/condition, the only way to confirm this is through a formal diagnosis from a qualified doctor.
Effects on your health and well-being
Social media is very appealing and very often in the palm of your hand! However, while it may provide positive reinforcement when other users ‘like, comment or share’ your posts, updates or photos, it also has a ‘dark side’ says Clinical Psychologist – Scott Bea, PsyD.
Therefore, it is important to understand ways in which social media can be detrimental to you:
- Feelings of diminished self-worth – on social media people tend to share only the best parts of their lives. Dr Scott Bea indicates that this gives others an unrealistic view of what life is really like. This can make vulnerable users feel that their life isn’t good enough. Over time this can lead to diminished self-worth
- Social media can cause anxiety – because of the ‘real time’ nature of social media, some users feel compelled to constantly check their favourite sites because they feel that they may be missing out which can lead to anxiety. ‘Checking behaviour is designed to reduce anxiety, but it actually ends up driving it’ says Dr Scott Bea. ‘People check-in to reassure themselves, but reassurance can be like a drug with a short half-life’
- Social media can make it harder to fall asleep – researchers at the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study where they found that a group of adults (aged 19 to 32) who used social media were three times more likely to have trouble falling to sleep. According to Dr Scott Bea, lack of sleep can cause many issues – errors of judgement, depression, anxiety and a diminished state of general health
- Social media can cause jealousy – social media posts can sometimes evoke feelings of jealousy or envy in others because they appear to have more fun or to have more. They don’t share their problems or bad news, so you don’t get a balanced view. This can lead to feelings that range from humiliation to rage and sometimes lead to feelings of low self-worth because you feel that you should have what they have.
- Social media can glamourise bad behaviour – The risk for bad behaviour enticed by social media is generally higher in the under 25’s, as the front part of the brain, responsible for decision-making, isn’t fully developed until after this age
Social media and cyberbullying – social media is probably wrongly judged as a safe place to promote a perfectly edited view of ourselves. However, on a darker note, it is a place where trolls and cyber bullies lurk and get their ‘kicks’. There is a particular problem amongst teenagers where a pattern of emotional and verbal abuse on social media has led some teenagers down a very dark and slippery road, leading to depression, self-harm and in some cases suicide. The consequences are dire for both the recipient and the perpetrator!
Take positive steps
If you are spending too much time on social media than you like, or you think it is leading to an unhealthy habit or addiction, there are positive steps that you can take to help yourself:
- Try only checking your social media accounts at certain times of the day
- Put a time limit on usage
- If you can’t limit your usage or the negative effects outweigh the positive effects, stop altogether or have a ‘digital detox’
- Arrange to meet family and friends in person instead of online
- If your habit has formed into an addiction, seek professional medical help and talk to your family and friends about your issues
‘Social Media is becoming the Opiate for the Masses’