The #1 Antidote to Social Media and Internet Addiction
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A growing body of research indicates that our society is becoming more addicted to the internet, and more specifically, to social media.
Our profiles on the various platforms give us many benefits. We can interact with friends and family who might be far away, share funny or interesting content, or interact with users we don't know. While there are benefits to social media, studies show that an unregulated dependence on these platforms damages mental health.
It's important to understand the harmful effects of excessive social media use and how to counteract those adverse effects on our mental health.
The vast majority of us are using social media. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, and so many others invite different demographics to be users. While some age groups prefer some platforms over others, virtually everyone uses at least one of them.
Today, 69% of adults and 81% of teenagers in America are using social media. In 2018, Pewresearch found that 90% of teens have access to a smartphone. Today, 70% of the youth have access to a smartphone.
It's an overwhelming number of people in America alone. Everyone is logging in daily to keep up with the chatter on their Facebook timeline, to watch the latest Tik Tok videos, or see the latest Instagram pictures and videos.
As a society, social media is a universal pastime. We use social media to keep up with our network and to get the latest news. Social media entertains us and gives us something to do while wait in line, are sitting in the car, or any time we're bored.
The problem with everyone being on social media isn't so much that people connect, but the problems arise more with how excessive social media use affects our mental health.
The truth is, the statistics for the number of people using social media use also represent the number of people who are at risk for severe anxiety and depression.
An increasing body of knowledge shows us that social media can be incredibly damaging to all of our mental health. To tackle how to prevent social media addiction, we need to understand what social media addiction is.
Understanding the Problem
Social media becomes a problem when we use it too often or depend on it. Dependence on these platforms creates an addiction to them—and this is why social media can be harmful.
As a society, we are teaching ourselves to need these platforms. We feel the urge to check our phones after the sound of notifications or if we possibly get a reaction on something we posted. The craving for these "rewards" becomes so great that we might turn our consumption into something that spirals out of control.
Unlike substance addictions like that of drugs or alcohol, social media addiction is a behavioral addiction. These habits are the cravings for us to do a behavior or a set of behaviors to bring a feeling of calm or pleasure.
These addictions have our brains wired, so doing an action will bring us a sense of relief, and that is why we will continue to do the action whether or not it is healthy for us.
Behavioral addictions include addictions to gambling, gaming, sex, or food. These addictions are not linked to particular substances but rather actions that our brain identifies as pleasing and necessary.
When we get addicted to behaviors, that behavior interrupts our lives as we prioritize it over anything else. The behavior becomes a reward. Our mood, routine, and lives reorganize themselves around the behavior as a result.
How We Get Addicted to Social Media
Social media addiction is a gradual process as we spend more time on a platform and feed it more information about ourselves. Using the platform satisfies a few of our human tendencies, so we like social media so much.
There are several ways that social media keeps you coming back for more, and that's why we must be careful with our consumption.
Content You Want to See
Social media platforms observe your behavior, so the site feeds you more of the content you want to see. After you like, comment, or interact with a piece of content, you show the platform what kinds of pictures, posts, and videos you like to see.
The site will then feed you more of the same content to keep you coming back. The more times you interact with a type of content, the more likely you will see more of it in the future. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter want you to keep logging in and interacting because your presence keeps their platform alive.
We affirm to each platform what our interests and passions are through the content that we interact with. The site will start to tailor most of the content you see to this targeted content.
Followers and Friends
Social acceptance is a human need. Social media provides a way to measure your online social acceptance with how many followers or friends you have.
We like the idea of being popular. Social media allows us to create content or share content that other people like and want more. Those users can follow our account to stay updated about when we post new content.
Seeing our follower count go up continues our reliance on social media for acceptance. We can see how many people keep up with us and then try to grow that number.
The overall cause of social media addiction is dopamine.
Dopamine is a chemical in our brains that is related to pleasure. While it is not an inherently harmful chemical, its release can be the trigger for behavioral addictions. Social media becomes addicting for us because there are many methods each platform uses to trigger dopamine releases for us and make us crave more.
Notifications for likes, retweets, shares, new followers, or other reactions become dopamine triggers. We crave how social media can validate us because it tells us when people are enjoying our content, adding us, or when someone posts a piece of content we might like.
