The excitement you feel when your social media post is “liked,” or otherwise validated, is due to the release of dopamine in your brain, which is also released during sex or a delicious meal. Increasingly, our brains are becoming conditioned and rewired to associate this boost of happiness with our online behaviors like social media, online games, email or aimless surfing.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to a host of emotional and social problems. But how serious is our dependency on mobile internet and social media, and what can we do to live with it in peace?
How Pervasive is Internet Addiction?
Internet addiction affects nearly 6 percent of the global population. Symptoms of online addiction include anxiety, depression, euphoric feelings around devices, lost sense of time, weight gain and the avoidance of work. It also has serious ramifications for those in romantic relationships. Excessive usage of Twitter and Facebook has been linked to cheating, breakups and divorce, often rooted in conflicts over time spent on these platforms.
How Do We Get Hooked?
Healthy self-soothing behaviors such as exercising, reading, or meditating help us build effective coping strategies in the long run . Avoidance behaviors are automatic behaviors that we do in order to try to get rid of distressing emotions such as boredom, insecurity, loneliness, shame, hurt, or uncertainty. These behaviors usually make us feel better in the moment, but lead to more pain in the long run. Avoidance behaviors are short term solutions to long term problems and end up exacerbating our pain in the long run. These behaviors may include include drinking, drug use, isolating, internet addiction, yelling, overeating, gossiping, and many others. Since similar chemicals are released when you get a “like” on Facebook and when you take drugs, many are turning to using the internet and social media as a way to escape negative feelings, like boredom or loneliness.
However, when we don’t cope with those feelings, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to better our lives. People who are able to tolerate uncomfortable emotions have more behavioral flexibility, they are better creative problem solvers, and are more likely to engage in adaptive coping responses such as reaching out to friends or make new acquaintances.
Online Identity Confusion
Beyond this addictive chemical reaction, another key issue with heavy internet use is in users identifying more with online identities than real life. Online, you my find it easy to frame your life as one of total fulfillment, and it’s likely many in your network are doing the same. Because of this, it’s often easier to interact online, as it is simple to avoid awkward or vulnerable moments that reveal our insecurities and problems.
And there’s evidence that this is leading to an increasing preference to online interactions over those in real life. According to one study, one in four spend more time on social media than in real-life social situations, and as many as 11 percent of adults prefer to spend a weekend communicating online than socializing.
When Social Media Makes us Feel Bad About Ourselves
Beyond their addictive properties, there are many occasions where social media, in particular makes us feel bad. My clients frequently tell me that Facebook makes them sad, and research bares this out. According to a sturdy from the University of Michigan, the more participants used Facebook, the worse they felt. This, researchers said, is likely due to social comparisons. You most likely have experienced social comparisons when looking your social network’s glamorous photos, happy messages and feel your own life pales in comparison. Repeated exposure to these comparisons can lead to unhealthy beliefs about our self worth.
How to Use the Internet Mindfully
- Though there are serious concerns, there’s no need to cancel your social media accounts or throw your cell phone in a lake. There are ways to live mindfully with the internet. We can enjoy its benefits without it draining us of our self-esteem and free time. Try these tips today to live with the internet in peace:
- Track the amount of time you spend on social media and in real-life interactions.
- Call a friend. Even if you haven’t spoken to this person in months, ask to spend some time together.
- Make a point of silencing your mobile device when around your friends.
- Pay attention to how often you pull out your mobile device out of necessity, and how often out of impulse, or urge. Note the emotions you experience.
- Note the overall purpose of your social/mobile usage. What are you trying to accomplish with each post, text or interaction? Ask yourself if the message feels genuine.
- What do you value in your relationships?
- Are you behaving authentically—like you would in-person—or are you trying to put on a good face?
- Limit how frequently you check your email and phone.
After you recognize which parts of your connected life make you feel good, and which make you feel bad, you’ll feel more confident in cutting out the latter. You’ll begin to feel more power over your device, rather than the other way around.