With more people taking to social media, addiction to it is also on the increase. But why is social media so addictive and how does it harm us? The blog answers all these questions and more.
Social media addiction is a behavioural condition wherein a person is concerned about social media to such an extent that other important aspects of life are ignored. These people experience an uncontrollable urge to just check or to use social media.
The use of social media is increasing significantly with everyone from children to middle-aged adults latching on to it. People use social media for different reasons – to stay connected to friends and family, watch videos or just to while away time. However, what we all need to realize is that social media has certain effects on our brain which may lead to its compulsive usage.
Almost all of us use social media and have no problems restricting its use. But for a small percentage of people, use of social media becomes addictive and with more people taking to social media, it is expected that social media addiction too will rise in the future. Hence, healthcare leaders and public need to work together to overcome this issue.
Social Media and the Brain
So, why is social media addictive?
- When we use social media, dopamine production increases.
- Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of happiness.
- Hence, when we experience a dopamine rush after social media usage, our brain associates the usage with happiness and prompts us to use it again.
- When we make a post for which we get many likes or shares, the temptation to keep making more such posts is increased further.
- However, these feelings of happiness are transient (as they are with any addiction) and people keep going back to it for more.
The Ill-Effects of Social Media Addiction
When people use social media as a mechanism to cope with anxiety, loneliness, depression or other mental health conditions, the situation is aggravated further. These people are dependent on social media for giving them the happiness they do not get to experience in real life. As a result, they use social media more and this in turn leads to a number of issues:
- Often, people compare their lives to others’ lives based on the pictures and videos posted on social media. This may lead to low self-esteem and a feeling that others are more successful or happier than them.
- Social media can cause people to isolate themselves from the real word further increasing feelings of loneliness and affecting real world relationships.
- Anxiety and depression can result from over usage of social media.
- Sleep is affected when people check social media right before bedtime.
- Physical activity is reduced and overall health can suffer.
- School and work performance can suffer.
- FOMO, or the fear or missing out, is quite high among people addicted to social media as they believe that if they miss out on an event or a party, they will be forgotten. Hence, they compulsively check their accounts to make sure they do not miss anything.
Detecting Social Media Addiction
You can recognize social media addiction by asking yourself some simple questions.
- When not using social media, do you spend a lot of time thinking about it or what to post on it?
- Do you use social media to escape from the real world and its problems?
- Have you tried to curb social media engagement but without success?
- Does refraining from social media use anger or irritate you?
- Is social media usage negatively affecting your academic or job performance?
An affirmative answer to 3 or more than 3 of the above questions indicates social media addiction. There are some simple things you can try that will help reduce social media dependency.
- Try a period of digital detox. A digital detox means consciously making an effort to stay off social media.
- For this, you can try staying away from your phone and laptop. Try switching off phone notifications so that the temptation to check social sites does not creep in.
- Tell yourself that you will check social media only once in a few hours.
- Stay off social media during meal times and before your night sleep time. Try keeping your phone in another room so that it does not interfere with sleep.
- All these efforts will help you find yourself again and will also improve your real-world relationships.
Children and Social Media
- Studies have found that children who use social media for 3 hours or more a day are the worst affected.
- This is because children are still developing their social skills and social media addiction prevents them from developing these skills.
- While many may think that even in social media platforms, interaction does take place, it has been shown that these interactions do not translate to real world social skills development.
- As a result, when they do have to interact face to face with others, these children have social anxiety.
- Many of them also have no empathy for their peers and suffer from a negative body image.
Adolescents and Social Media
- Adolescents are more likely to be affected by pictures of their contemporaries looking perfect.
- Even though they know that only the best filtered pictures are posted, they still cannot help feeling this way.
- As a result, eating disorders and low self-esteem is widespread among this age group.
- Constant exposure to impractical beauty standards can lead to a negative body image.
- Studies show that adolescents who spend more time on social media have double the chance of developing eating disorders and body image issues.
- The need to get likes can lead to adolescents indulging in risky behaviour.
- Cyberbullying is another negative aspect of social media that seems to affect girls more than boys.
- All these factors together lead to an increase in anxiety among teens.
Social Media Addiction Is Treatable
Many people who have suffered from social media addiction have overcome it successfully. You can start by cutting down on usage and reflecting on the ways by which social media has proven harmful to you.
An important thing to remember is that you are not alone. If you are not able to overcome social media addiction through your own efforts, professional help is always available. With a little time and effort, a healthy relationship with social media is possible.