Technology, in any era, has always been there to serve us and make our lives easier and more controllable. Social media is no exception. From finding new jobs (and even careers), to finding lost items, spreading awareness, or just voicing our thoughts and experiences out loud, social media has become a vital part of our lives.
While social media, without a doubt, has a strong role to play in improving our lives, there are instances where it has proven to be more harmful than useful.
Let me ask you a question: When did you last go an entire day without checking (or even thinking of checking) your social media feed? If Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (among others) were to disappear from the face of the earth, how would you feel? Do you ever find that you've spent hours scrolling on your device and end up feeling guilty after the fact? Or find yourself unable to leave the screen, even for something important?
If your answer to a few of these questions is even close to yes, then you're probably suffering from social media addiction.
Social media is truly a great innovation and a wonderful way to stay connected. That said, too much of anything is bad, and social media is no exception to this.
If you're among the many who are suffering from this, fret not. All you need to do is detox!
Yes, you read that right. We “flush out” impurities from our body by detox diets. We're going to apply the same principle and flush out your unhealthy attachment to social media with social media detox!
Before we proceed, however, we must know what this addiction is and whether you suffer from it.
What Is Social Media Addiction?
Believe it or not, everything hinges on a single chemical – dopamine.
Most people associate dopamine with pleasure, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. As a matter of fact, dopamine is associated with motivation, and more importantly anticipation.
To put it simply, dopamine activates your reward-seeking mindset and gives you a near-perpetual feeling of “wanting” something – all of which, in turn makes you act to quench the desire. Once this happens, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins, which are rewarding and pleasurable.
Social media has certain characteristics that can take advantage of our dopamine systems and throw us into addiction. These characteristics include:
Once your brain enters the reward-seeking mindset, simply sending a tweet, making a post, or opening up your Reddit can release pleasurable feelings as a reward.
The reward offered by the “successful” tweet, post, or Reddit link is very short lived. After a while, it leaves you dissatisfied, and in turn makes you go back for more.
Dopamine is released in the anticipation of something. Given that one cannot predict an alert or a notification, one happening often triggers dopamine, which starts a cycle that keeps you coming back for more.
Conditioning Through Anticipation
As mentioned already, once the cycle of dopamine-triggering starts, your brain starts anticipating the stimuli before they actually happen. Such a situation often leads to a “social media withdrawal” — which is an unnatural need to check your social media in the event that you’ve spent a long time away from any dopamine triggers.
All of the aforementioned come together to form what is called a “social media creep.” Much like any other addiction, it actually begins much before you actually realize its existence.
Do You Have Social Media Addiction?
It all begins with creating a simple a Facebook account which you check once in a blue moon. As time passes, what was once a blue moon turns into few days, and then daily. Before you know it, it’s couple of times a day.
You then install the app on your mobile, and are constantly hit with real time alerts and notifications several times per hour. This strengthens your brain's dopamine system and sends you looking for more frequent and better rewards. And the cycle continues.
Sound familiar? Here are some sure-shot signs that you might be suffering from an unfortunate case of addiction to social media:
- You have pain in your back, neck and/or wrists.
- You often feel like you “ought to” be doing something to look better on social media (like your Instagram photos)
- You spend more than 30 minutes to get a simple post “ready”
- You have been ignoring yourself and other real people around you
- You often feel meaningless, frustrated, and overall disconnected from your life and your emotions
Social Media Detoxing: The Procedure
Believe it or not, it is easy to start a social media detox. What's difficult is staying with it.
While social media addiction does involve dopamine, it is still primarily a psychological addiction, and can be beaten with cold-turkey tactics (as opposed to substance-related addictions which require gradual lessening intake to avoid physical withdrawal issues).
The key, here, is to allow your brain to get back to normal by ceasing to reward any and all dopamine triggers. Which means that you should find and eliminate every source that can tempt you into scrolling through your social media feed.
The following are some ways you must employ to get started with social media detoxing:
Deactivate All Social Media Accounts
Not only will this prevent you from accessing social media sites, it will also act as a good indication to your friends and show them that you require a break.
Uninstall Every Social Media App
By uninstalling apps, you will be prevented any tempting alert and notification which plays in vital role when it comes to social media addiction. Furthermore, with no apps present, you won't be tempted to pop them up either, especially during the still and lonely moments.
Remove Every Social Media Site
All your tablets, laptops, and computers, should be free of social media. If you think you can't stop yourself from logging in, you can use a web filtering tool such as K9 Web Protection, and router options such as OpenDNS, which blocks access to all social media platforms.
Try Another Activity Instead Of Social Media
Simply eliminating social media will not solve your problem. You must fill the void with any other activity that's productive and meaningful, such as learning something new or taking up a hobby.
Duration Of The Detox
While there are several differing opinions on this, most experts agree on the fact that a detox session should at the very least last 100 days, which is the duration for dopamine in the body to go back to normal levels.
It may, however, take longer than that if your level of addiction is more severe. Many sessions have lasted more than 6 months and have even exceeded a year.
Benefits of Social Media Detox
Being hooked on social media, according to many, is totally harmless. After all, you're not addicted to some harmful substance that is hampering your physical and mental health, or anyone else's for that matter. You're just spending some extra time on a website (or app). There's no harm in that, right?
Well, not quite. Just because nobody dies from addiction to social media doesn't mean that it's not harmful. In fact, social media addiction can be harmful in ways that are not exactly visible on the surface.
Social media is actually a virtual platform, where people, quite literally, put their best foot forward, which implies that everyone basically flaunts the “nice” things while hiding the ugly ones.
No one ever shows their true lives on their profile – it's all carefully chosen and filtered. Many of us, while looking at others' profiles, often forget this, and fall into a vicious cycle of depression when we see our lives paling in comparison to others.
There are several other dark sides to social media as well:
It Promotes Narcissism
The one big thing that attracts those who get addicted to social media is appreciation, be it in the form of likes, upvotes, retweets, or reblogs. Chasing likes and good comments often gets many of them caught up in an endless cycle of wanting more.
It Encourages “Echo Chambers”
Since social media basically consists of people following other people who they like (and who are like them), and ignoring those they don't, it leads to the formation of an “echo-chamber,” where everybody parrots the same ideas to one another. This turns many into close-minded people.
It Risks Your Privacy
Given the fact that we often put up our info on social media, it comes as no surprise that it is possible to find out a lot about someone just via their social media history. Many users have already fallen victim to the activities of other, more malicious users, who employ means such as hacking, stalking, and others.
It Consumes Time
What starts as a “few minutes” on Facebook (or Twitter, or Reddit) might as well turn out to be over two hours of endless browsing. Even a couple of minutes of checking done several times per hour can leave you with quite a lot of time wasted, time that you could have otherwise used on something more productive.
By going for a detox, you can steer yourself away from these negative elements. Bear in mind that the detox doesn’t need to be for life. The aim is to simply break the circle for a time period long enough to reset your brain and end the vicious cycle of dopamine. You can most certainly come back, so long as you maintain moderation.
Social Media Detox Final Words
While social media is indeed a fantastic medium of entertainment, and has several great uses, from quick dispersal of vital information to mobilizing a movement, it (much like everything else) must be used in moderation and with care. Excessive use of the medium can (and does) turn out to do more harm than good, no matter how good the intention.
In the event that you think you're among the many who are unfortunately addicted, it is perhaps time that you take a little break from it all. You don't have to leave social media forever, just start from a few months and then make a decision as time passes.