The other night my friend Cindy was out to dinner with a guy and by dates end she took to our girly group chat to divulge details of the evening. Unfortunately, Cindy's date went with complication; Her date was obsessed with compulsively checking his phone. As soon as her date would put his cell phone away, he would check his Apple Watch, and then pull out his phone and then put it away and then look at his watch and on and on. We have since and most fittingly named him Apple Watch Man.
But seriously, I am sure you all can relate - whether you are Cindy in this story or Apple Watch Man who can’t be away from the internet for even a second. Have you ever taken a moment to look around and realize that everyone is on their phone?
A lot of the compulsion to check our phones so frequently stems from social networks and social media apps that have stolen our attention and deemed us addicts. What is worrying is social media only provides for a, “false sense of connection - studies have shown that excessive smartphone use has a negative impact on our mental health. Although we may be craving social connection, research shows that the opposite actually happens, and that the more social media platforms we engage with the more stressed out we become. ‘We’ve become so dependent on our smartphones to fulfill our need for connection that we are missing out on many opportunities to connect with people in real life", explains therapist Nathalie C. Theodore. "This leads to an overall sense of loneliness’” (Mind Body Green).
The good news is, it is possible to break the reliance we have for phones and social media.
It Feels Good To Post Online
In a study out of Harvard that sought to wrestle, “with the theoretical question of why people are compelled to share everything about themselves and their lives on mediums like Foursquare, Instagram, and Pinterest, [it was revealed] through a series of experiments...that the act of disclosing information about oneself activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the sensation of pleasure, the same pleasure that we get from eating food, getting money or having even having sex. While sharing a status update may not give us the same amount of sensational pleasure as that of sexual intercourse, the science shown in this study makes it clear that our brain considers self-disclosure to be a rewarding experience nonetheless” (WTWH Media). In other words the study confirmed that being active and participating in social media networks effects dopamine systems in the brain; it feels good to post online.
Is Being Addicted to Social Networks Actually a Thing?
Social media sites can have a highly negative effect on mental health. In fact, “Facebook has recently posted warnings about the psychological dangers of “passive scrolling” - passive scrolling has been found to increase negative moods, [where] reducing usage might contribute to clinical improvement” (J Watch).
According to a January 2018 study from the New England Journal of Medicine, the World Health Organization has begun recognizing “online technology induced or technology facilitated mental health disorders, as types of mental illness with those affected developing ‘strong needs to stay online’ (J Watch). Online disorders such as Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD), have been associated with, “anxiety, depression, stress symptoms, and narcissism, [and they] align with addiction disorder characteristics that include salience (pervasive preoccupation), tolerance (increasing time spent in the activity), mood modification, withdrawal symptoms, relapse, and interpersonal conflict resulting from excessive use” (J Watch) .
Addiction is a mighty strong word. You can also just have a problem with spending too much time online. Social media and Facebook addiction are described as, “spending so much time on Facebook that it interferes with the rest of your life” (Life Wire).
Signs of an Addiction and Why We Get Addicted?
In order to fully understand this compulsion to stay online, it is important to understand what addiction is and more specifically what behavioral addiction is; “A behavioral addiction is present when a person is spending an unhealthy amount of time and effort on a specific topic, task, or interactive platform” (The Fix).
Researcher and author Dr. Lawrence Wilson best explains the signs of an addiction. They include:
1. The habit or behavior causes some kind of pleasurable sensation.
2. In reality the habit is weakening the person in some way, because one begins to need more of the habit to get the same effect.
3. Symptoms of suffering or withdrawal occur when the habit is stopped. As a result, stopping the habit is not so easy, and often unsuccessful.
4. The behavior or habit conflicts with everyday responsibilities, such as family, work or social obligations.
5. Often one will begin to lie, steal or exhibit other negative behaviors, if needed, to maintain the habit or behavior. This indicates that the habit or behavior now controls the person’s life, and not the other way around.
How Do I Know If I Am Addicted to Social Media?
Explore the below signs that you may want to consider curtailing your usage of online outlets. Also noted are suggestions on how to cut back:
(The below curated list is courtesy of Dr. Lawrence Wilson)
1. You Spend More than an Hour on Social Media Sites A Day
Often times we are not aware of just how much time we spend on certain social media networks. Becoming more aware can help lead you to lessen your time online.
THE CURE: To get a sense of how much time you are spending on certain apps, go to your phone settings → battery→ make sure your battery percentage is on, this screen shows you how much time per 24 hours you spend on certain apps. Apps like Mute, Space and Moment also let you know how long you have been on your phone.
2. Checking Facebook, Instagram, etc Whenever You Can
THE CURE: I found a handy trick for this is logging out of all of these sites or even deleting certain apps. Because it is often out of habit that we flip to an app or website; Hitting the landing or login page will help you realize the frequency to which you wish to logon and will at least give you a second to realize and question your behavior.
3. Hearing From Others You Are On Your Phone Too Much
THE CURE: Listen
4. Oversharing; “This is Sometimes Called the Need for Social Affirmation”
For the sake of approval and acknowledgment you share every single aspect of your day to day life, including private moments.
THE CURE: Leave your phone at home sometimes. I have decided to start leaving my phone at home when I go grocery shopping sometimes. If that is too much at least when you are out to dinner with friends leave your phone in your purse or out of sight.
5. Being Online Becomes a Disturbance at Work, School and in Your Social Life
“Some studies report that too much time on the social media can reduce work performance and even lead to job loss. Some people also become more comfortable with the often superficial banter on the social networking sites than they are with real face-to-face social relationships. One can become over-reliant on Facebook to fulfill social needs, and one may start sacrificing real-life socializing”.
THE CURE: Do not leave your phone in sight on your work desk and as mentioned above do not leave it out when out to dinner with friends. The key is that it must be out of sight.
6. Too Much Time Spent on Crafting Captions and Photos
“Some people spend much time deciding what to post, how to update their page, or how to answer “friends” on Facebook. Often, they try to think of happy, clever and fun ideas or statements, even if this is not the way they really feel. However, they do not want friends to know how they really feel, as they might not continue as friends if they knew.
Another example is spending more than fifteen minutes thinking about what you ought to type for your status update. Afterwards, do you eagerly anticipate how others will respond to it?”
THE CURE: Segment a time of the week to curate posts, captions and responses to friends and followers. Responses and posts do not have to be immediate and batching out a period of time to fulfill online responsibilities will leave the rest of your days free to interact in real life and get work done.
7. Not Getting Sleep
“It is bad enough if your social networking interferes with your daily work and studies. However, it is really out of hand if you stay up late at night to check Facebook, for example, or must wake up early to check it in the morning. Staying up late is one characteristic of those who overuse social networking sites, according to some studies.”
THE CURE: Buy an alarm clock and sleep with your phone outside of your bedroom.
Fear of Falling Behind
My advice comes straight from a panel I heard at Soho House, and most specifically from Jess Davis - former social media addict and advocate from real life experiences!
If lessening your time online spurs fear that you will become less informed or more meagerly relevant online, or if you own a brand or business that highly depends on having an online presence, my tip for you is planning and batching.
Plan your content and captions ahead of time even with a pen, paper, real life mood board and calendar. Batching involves allowing yourself to be on social media sites at only certain times of day and for only a small period of time. Davis in her talk revealed that she goes as far as noting the times of days she checks emails in her email signature.
What about staying informed? Well, there are these things called newspapers and they can be delivered straight to your house!
I have certainly taken steps to be online less often and personally I must admit, i am feeling less anxious and my moods are more even tempered.
Have you ever done a social media cleanse or decided to cut back?