Strolling down the street, grabbing lunch at a local deli, wandering through the airport, getting drinks with friends at a bar: it doesn’t matter where you go, people everywhere have their noses buried in cell phones. It’s almost an instinctive reaction to grab your smartphone and mindlessly tap and refresh apps you frequently use.
And we’ve all lived the horror that is forgetting your phone at home and feeling naked without it all day (although, surprisingly we seemed to survive without Instagram at our fingertips).
We depend on our phones for a lot, but when it comes to incessantly refreshing our social media feeds, when does it cross the line between a way to stay connected and engage in conversation and a full-blown addiction? Just how much is too much when it comes to social media? We posed this questions to the experts—a therapist, neuropsychologist, and psychologist specializing in social media addiction—to help us identify the signs of addiction and how to curb the often subconscious urge to open Facebook.
Know the Signs: Social Media Addiction
“You know social media is taking over your life when you feel worse after being on it, when you spend more time on it than planned, and when you forgo regular activities to continue browsing,” said Ada Pang, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“Skipped activities” can range from getting takeout instead of cooking like you’d planned, skipping the gym because time got the best of you, being perpetually late to work, missing a deadline or forgetting to attend an important event. Basically, if social media is interfering with your everyday life and goals, it’s become an addiction. Friends, family and romantic partners may also complain of over usage, which should never be taken lightly.
This addiction might become more apparent when you actually try to quit or cut back on your social media usage, said Pang. For example, she explained that you may feel a strong urge to hop back online, or you may feel distracted or unfocused during your “no social media” time. And once you’re finally back on social media, you may binge beyond your normal usage.
Another way to determine if you have an unhealthy relationship with your Facebook page is to pay attention to how you’re feeling physically and mentally when you’re not scrolling through a newsfeed, said Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University.
“When someone is [addicted to] social media, they may feel anxious and become irate or snippy if unable to access social media due to weak Wi-Fi, technical issues with their smartphone or computer, or if the social platform is acting up,” Hafeez explained. “Just as an alcoholic may experience tremors or headaches or even nausea if they don’t drink, someone with social media addiction may find themselves biting their nails, excessively tapping their foot, short tempered and pent up with anxiety. A physical change or change of personality is a sure sign [of addiction].”
She adds that another sign to watch for—and we see it often—is putting yourself in harm’s way just to use social media. For example, you may have your eyes glued to your phone while crossing the street, or you may be distracted by notifications while driving. If social media has taken a greater priority than your safety and well-being, it’s a sure sign the relationship is an unhealthy one.
Your 4-Step Detox Plan
If alot of this is resonating with you, and you’re feeling a little sheepish about your usage, know that you aren’t alone.
“Detoxing is difficult—just as it is hard to give up tobacco, caffeine, unhealthy foods, or other ‘vices,’” said Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the area of social media use and the negative impact it can have on our mental health and relationships. Despite the difficulty to quit, she said that it is completely possible to curb and control your usage by taking the following steps.
Step One: Ease yourself into a detox. “Begin with checking in every three hours for 10 minutes and set an alarm—or enlist a buddy who will text you to check in to make sure you aren’t on social media,” said Durvasula.
Step Two: Avoid using social media during working hours. Social media should be a treat or a way to shake off the day—just like a glass of wine or watching your favorite TV show, explained Durvasula. By not using social media during the day, you free up your mind to focus on other tasks. “If your work requires use of social media, then keep work separate from personal,” she advised. “You will start to see your day in two parts: work and yourself, and will use social media accordingly.”
Step Three: Make social media a “downtime activity.” Use it when you’re eating alone or relaxing after a long day, or when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. Reframe it in your mind so that it’s a form of entertainment versus a dominating aspect of your life.
Step Four: “Consider taking one day a week (at first) to go off of social media. Some friends and families have a no phones during dinner rule and others even have a phone-free weekend rule,” said Durvasula. “This allows people to remember what it feels like to be fully present, and soon they won’t even realize they have been off their phone and off social media for hours and hours.”
Additional Tactics to Resist the Urge to Scroll
- Take social media apps off some of your devices—especially your smartphone. Instead, only allow yourself to access social media from a tablet or computer.
- “Take vacations or a weekend away someplace where you cannot access it because there is bad signal,” suggested Hafeez.
- Don’t keep your phone near your bed or even in your bedroom, and refrain from using social media when you first wake up. In fact, Hafeez recommends keeping your phone off from an hour before bedtime to an hour after you wake up.
- “If it really is running your life, it may be time to shut down your accounts for a while,” said Hafeez. This may be difficult, but it may be the necessary step.
- Call or spend time with people in person, which can satiate your need for social interaction. Hafeez said that many people claim that going off social media makes them feel lonely, so substituting virtual interactions with in-person encounters can stave off the loneliness.