Are you addicted to social media?

2019-08-20 15:00
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IT seems to be modern-day life’s greatest challenge: resisting social media.

Social media allows you to connect with people you admire, find a tribe of people who share your interests, keep up-to-date with news and advances in the world, keep abreast of your interests and spy on your colleagues.

But how good is it for you really?

It doesn’t take a learned person to see that social media has become one of today’s greatest addictions: pick up your head and scan the room you’re in right now and many of the people in it will be glued to their cell phones.

Those concerned about social media’s pervasiveness say the validation people get on social media — through “likes” and other interaction — is killing people’s motivation and willingness to set and pursue goals in the real world.

And the constant parading of other people’s perfect lives on platforms like Instagram and Facebook is doing a number on people’s self-worth.

A 2019 study in the Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace found that social media addiction affected people’s mental health, particularly their self-esteem, and also affected academic performance.

The study found that people sometimes used social media to compensate for social deficiencies in their real lives.

U.S. academic Jonathan Haidt, who has commented extensively on the negative side of social media, believes it has created a relentless environment for constant bullying, which especially affects young girls.

So serious is social media’s impact on young people’s lives that author Simon Sinek once questioned whether social media should have an age restriction, like cigarettes and alcohol.

These factors, coupled with social media’s ability to provide us endless novelty by way of photos, videos, memes and music make it pretty much irresistible.

It appears, then, to be the newest addiction. But how hard is it to kick?

From July 15, I gave up social media for 30 days.

But before we go into that, let’s take a step back and look at firstly why social media needs to be regarded as an addiction, and needs to be kept in check.

Apart from straightforward enjoyment, social media’s ability to be addictive has to do with the brain’s reward and motivation system.
A blog post on Harvard University’s website explains that, to put it simply, when you see food or a potential mating partner, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released which then motivates you to go after that thing.

“Likes” and other interactions on social media also cause dopamine to be released, which in turn makes you want to chase that feeling again. The problem with this is that the reward that you get with social media “likes” is relatively easy to achieve.

The constant hits of dopamine can lead to a dopamine overload, which leads to those receptors becoming dull.

Now, your threshold to feel the same pleasure is heightened and you therefore need more “likes”, followers or interactions to feel a sense of reward.

It’s the same principle with cigarettes or porn: a smoker may have first only had one cigarette a day, but now, 20 years later, they have two packs a day.

The brain will always favour the path of least resistance, and because the route to achieving the reward is easier on social media, it becomes more attractive than, say, pursuing relationships with real people, which comes with complications. 

There are other schools of thought which say attracting “likes” fulfils the “self-actualisation” human need on the hierarchy of human needs, a brainchild of U.S. psychologist Abraham Maslow.

This would make social media “likes” as important to a person as food, security, personal relationships and self-esteem.

And those of you who don’t post regularly on social media are not exempt from addiction.

The other side of addiction — any addiction — is the time-wasting factor. So ask yourself this: did you spend an entire afternoon watching YouTube videos when you could have been doing something more constructive?

The answer is almost certainly, yes.

I decided to give up social media because I felt I was wasting too much time on it. There were also mental health factors, like the constant comparing myself with other people, that I felt it would be good to take a break from.

I would say, overall, taking a break from social media is a good thing.

But, at the same time, I would be lying if I said in the last month my productivity shot up, I gained monk-like balance, I went out and made scores of friends and completely eliminated any everyday nervousness or anxiety. But what I will say is that a break from social media may yet plant the seeds for bigger changes which include increased productivity and lower restlessness.

Checklist: should I consider giving up social media?

Ask yourself these five questions:

1. Do I find myself reaching for my phone every time there is a slight lull? Logging onto social media provides a person with a feeling of comfort. So any time we feel awkward — like when in a room full of strangers — or when bored at home, we immediately pull out our phones. This, of course, may mask a real problem, like being shy in front of new people or not really having any hobbies or interests.

2. Are you already planning social media posts before you do something? If you’re already thinking of a witty caption to accompany a photo before you even leave the house for a night out with friends, it’s probably a sign that you seriously value “likes” and online validation.

3. Do you find yourself cancelling plans with real friends to stay at home and flick from one app to another? This may not be inherently a bad thing — we all need alone time. But if it becomes a pattern where you’ve pretty much replaced face-to-face relationships with online ones, it may be time to give social media a rest.

4. Do you find yourself bouncing from profile to profile of complete strangers? We’ve all done it. But if you find that you doing this is eating up entire afternoons, it is a sign that you’re addicted to stalking people, which is fine, until you start inevitably comparing their highlights reel to your real life.

5. Do you feel you have an almost OCD-like impulsion to post things on social media? Going out with friends? Trying out the new coffee shop? Buying a new shirt? This is a serious indicator that you need to keep social media at an arm’s length — especially if you’re trying to gain more attention by buying things.

Social media hurts your mental health

PSYCHOLOGIST Kevin Fourie says constant social media use can lead to “de-socialisation”.

“This is when you’re not actually interacting with people, and rather interacting indirectly with people. This disrupts social skills.

“The risk of this is social isolation because of a lack of interacting with other people. There is also the risk of emotional complications.”

He said people who fought for social justice online may become depressed because of their proximity to negativity.

“We need to learn to distance ourselves from things we have no control over.”

Fourie said research showed that people were increasingly spending more time on social media, mainly because of the fear of missing out — or FOMO — aspect.

He said another downside was “keyboard warriors” — people who say offensive or critical things online under the veil of anonymity. “There are no social norms online, so people can say whatever they like.”

Some tips to ensure you don’t relapse

1. Uninstall all social media apps from your phone: This is essential. You’ll find your thumb still searching for your favourite apps, so automated is it.

2. Log out of social media accounts from your browser: Or better yet, deactivate your accounts.

3. Install a website blocker: This adds an extra layer of friction.

4. Find a hobby: Dust off that guitar you bought, tried for a week then gave up on. Take a look at the tower of books you never got around to reading. Do something that takes up the time you would have otherwise spent on social media.

5. Spend time with people: call up friends or family, or try to meet new people. Sure, it’s a lot more difficult than meeting people online, but it has far greater benefits.

6. Watch yourself! Make sure you don’t just replace social media with something equally as bad for you. Try new things.

Here are some benefits I experienced from taking a social media detox:

1. Breaking social comparison: While it may not end completely, curbing social media use significantly decreases the number of times you feel status anxiety.

2. Not having your opinion swayed in any particular direction: Social media tends to be very polarised on pretty much anything, be it politics, movies, sports or news. Being out of the echo chamber allows you to look at things with fresh eyes.

3. Do more constructive things: Having no social media to eat up lazy afternoons means you use that time more constructively, like reading, learning something or trying new things.

4. Stop stalking people: Bouncing from profile to profile of people you know or complete strangers is not only a waste of time, but it also fuels social comparison. The compulsive need to search for online profiles of people you’ve just met goes away too.

5. Beating the social media itch: That constant feeling to check your phone goes away. This allows you to be more present and enjoy whatever you’re doing. 
Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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