by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 10th September, 2018
Social media has become a huge part of modern day living. In an age where everyone has a mobile phone in their pocket, it's incredibly easy to get wrapped up in a world of social media - but to what extent is it actually having an effect on us? Some researchers are beginning to call our extensive usage of social media an "epidemic" with still others labelling the majority of social media users as addicts.
While some of this might well be fearmongering, there is research to back up these claims. Research by the Cornell Information Science Program looked into how difficult it is for regular people to quit using social networks such as facebook, even when they express a want to quit. They found that 61% of facebook users feel like they have to check their facebook feed at least once a day. They found that the majority of participants struggled to give up social media to some extent and reverted back to using social media. Although this is not definitive evidence for social media addiction, these seemingly compulsive behaviors are worrying.
Signs Of Social Media Addiction
How can you tell if you're addicted to social media? It may not be as obvious as being addicted to a substance such as nicotine or sugar, but there are some signs you can look out for.
Ever found yourself just opening up any old social media app on your phone, just because you feel like you should, or you have to, or because you haven't in a while? This is known as compulsive checking, it's when we feel like we have to check social media, for no apparent reason.
Most of us can relate to the feeling of getting trapped into a particular social media platform, and completely losing focus, eventually snapping out of it only to realize that we've been scrolling for way longer than we thought, and may even have missed an important appointment or deadline. This is fairly natural, these apps are designed to make us do this, but if you find it happening often, it may be a sign.
More and more people are reporting that they feel like they can't go anywhere without their phone beside them, and that when they're phone breaks, or runs out of battery, they become bereft from the loss. We rely on our phones so much for entertainment (mostly through social media) that we can quickly start to develop a dependence on them, and forget how to entertain ourselves.
Aversion To Boredom:
Do you take your phone to the bathroom? If you do, you're one of many, as it's estimated that up to 75% of people regularly use their phone while in the bathroom. While not necessarily a sign of addiction, this habit can be a sign of a greater problem as more and more people report feeling like they can't do regular mundane tasks such as cooking, going to the bathroom, bathing or sitting in a waiting room without their phone there to entertain them.
Who Is Most Affected By Social Media?
While it might seem that the most logical response would be younger generations, who've grown up with smartphones, the truth is that anyone can be affected by social media dependency. New studies are showing that increasing rates of social media use and addiction are showing in older generations, although millennials and younger generations than that still show the highest rates of social media usage and are most at risk.
So what's being done about the problem? Well, the latest initiative that you can get on board with is known as scroll-free September, a campaign set up by the royal society for public healthy in order to get people to re-evaluate their usage of social media and restore balance to our lives. While the RSPH recognizes the positive influence that social media can have, it is now encouraging the public to reconsider their relationship with social media, to see if it can be changed and decide if it's having a true positive impact or not.
You don't have to stick just to September however, there are plenty of ways that you can help to improve your relationship to social media in your day-to-day life. Many people like to set designated times of the day to use social media, whilst others just like to have a few days a week, or just limit their social media usage to only their desktop.
Your Brain On Social Media
Social media can actually act a little like a drug in our brains - it stimulates a physical response by triggering the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters in our brain. There are two main chemicals in our brain that are associated with social media addiction, dopamine and oxytocin.
Dopamine is a key chemical that is highly associated with addiction, it causes want and it's the reason we feel so good after taking many addictive substances. Studies have shown that social media usage also causes a release of dopamine in the brain, creating a feedback loop and training us to want social media more.
The second important chemical is oxytocin, also known as the love hormone because it's released when you hug or kiss someone you love. It's the chemical that helps us to fall in love, and creates a bond between parent and child. Studies have shown that your oxytocin levels can rise up to 13% when using social media which is pretty impressive, but it also trains us to have a slightly unhealthy relationship with our social media. After all, it's great to form a strong loving connection to your child or partner, but not so needed when it comes to your Instagram feed.
If you've ever taken a graphic design course, you'll know how powerful the usage of color can actually be. Color plays an important role in how our brains respond to social media, and can actually help to curb a social media addiction. We're often not aware of it, but subconsciously our brain is always reacting to color patterns that we see around us. This is now being used somewhat deviantly by marketers and app developers to try and influence us to buy their product, or stay on their app. Social media apps like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have got this down to a science, and it's now just one of the many ways used to keep people scrolling.
