Are you hooked on social media?

Social media sites are not your friend. They want to hook you and they want you to stay hooked. They use every psychological trick they can to make you think you have control when you really don’t.

Our “always on” culture is toxic. We are hyper-focused on doing instead of being. We feed into the delusion that if we’re “always on” we must be accomplishing something. That’s a serious falsehood.

Why we do it is simple. Healthy = Connection. Unhealthy = Dopamine.

Healthy usage keeps you informed and allows you to share. This is a good thing.

However, a hit of social media affects the brain like a hit of drugs or alcohol. It engages the reward system of your brain and releases dopamine, which gives you pleasure. When that pleasure wears off you need another hit. Is social media your drug of choice?

It’s also known as the “slot machine effect.” Picture a person sitting at a slot machine, mindlessly feeding coins into it for hours on end believing that the next pull will pay off. Picture the same person doing the same thing on social media. How much does social media interfere with your life?

Here are some signs you might have a problem.

  • You log in very often, wasting time with unproductive browsing. If you check social media first thing in the morning, multiple times during the day and at bedtime you’re dependent on it.
  • You constantly check your notifications and update your status. This is a compulsive behavior that indicates a deep need for attention. You won’t fulfill that need by doing this.
  • Social media functions as an escape from the real world. If there’s too much stress in your real life, the virtual world can seem like a refuge. That’s a delusion.
  • You get agitated if you can’t access social media. If being off it makes you anxious, that’s a good sign of a problem.
  • You plan your social media posts in advance. If you go places just to take selfies and do things just to post them on social media, it’s a red flag.
  • You get upset when your posts online aren’t appreciated. Not enough likes? Not enough views? No comments from your friends? If any of these upset you, you’re relying too much on these things for support.
  • You substitute social media for in person connections. It’s certainly easier to connect with people through social media. It’s also superficial and misleading. Our brains are hard wired for meaningful, in person connections with people. Without that you will feel disconnected.

The consequences are sneaky.

There is a lot of research showing how detrimental excessive social media is. A lot of the research comes from the social media companies themselves. But they don’t care about you. They just care about keeping you hooked.

Over time you may develop feelings of depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, lower self-worth, isolation, rejection, and lack of connection. These things happen slowly so you don’t notice from one day to the next. Eventually, you will feel worse and you’ll wonder why.

Here are some suggestions for a digital detox.

  • Use a wristwatch instead of your phone to keep track of time. You can leave your phone home or in the car.
  • Purge people and apps that don’t give you a direct benefit.
  • Set hard boundaries. Ten minutes at a time then off.
  • Turn off notifications. Constant pings trigger the reward system in the brain. It’s difficult for you to resist that, even when you’re in the middle of something important.
  • Establish “no use zones.” Not in the car. Not with friends. Not with family.
  • Make incremental changes. Reduce time gradually. Set a one-month goal with weekly sub goals.

Take a good hard look at how using social media makes you feel. It should make you feel positive and connected. If it doesn’t, you should rethink your purpose in using it.

To Behavioral Addiction Counseling