- You may be able to break a social media addiction by going on a cleanse, setting limits, deleting apps or disabling notifications, and dedicating time to other hobbies or activites.
- While you don’t need to abstain from social media entirely, experts say it’s important to set limits and make sure that you’re held accountable.
- This article was medically reviewed by Zlatin Ivanov, MD, who is certified in psychiatry and addiction psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology at Psychiatrist NYC.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a behaviour that becomes compulsive or continues despite negative consequences. In 2017, 43% of Americans reported checking social media constantly, and 20% said social media is a source of stress.
In addition, interacting with social media can trigger a dopamine response in the brain, similar to that triggered by drug or alcohol use. That response can leave you wanting more and feeling addicted. Here’s how to fight it.
How to break social media addiction
In 2018, people with internet access worldwide spent an average of 144 minutes on social media every day. Yet research indicates that limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day is optimal for mental health.
Abstinence is often recommended for treating drug or alcohol addiction, but for social media addiction, the ideal psychological outcome is controlled use of the internet. It’s not necessary to give up social media entirely, but it is important to have strategies for setting limits.
Lin Sternlicht, a licensed mental health counselor at Family Addiction Specialist, recommends that people who are concerned about social media addiction take the following steps:
- Go on a social media cleanse: Challenge yourself to go a certain time without checking social media, whether it’s for a few hours or an entire week. One 2019 study found that some students who went for five days without social media experienced a “sense of serenity,” although others were afraid of missing out.
- Delete apps, or disable notifications from social media: Most people check into social media mindlessly, so put a small barrier in the way by turning off notifications. If you don’t see a social media icon or alert every time you pick up your phone, you’re less likely to spend time there.
- Set limits and stick to them. Most phones and tablets allow you to see the time you’ve spent on certain apps. Set a limit for your time spent on social media and stick to it, or use an app that blocks social media after you’ve hit your limit. For teens, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that social media use not interfere with activities like family meals, exercise, or “unplugged downtime.”
- Dedicate time to hobbies or activites. A hobby or new activity can help curb your desire to check in to social media. “The idea here is to fill up your free time with things that you enjoy that are good for you,” Sternlicht says. “Naturally you will find less time to be on social media and more time to be present in life, and hopefully even socialise in person instead of through a screen.”
Accountability is more important than abstinence
Going on a digital detox – or totally abstaining from social media for a certain period of time – can be effective for some people, but not others, says Neha Chaudhary, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
“For some, it may break a cycle that has started to feel toxic or have negative effects,” she says. “For others, stopping altogether may lead to craving its use and not being able to sustain the break, or might keep someone from accessing the beneficial parts of social media, like a way to stay connected and reach out for support.”
Rather than relying on a total detox, Chaudhary recommends setting limits and recruiting some of your friends and family to join you.
“Accountability plays a big role in trying to make any change,” she says. “Maybe decide with a friend that you want to both reduce use, or tell your family member your goals so that they can check in with you about it. Whatever it is, find a way to have someone help keep you on track – breaking habits alone can be difficult.”
In severe cases, someone who is worried about social media addiction should also consider seeking professional help from a therapist or mental health specialist.
Related stories about mental health:
- How social media affects the mental health of teenagers
- How to deal with anxiety and loneliness during the coronavirus outbreak
- How to lower your heart rate from anxiety, or a panic attack
- How social media affects relationships, from partners to friends
- A social network for cancer patients is helping them connect without fear of friends pitying them for their diagnosis
- The world’s biggest YouTube stars told us they’re burning out because of the unrelenting pressure to post new videos
- Nearly half of influencers think their job impacts their mental health, from body image to facing scrutiny of their integrity and work ethic
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