Speaking of scrolling, the implementation of the endless scroll feature on social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and Twitter has also been shown to contribute to social media addiction. If you've ever found yourself in a hole with your thumb tiring from how much scrolling you've been doing, you'll know exactly what psychologists are talking about. The endless scroll feature functions to make you feel like there's no end, and that you have to keep scrolling, because there's never a barrier to remind you to stop. We end up scrolling for hours on end without even realizing it, because it all just feels like one page.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and there's no place like social media to encourage rampant comparison. The popularity based system of most social media websites makes it so that we are constantly comparing ourselves not only with the images of other people, but their analytics too. We see our friends sitting on a beach without us, pulling in hundreds of likes and we instantly feel a little worse about ourselves. It's only natural, but it can lead to damaging effects on self-esteem, especially in young children.
Ask anyone who's given up social media what they've gotten most out of it and they'll probably say time. The average daily amount of time spent on social media by teenagers in the US is a whopping nine hours a day. Imagine how much more stuff you could get done if you had an extra nine hours in your day!
Better Self Esteem
It's well known that social media platforms can have a negative impact on self-esteem. The constant comparison and competition makes an easy environment for negative self-talk and depression to grow. Luckily, it doesn't have to last forever - by cutting of social media, many people find that their self esteem grows and their mental health improves. Of course, it's unlikely that cutting of social media will solve all of your problems, but it might help.
New research is consistently suggesting that our attachment to social media is affecting our sleep. The journal of adolescence found that social media usage is associated with poor sleep quality and the most obvious cause is that so many of us go to bed with our phones in hand, and spend a good amount of time scrolling before we go to sleep. This not only keeps our brains active and awake, but exposes us to blue light - which can disrupt our natural sleeping patterns. Putting social media away before bed (many experts suggest that two hours before you plan to sleep is a good time) can help to improve not only how quickly and easily you get to sleep, but also the quality of the sleep itself.
Sometimes work is just boring, and it's easy to get distracted by the far more interesting and exciting realms of the online world. This could be having a negative impact on your work life and productivity. If you're one of the many people who find themselves struggling to stay focused on their work for extended periods of time, or who constantly get distracted even when the work they are doing is something they are heavily invested in, giving up social media could be the key to unlocking your potential. Not only is social media very distracting, but it can keep us in a distracted state, so even if it seems fine to check your phone every once in a while during your coffee break, that can actually have a knock-on effect on the rest of your work day.
Social media is pretty addictive to most people, and if you're one of the many looking to curb that addiction, it can seem pretty daunting to just give it up cold-turkey. The good news is, there's plenty of steps you can take to make the adjustment easier.
Enlist Your Friends And Family
It might be a little surprising to your friends and family to hear that you are giving up social media, especially if it's one of the main ways that you stay in contact with each other. Enlisting their support is vital however, not only because they will be able to help keep you on track – but also because it will prevent any awkward "why are you ignoring me" situations. If you use social media to stay in touch with certain people, let them know that you'll be taking a break and switch to a different platform to stay in touch.
Delete And Purge
If you're committed to going completely cold-turkey (and you don't have to be to begin with) then deleting all your social media apps is the way to go. Sure, you can re-download them, but having them gone from your home screen can help to remind you of why you deleted them in the first place, and make it far harder for you to rely on them when bored.
If you're struggling with keeping social media apps off your phone and find yourself re-downloading them often, try going grayscale. As mentioned, color plays an important role in how we become so attached to our phones and online lives. When we remove that color, it's often a lot easier to not get sucked in. It's pretty simple to turn your phone to grayscale on an iPhone, simply go to settings > general > display accommodations > color filters> grayscale. Okay, maybe not so simple, but worth it nonetheless.
An easy pitfall for anyone trying to give up social media to fall into is forgetting to limit their social media usage on their laptops. On a desktop it is that much harder to stay away from social media because there is no app to delete, and we're often constantly being bombarded with notifications. If we work on our computers, it's far easier to get distracted by an open tab than a phone in the bottom of a bag. This is where extensions like Work Mode and WasteNoTime come in. These chrome extensions are designed to stop you from visiting distracting webpages such as Facebook or twitter, and while it can be slightly annoying at first, they do come in handy if you're struggling to stay away.
Ultimately, it's up to you to evaluate and judge your relationship with social media. Whether this inspires you to give up social media altogether, or simply limit your consumption is totally up to you, and there's no one right answer. Social media can be a force for good and influence our lives in many positive ways, but it's all about finding balance in your own life, to see where (or if) social media fits into it.