Social media certainly comes with benefits. It helps us to stay in connection with old friends, as well as family members who live across the globe. With the click of a button, we can login and get instant updates from loved ones. We can also access virtual support groups and find a wealth of information about local businesses. While the perks of social media are evident, sometimes there is a downside to all the scrolling: consequences from excessive screen time and addiction.
The Benefits of Social Media
As with most things, using social media in moderation can be harmless, and even beneficial. In fact, a review of 31 different studies found that social media can be a source of emotional support, especially for women. As one might expect, the review also found that people with a larger number of friends obtain higher levels of support from social media usage.
Additionally, the review revealed that social media provides a high degree of informational support, which includes advice and guidance. The information available via social media may even be used to promote a healthier lifestyle. One report reviewed the effects of social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and found that these platforms could be beneficial for promoting health behavior change. For example, social media groups may help a person to stay committed to adopting a fitness routine.
Because of the potential benefits of social media, people may find that it’s difficult to stay off of their favorite social media sites. Some may even find themselves addicted, to the point that they give up other activities or have a hard time staying on top of their other responsibilities because of their social media usage.
Social Media Addiction
Not everyone who uses social media is addicted, but some people may develop symptoms that signal social media addiction. A recent report in the journal Addictive Behaviors analyzed the prevalence of social media addiction across the globe. While there are various different ways to characterize addiction, and thus inconsistent rates of prevalence, there is enough quality data available to give general prevalence estimates.
Results revealed the following prevalence rates:
- Based on a cutoff level requiring a person to show very severe symptoms, 5% of people meet criteria for social media addiction.
- When social media addiction is defined by people displaying severe symptoms, the prevalence rate is 13%.
- Finally, the prevalence of moderate to severe social media addiction is 25%.
What can be concluded is that social media addiction is a relatively common problem that can vary in severity. Some warning signs, and problems that can arise with excessive social media use and social media addiction include:
- Problems within personal relationships
- Lack of time spent with family
- Poor performance at work or school
- Worsening physical health
- Decline in mental health
- Distress when unable to access social media (which can be seen as a form of withdrawal)
- Using social media to forget about personal problems
- Experiencing increased conflict because of social media use
- Building a tolerance, so that more and more usage is needed to bring the same desired effects
- Inability to cut back on social media use
- Poor sleep quality
How to Manage Screen Time
While not everyone who uses social media will develop an addiction, there is a risk that social media usage can become excessive and interfere with daily functioning. If your social media use is interfering with your ability to be productive at work or school, or it is creating consequences for your health or your relationships, it’s probably time to take a step back and evaluate how you can reduce your screen time and develop a healthier relationship with social networking platforms.
Below are some tips that can be helpful for keeping social media use under control:
Ensure that you’re connecting with people in person, in addition to on social media.
While social media platforms can provide you with an opportunity to connect with others and obtain social support, you’re unlikely to be able to maintain healthy, meaningful relationships with family and friends if you only connect with people virtually. There’s nothing wrong with connecting with an old friend via Facebook, or logging on for a few minutes a day to check for updates, but if your social relationships exist only in the virtual space, you’re likely to run into problems.
Consume content that has a beneficial, rather than a harmful, effect on your wellbeing.
If you find yourself scrolling through Facebook posts and comparing yourself to others, only to feel worse afterwards, social media probably isn’t serving you. Similarly, if you spend countless hours on social media, rather than interacting with others or engaging in hobbies, you probably aren’t making a good use of your time on social media. Limit social media activity only to that which brings you happiness or adds something to your life. For instance, looking at new photos of nieces and nephews, or accessing content on a support group page, may be beneficial, but scrolling with no purpose can become detrimental.
When you’re hiding behind the computer screen, and not actually face-to-face with someone, it’s easier to leave a nasty comment or to engage in a heated argument. Keep your social media interactions positive to avoid creating conflict or adding stress to your life with your social media activities. Share encouraging posts, and use kindness when responding to others’ posts. You can even use social media as a platform to uplift others, rather than engaging in debates or trying to make others feel bad. Think twice before posting something that could be seen as negative or offensive.
Ultimately, if you’re having a difficult time cutting down on your social media usage, or you continue to use it for hours a day, even when it interferes with your functioning, you may have a social media addiction, and reaching out for professional support could be beneficial. Studies with social media addiction have found that people who develop this form of addiction tend to suffer from underlying life problems. For example, the addiction may arise because someone is experiencing depression, anxiety, or self-esteem problems, and social media becomes a way to cope.
Counseling can help you to work through underlying problems that have contributed to social media addiction. For those seeking services in Southern California, Mission Harbor Behavioral Health has office locations in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. With programming for both adults and teens, we are qualified to treat patients experiencing negative effects from social media usage. Contact us today to learn more or to begin the admissions process.