This is one reason why the platforms want us to turn on notifications for every interaction or update. When we get the notification, we check our phones and then get onto the platform.
Our brains are amazingly associative organs. Since we link dopamine to social media, our brains see these platforms as dopamine sources—and then become reliant on them for release.
Symptoms of Social Media Addictions
Identifying social media addiction comes down to observing the amount of time one spends on social media and why they're logged in.
Here are some symptoms of social media addiction according to the University of Nevada at Reno
- Compulsive thinking about social media
- Constant urge to check social media
- Unsuccessful attempts to reduce social media consumption
- Restlessness or anxiety due to social media
- Social media interrupting daily life activities
- Stopping to check social media mid-conversation
- Disconnect from family and friends
- Experiencing anxious or withdrawal symptoms when not able to check social media
There are many reasons why excessive social media consumption is harmful. While it affects everyone, there are specific demographics that a social media addiction will harm the most.
The Negative Effects of Social Media
The negative effects of social media encompass mental health and social problems. As our dependence on dopamine and external validation increase, we become less mindful and less focused on fundamental social interactions.
Addiction Center has found that 27% of children who spend three hours or more on social media have poor mental health. Social media to the youth is hazardous because their brains are still developing. Since all interactions on social media are digital, these children do not learn authentic social skills.
Teens and adults face a host of other problems when it comes to this behavioral addiction. As our social circles expand, the desire to stay connected increases, as does our competition within that circle.
Fear of Missing Out
The Addiction Center says that FOMO or the "fear of missing out" increases the more we use social media.
Since everyone uses these sites, everyone can see the same popular videos, memes, or pictures that circle the internet. Not being a part of that creates the fear of missing out. It is a disconnect someone feels when they are not part of the larger social structure.
People can feel FOMO when they see pictures or videos of a party they weren't invited to. Or when they find out about an event, their friends went to, but they didn't get an invitation for.
The tension FOMO creates can be anxiety-inducing. It also creates a negative feedback loop as people who want to stay off of social media feel external pressure to keep up with it to remain socially acceptable.
A serious problem with social media is the effect it has on self-esteem. Constant comparing stems both from the content on social media and the number of followers on an account.
It's easy for people to feel discouraged, unaccepted, or less confident when they view the number of followers someone has or the number of likes and comments a particular post gets as compared to their own. This numbers game has wreaked havoc on people's mental states.
In addition, brands, models, and influencers publish professionally edited videos and pictures to stand out above other content to get attention. Usually, this content displays socially accepted body types, clothing, and products.
Users on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok see what's getting attention and, naturally, compare themselves to these perfected examples.
Studies show that women have been especially affected by this comparison game. The number of people using social media continues to rise, and in 2019, the National Institute of Mental Health found that 24.5% of women faced mental health problems compared to men with 16.3%.
A social media addiction can cause eating or other behavioral disorders in the attempt to look socially perfect. This pressure creates further discontent with one's self-image.
Overwhelming Anxiety and Depression
One study found that 48% of teens who use an electronic device at least five hours a day usually have one suicide risk factor. Also, a survey on teens found that 90% of them believe online harassment is a problem, and 63% of them believe it is a significant problem.
These numbers show us the detrimental impacts of social media. Smartphone users become depressed enough to consider suicide, and teens regard cyber-bullying as a major issue among their peers. Harvard suggests that a rise in sleeplessness, disconnect, anxiety, and depression among teenagers directly correlates with the iPhone's release.
Our society needs to remain vigilant as new platforms come out for our consumption. Anxiety and depression continue to surge, and we need to understand how to regulate and heal from social media and internet addiction.
Journaling: The #1 Antidote
Keeping a journal is the best way to protect ourselves and heal from social media addiction. Writing in a journal is a scientifically proven method to reduce anxiety and keep us mindful, fulfilled, and happy.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms take us out of the present moment and put us in situations where we constantly compare what we have and who we are to other people. A journal requires us to step away from digital input to focus on ourselves and what's really important.
A journal does many things for us. Not only can we synthesize our thoughts, but we stop taking in new media and content. The writing gives us time and space to think over what we feel and how we can respond.
The benefits of journaling extend beyond helping with social media addiction. You will find that writing creates space for growth, healing, and self-acceptance for your overall mental health.
