In the early days of social media, checking in on your friends and loved ones through social platforms required you

In the early days of social media, checking in on your friends and loved ones through social platforms required you to physically log on to a computer. With only a few platforms available, it was easy to limit the use of social media, using it to stay connected and update others on your personal and professional life, then logging off and stepping away without much of a second thought.

Today, social media use looks much different than it did just a few decades ago. Thanks to evolving technology, we can now access our social media accounts from anywhere. And with so many social media sites and platforms to subscribe to, we’re spending more time than ever inside our mental pod, something akin to The Matrix.

The result? An estimated 210 million people in the U.S. are suffering from social media addiction. However, many experts speculate that this number has increased exponentially since COVID-19. Social media became the obvious answer for how to stay connected when cut off from friends and loved ones. But spending too much time on social media has proven to have negative benefits when it comes to our mental health as a result.

In this article, we’ll explore the signs of social media addiction, how to tell if you’re addicted to social media and steps to take in order to limit social media use, and use social media in a healthy way.  

What is social media addiction?

According to addictioncenter.com, social media addiction falls under the category of behavioral addictions. Behavioral addictions form when a person becomes reliant on repeated behaviors that feel good. Similar to an addiction to gambling, social media addiction activates our brain in a similar way. When we create a social media post that garners a lot of likes and shares, it triggers the reward center of our brains – the same one that activates when we consume an addictive substance, such as cocaine. 

Why does social media activate our brains in this manner? Talking about ourselves feels good – something that social media allows users to do in excess. And with social media so easily accessible to us, relying on a quick dopamine hit through likes and shares on a social media post becomes easily addicting. Those who suffer from narcissism, a toxic personality trait, may find social media appealing or easily addicting given the opportunity to inflate one’s self importance through social media use. 

When taking a closer look at how social media platforms make money, it becomes easy to see how they’re built to encourage a social media addiction. The longer social media users stay logged on to a social media app, the more likely they are to see advertising and in turn, more likely to make a purchase. Basically, it pays for social media platforms to encourage social media users to stay on for longer – social media addiction actually benefits their business model.

People who struggle with in person social anxiety can also be at higher risk for developing a social media addiction. Initially, social media may seem like a great solution for fostering connections when you suffer from social anxiety in person, since online communities on social media platforms offer a way to socialize without having to be physically present. However, due to the addictive nature of social media, it’s easy for these online relationships to start taking precedence over not only the in person relationships we value in our lives, but over our professional responsibilities as well. 

The negative effects of social media addiction

How would you feel if you were unable to check your social media? What’s the longest that you’ve gone without logging on to your social media accounts? If the idea of being away from social media gives you anxiety, you’re in good company. Excessive social media use has been correlated with higher rates of anxiety as well as depression, loneliness, and even self harm and suicide. 

Are you concerned that you may have a social media addiction? Here are a few other signs you may have be addicted to social media. 

Checking social media takes priority over personal relationships: You’re out spending time with friends or family in person, but you can’t seem to resist the urge to check social media. If you’re paying more attention to your social media interactions than you are to the friends and family you’re with in person, this can be a sign of a social media addiction.

Negative effects on your mental health: If feelings of anger or anxiety creep up when you’re away from social media networks for an extended period of time – or when you’re unable to check in due to connectivity issues or other circumstances, this can be an indicator that you’re addicted to social media. People who experience these feelings may have a difficult time understanding why they’re feeling this way – but being able to identify these feelings and correlate them to the period of time where you’re logged off of social media can be the first step in breaking a social media addiction. 

Spending more time online than with people: If you’re spending more time in the virtual world on your social media accounts, this can be an indicator that you may have a social media addiction. If the connections you’re building virtually hold more weight than your in person relationships, to the point where your relationships are suffering at the expense of you spending most of your time on social media, it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship with social media.

Lack of interest in hobbies: Take a moment to evaluate the hobbies and interests you have outside of social media. If you’re finding that you no longer spend time doing things that once interested you, or have no other interests or hobbies that don’t involve social media, this can signify a potential social media addiction.  

Negative impact on your professional life: Is work suffering because of your social media use? Are you constantly finding yourself pulled away from work to check your social media accounts? Do you spend so much time on social media during the work day that you’re falling behind on your tasks? Has your manager or coworkers made comments regarding your work performance? If your social media use has started to impact your work performance, this can be a sign of a social media addiction.

Feeling depressed or stressed out about where your life currently is: Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Social media allows us all to carefully curate the version of our lives we portray to those who follow us on social media accounts. The more time we spend on social media looking at how other’s lives have progressed, the more likely it becomes that we’ll compare our lives to the people we follow — and can start to feel depressed or stressed out about our lives not living up to the excitement of others on social media.

Tips to curb your social media addiction

As with any addiction, quitting social media cold turkey will likely have adverse effects on your overall mental health and well being. It’s important to wean yourself off social media slowly, focusing on changes to your overall patterns and behaviors that feel manageable and not overwhelming. Doing so will help you combat social media addiction more effectively in the long run, and will help with beating social media addiction for good. Here are a few key steps to consider when dealing with a social media addiction.

