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In today's world, constant social media usage is the new normal, especially among younger generations. Even though a group of people may be sitting together, it's not unusual to see each person in that group looking down at his or her own mobile device, checking or posting to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or other social media accounts.
It's easy to casually joke that someone's "addicted" to social media. But social media addiction can actually be quite serious and detrimental to a person's everyday life and relationships. In 2012, Cecilie Schou Andreassen, a researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway, published the "Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale," which rates the following six Facebook-related behaviors on a scale of 1 (very rarely) to 5 (very often). The higher your score, the more addicted you are to the social network.
- You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planning use of Facebook.
- You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.
- You use Facebook to forget about personal problems.
- You have tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success.
- You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.
- You use Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies.
"[Facebook addiction] occurs more regularly among younger than older users," said Andreassen in a statement. "We have also found that people who are anxious and socially insecure use Facebook more than those with lower scores on those traits, probably because those who are anxious find it easier to communicate via social media than face-to-face."
Though Andreassen's research focused on Facebook, the "signs of addiction" can really apply to any social network. Other tip-offs that you may be overly dependent on social media include clicking on social apps as an unconscious behavior, losing track of time when you're on social media, and allowing your self-esteem to become wrapped up in the number of likes, followers, etc. you have, said American Counseling Association member Emma Schmidt.
Most experts agree that social media addiction is an indication of a deeper underlying problem in a person's life.
"Increasingly, interpersonal communication seems 'hard,'" said William Scheckel, marketing adviser and adjunct professor at the New York Institute of Technology. "Perhaps it's because we have the feeling that when we post something on social media, we are part of a group, even though personally, we're alone. It's that loneliness that people seek to avoid and that drives people to hang on for the next update, like or comment."
"What may seem like an addiction to social media or technology may actually be an addiction to a state of distraction," added Sahana Ullagaddi, marketing manager for content sharing platform Klout. "Being in a state of distraction can be destructive. It removes you from being fully present. It tends to put you in a state where you're unable to immerse yourself in feeling a full range of human emotions and build empathy in real life."
If you think you might be addicted to social media, here are a few ways to help you reduce or break your dependence.
Keep a log of your social media use. "The best way to quit is to first keep a diary of how much time you spend on social media. After this appalls you, set limits for yourself and keep techno gadgets away so that you are not tempted. For example, leave your smartphone in your car when you meet a friend for lunch, and leave it turned off in another room when it's time for bed." –Carole Lieberman, psychiatrist on the clinical faculty of UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute
Consolidate your social media feeds. "We should be more careful with what information we let enter our mind, by filtering. I use RSS wherever possible to decontextualize information and reduce it to a stream that I can manipulate, hide and show at will. Where this is not possible (Facebook), I try to use a dedicated application like HootSuite or TweetDeck to put all the social stuff in a single place that isn't my Web browser. Keeping it in a separate application means I have to make a dedicated effort to go check, instead of having it ever present." – Sean Canton, lead of technical research for Rokk3r Labs
Delete social media apps from your phone. "Facebook should be removed from your phone and only accessed from your laptop. This creates a boundary and allows you to stay focused in your daily routine. Instagram and Twitter can stay if you're an avid social media person, because those link to Facebook anyway." – Zach Stampone, founding broker of Stampone Group
Set (and follow) time limits on social media use. "Take it in baby steps. At first, turn off all mobile and computing devices for 6 hours. Then, promise yourself just 30 minutes of social media time. Set an alarm to know when that time is up. At the alarm, immediately shut off social media, no matter what you are doing. Afterwards, go to the movies [or do] something else you enjoy. Every three days, extend the period without social media by 1 hour, but not the time you are allowed on it. Eventually, you'll find that you can live with only 30 minutes on social media a day and have a more productive and social life offline." – David Lowbridge, online marketing consultant for TwoFeetMarketing
Create "digital-free" zones. "Find more meaningful ways to spend time [to] distract from social media use, and find other methods of validation that are more mentally healthy. If you are a person that has to use [social media] on the job, then find ways to create digital-free zones during the rest of your day. Lots of people have to make Excel spreadsheets at work. It doesn't mean they can't stop themselves from doing it the rest of the day." – Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist, psychology professor and author
Be more mindful of the effects social media has on your life. "Stay focused on your goal [of reducing social media use] by listing the top three problems related to use, followed by three potential benefits of cutting back. Keep the list in a highly visible place, such as on your desk. This will serve as a reminder of what you are working toward." – Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist and author of "Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days" (Center Street, 2012)
"If I could boil all this down into one word, it would be 'intention,'" Canton told Business News Daily. "We generally use social media as a way to get a quick information fix or social connection when we're bored and/or lonely. There is no intention here other than distraction. Using social media with intention, to connect meaningfully with the people in your life and business is fine, so long as it remains meaningful."
Originally published on Business News Daily on May 8, 2012. Updated Sept. 8, 2014.