Versatile Mental Health Solution
One of the greatest strengths of writing down our thoughts is that it helps all areas of our lives.
UW Health states that therapeutic journaling means writing down our thoughts and feelings gives us a greater sense of well-being.
Our brain's reliance on social media makes it difficult for us to remain present when we're not scrolling through our timeline or looking at our Twitter feed. Addiction makes it challenging for us to stay focused on activities outside of social media.
The very act of writing requires you to be present in the moment. Writing allows you to focus on your thoughts and feelings and learn to accept them for what they are. Journaling slows down the need for new, continuous input so you can remain focused and centered.
Writing in a journal also takes away outside pressure. Unlike posts on social media, no one gets to see or read your journal. You're free to write and think without judgment or external pressure to say or be something else.
Reduce Anxiety and Depression
As we have seen, social media and internet addiction have increased anxiety for many people. Journaling provides an outlet to manage this anxiety healthily.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that Generalized Anxiety Disorder causes people to be persistently worried about different things. Anxiety makes our thoughts spiral as we go over regrets of the past or worries about the future. Social media can cause us to worry about events in the news, social problems or other issues that may directly affect us.
The University of St. Augustine says that journaling improves people's mental health because it manages their anxiety and helps them cope with depression. This is because writing your thoughts on paper or electronically allows you to understand any inner tension you're feeling.
The writing helps regulate our thoughts because we can organize our thinking, rather than having all thoughts come to us at a single time.
Identifying these thoughts helps us to organize how we feel so we can respond appropriately.
An addiction to social media causes us to lose sight of the critical things in life. The platforms keep us busy with content and products that are desirable to us. Soon, we begin to think it is necessary to look, act, and think a certain way.
If we don't feel that we meet social expectations, we stop accepting ourselves and lose confidence.
A journal helps us to accept and love who we are right now. Our journal is a private conversation we keep with ourselves and no one else—so the only person we need to accept in our writing is who we are. There's no pressure to live up to anyone else's expectations as there may be on social media platforms.
Through writing, we can describe our strengths and weaknesses and accept our opinions without judging them. The pages are a place where you can truly be yourself.
Decide What is Important
Another essential asset that journaling can have is that it allows you to identify what you truly value.
Social media is filled with frivolous products, opinions, and thoughts that other people have. An addiction to social media can cause you to feel like you need to share these opinions or that you have to say something to counter views you don't agree with. The stress you feel can further detriment mental health.
Your journal allows you to focus on what your opinions are and what you truly value. You can protect yourself from the need for external validation and acceptance from the number of likes on your post or the number of followers you have. Journaling helps you determine what you believe, so you stop reacting to every new idea you see on the platforms.
Building the Journal Habit
There are no hard and fast rules to keeping a journal. You don't have to worry about someone reading it, or writing perfectly, or writing in any particular style. A journal is your book so you are free to write in it what you want.
In the same way that checking social media is a habit, journaling can become a habit too.
Write What You Want
To some, a journal might sound like a lot of work. The best ways to instill a solid journal habit are writing about things you care about and writing in a way that you enjoy.
Some people prefer long-hand paragraphs. Other people like writing bullet points and lists. Whatever method you choose, you can still reap the health benefits of journaling and make it a habit by writing how you like.
By keeping your journal enjoyable, you increase the chances of you going back to it over and over again.
You can include anything you want within the pages too. Outside of your thoughts and feelings, you're free to write poetry, songs, or stories that you want to include. You might also write down passages from books or quotations that are important to you.
The content of your journal should be helpful and meaningful to you.
Writing every day might seem like a lot of pressure. To begin, you can try writing for just ten minutes daily and then write for more in the days and weeks after.
Journals are most effective when we process our thoughts over some time. They work so well against social media addiction because journals pull us back to our current mental and emotional state. Since we use social media every day, we must journal every day too.
If you can use your journal to consistently check in with yourself, you'll be much more adept at counteracting the anxiety and depression that come with social media addiction.
Journaling with Other Antidotes to Social Media Addiction
People use many different methods to counteract social media addiction. Journaling is the best method because it supports all other remedies on the road to addiction recovery. In it, you can write down your progress with exercise, meditation, screen time tracking, or medication.
Social media is likely to continue as a part of our lives. While it does have benefits, we need to be wary of its drawbacks to protect our mental health.
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