Audit your excessive social media use

In order to determine how to proceed with weaning yourself off of social media and curbing your social media addiction, you need to know where you’re starting from. Spend a few days logging how much time you’re spending on each social media platform. How often are you posting and creating new content on your social media accounts? How long do you spend scrolling through other people’s social media posts? How many likes or comments are you giving out on social media regularly? Consider using time tracking apps that can help paint an accurate picture of how long you’re spending on each social media platform. With the annual average of time spent on social media clocking in at around 1,300 hours per year according to a recent survey, seeing the amount of time you’re dedicating to social media laid out in front of you can help you understand the best next steps to take in order to curb your social media addiction. 

Turn off your notifications

When your phone is constantly pinging alerting you of new likes and activity on your social media accounts, it can be tough to ignore. This also puts the control of how often you’re checking social media back into your hands. Rather than being reactive and picking your phone up any time there’s activity, turning off social media notifications gives you the power to determine when is best for you to check in on your social media accounts. This can also help you start to be more present when in person with friends and family. Instead of having to react to social media notifications, you can check in on your social media accounts before or after your in person plans.

Set social media parameters

Who are the most important people you follow on social media? Instead of allowing the social media algorithm to dictate what posts you see first, check the settings on your social media accounts to see whether or not you’re able to create “close friends” groups. Certain social media accounts enable users to choose what they see first and from whom, which can help you log on and log off more efficiently. 

Put your phone away during work hours

If your social media addiction is interfering with your professional performance at work, keeping your phone in either another room or in a drawer at your desk can help eliminate the temptation to check your social media accounts frequently during the day. 

Consider deleting social media apps

Stick with me here. While it may sound extreme to delete social media apps off your phone, allowing yourself access to your social media accounts only during times when you’re in front of a computer can help curb your social media use, and can be an effective way to cut back on the time you’re spending on social media. 

Keep electronics out of your bedroom

addicted to social media
(Adam Hester / Getty)

This is good advice regardless of whether or not you’re trying to curb your social media addiction, since blue light from electronic screens can suppress melatonin, the hormone our body makes in order to put us to sleep. Keep your phone, laptop and tablet in a separate room where you sleep. This will help improve any sleep issues you may be having as a result of social media addiction, and can help you get better sleep overall.

Start a new hobby (or pick up an old one)

If all of your time as of late has been spent on social media, engaging in a new hobby or activity on a regular basis can help keep your mind focused on the task at hand, and away from your social media accounts. Consider social hobbies — maybe there’s a local sports league looking for new players, or a volunteer group in need of an extra set of hands. Participating in a hands-on hobby will help keep your hands busy with something else other than swiping through and liking social media posts. 

Make plans with friends and family

Make it a point to schedule in person time with friends and family during the week. Whenever you spend time with your social network in person, challenge yourself to turn off your phone or keep it on silent, so that you’re not tempted to check social media while you’re with them in person. When you’re doing something fun with others, it can be tempting to want to post about it on social media in real time. Instead, ask the friends or family members you’re with to take photos, then have them send the photos to you after you part ways. This will allow you to be present in the moment — something that can go a long way in healing a social media addiction. 

Getting mental health help for excessive social media use

Not everyone is able to beat social media addiction on their own. If these tips for beating social media addiction are hard to do, or you find yourself consistently failing at limiting your use of social media sites, working with a mental health professional may be the necessary next step. Here are a few options to consider if you need help limiting your social media use. 

Talk therapy

This style of therapy is a type of psychotherapy where mental health professionals work with patients to help them see the negative effects of their continued behavior on social media. You may be aware of the negative effects social media use is having at a high level, but drilling down and taking a look at just how severe of a negative mental health impact this is having on you — from someone giving an outside, professional perspective — can go a long way in helping people with social media addiction start to amend their behaviors. 

Coping mechanisms

Your mental health professional may recommend certain ways to curb the anxiety you feel while trying to spend less time on social media. Coping mechanisms can include ways to destress, such as yoga and meditation, or may incorporate a variety of different therapy methods during the course of treatment. If you’ve been suffering from depression and/or anxiety as a result of your social media addiction, your mental health professional may treat these symptoms leveraging different methods as well.

Family therapy 

If your social media addiction is having a negative impact on your relationship with your family, a group therapy session with the members of your household may help everyone understand your social media addiction and how to best support you. On the flipside, hearing your loved ones express concern over how your social media addiction has impacted them as well can be a powerful motivator for change.

In conclusion

Social media addiction is a real, prevalent addiction that can be hard to overcome. What may have started for you as a way to stay connected to friends and family members, to meet new people or just as a form of entertainment can quickly and easily become an addiction — one that can be damaging to not only your mental health, but to the important relationships that you have with others.

If you think you may have a social media addiction, the first step is to take a hard, honest look at how much time you’re spending on social media, and how your social media use is impacting your life personally and professionally. From there, take steps to start limiting your social media use and check in with yourself regularly throughout the process to track your progress.

If you’re still struggling with social media addiction, know that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to go through it alone, either. Find a mental health professional who has experience treating behavioral addictions that can work closely with you one-on-one to determine the best course of treatment. 

Beating social media addiction will not happen overnight. As with breaking any addiction, it’s a process that can include both wins and setbacks. Don’t get discouraged if after a few weeks of progress, you find yourself slipping back into old habits on social media. Do your best to take setbacks in stride, and pay extra attention to the negative effects these setbacks have when you do. This type of reflection can go a long way in making positive progress in the future. You can do this!