In fact, recent estimates suggest that 10% of Americans are already exhibiting symptoms of social media addiction. On top of this, almost half of the 18-34-year-olds from the 2017 Stress in America survey by The American Psychological Association said their social media feeds made them feel unattractive.
As more parts of the world gain access to social media, these figures will only increase.
Are you addicted to social media - what are the signs?
Social media addiction looks very similar to most other behavioural addictions. A recent study published by Harvard University has discovered that posting to social media platforms activates the same part of the brain activated when consuming addictive substances like cocaine.
A crucial first step to identifying if you are addicted to social media is to track the time you spend using social media platforms. There are many time tracking applications out there, but we’ve had great success with Rescue Time. It’s one of the few apps that provide comprehensive tracking for all your app and website usage across all your devices. Once you have a time tracking app installed, you can then quickly identify if the below symptoms apply to you.
Some of the biggest identifiers of social media addiction are:
- Drastic changes to mood after spending time on social media platforms
- Preoccupation with social media and lack of focus on other important tasks
- Gradual or rapid increase in social media usage over time
- Withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and unhappiness when not using social media
- Impacts to relationships with other people
- Constant relapses when trying to abstain from social media usage
The 7 easy ways to stop your social media addiction
1. Change your phone colour to black and white
Social media platforms have spent significant amounts of money researching how to keep users engaged on their platforms for as long as possible. By taking inspiration from casinos and gambling websites, platforms like Facebook and Instagram have tested the impact of showing posts with certain colours to specific users. These tests have shown that users are more likely to remain engaged with the platform through colourful, high contrast posts.
As colourful, high contracts pictures lead to more engagement, social media influencers use more images of this type. This creates a dangerous cycle of users posting things with a specific profile of colours, which lead to more engagement and then even more users posting these types of images in search of this engagement.
You can easily change the display settings on your phone or computer to use greyscale. By making this change, social media platforms become boring. Your social feeds will just feature grey, dark images. It’s a simple trick, but scientific research has proved that it can reduce addiction to social media. Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, who has founded the Center for Humane Technology, confirmed that going grayscale dampens our urge to keep revisiting social media feeds.
2. Install a blocker app
One of the best ways to get rid of any addiction is to remove or limit your access. With social media, this is easy to do. Using a simple blocker app, you can restrict access to social media at certain times. When you try to access social media, a pop-up will appear, letting you know that you cannot access the platform.
The healthiest way to do this would be to start small – limit your social media usage to just 1 hour per day. Over time, you can reduce this even further and eventually, you will be able to overcome this addiction completely. Given that most users access social media on both phones and computers, it’s essential to use an application that’s available on all of these platforms. One of the best applications we’ve used so far is FocusMe. It’s straightforward to use and strict about the limits that you set yourself.
3. Try a digital detox
Digital detoxes are becoming increasingly popular. During a detox, you stop using all digital services (e.g. social media, streaming, online news) for a set period. A strict detox can ‘reset’ your brain to be less reliant on these services, and people who partake in detoxes claim to notice significant benefits.
In many instances, participants in detoxes have managed to remove social media from their lives altogether. These participants suggest that you strictly follow a detox for at least 30 days. After 30 days, your brain can start to rewire the neural pathways created from excessive social media use.
4. Keep your phone away from your bed
One of the most common times to use social media is just before sleep or immediately after waking up. Many social media addicts have insomnia due to their brains being unnaturally stimulated by social media just before they fall asleep. It would be best if you avoid this at all costs. One of the easiest ways is to keep your phone as far away from your bed as possible.
A simple method to do this would be to move your phone charged to another room. If you use your phone to set alarms, this has the added benefit of making you get out of bed to turn it off.
5. Turn off notifications
In 2018, a handful of concerned human behaviour experts stated that social media companies have started to employ a technique called ‘variable rewards scheduling’. Slot machine designers use this technique to keep gamblers playing slots, and now it is being used by social media companies to keep users engaged.
They do this by algorithmically timing notifications delivered to a user to generate shots of dopamine in the user’s brain. Sometimes there’ll be a notification highlighting something that’s not important to you. This when later be followed by something that gives you an intense dopamine boost, like a friend liking one of your posts. By varying this reward, the intensity of your dopamine boost is far more significant. This is more than enough to create a cycle of addiction.
Turning off your notifications can prevent this. You will be less compelled to look at your phone, and you won’t feel the intense dopamine hits from the variable reward system. In most phones today, you can restrict notifications for specific apps. This way, you can stop receiving notifications from social media apps but still receive notifications for any other important apps you may need.
6. Restrict the number of accounts you follow
Use your social media only to follow a handful of your closest friends or businesses. If you can limit the number of people you follow, there’s less chance of you seeing new posts when you visit your feed. By seeing fewer new and novel posts, your brain is stimulated less by your social media feed.
Be mindful of any new accounts you decide to follow. Only follow accounts that you are genuinely interested in following, and try and stick to a limit. We suggest you only follow 50 accounts. If you want to follow more accounts at any time, you have to remove accounts you previously followed. Therefore, at any one time, you will only be following 50 people.
7. Delete your unused social media accounts
In many cases, a social media user is not exclusively attached to one platform. You may have numerous social media accounts across several platforms. An easy and necessary step is to consolidate these accounts and only use 2 to 3 main accounts.
Both Facebook and Instagram have invested heavily in technology to reengage users who are not fully engaged on their platforms. If you do not visit Facebook for a few days, you will receive a carefully curated string of emails and notifications to make you come back. Once you log in to these accounts again, you become re-engaged, and it will be difficult to stop using these accounts again.
Every interaction you make on social media is carefully curated and examined to maximise the amount of time you spend on social media. All social media platforms make money from advertising, and they have a substantial financial incentive to get more people to spend more time on their platforms.
These tech companies spend millions of dollars and hire thousands of employees to make even more people use their social media platforms. The more people that are addicted to social media, the more money these giant tech companies make.
Given that these companies do not have your best interest at heart, you need to manage your own mental health. If you follow the steps above, you will notice significant improvements in your health and well-being. It’s time to take control.