How to know if social networks are affecting your well-being and how to limit their use

Many of us start and end our day scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or TikTok. The world’s most used social platform, Facebook, recorded a record number of approximately 2.93 billion active users in the first quarter of 2022, while TikTok surpassed the 1 billion user mark in September 2021.

Earlier this week, a new study identified some of the behaviors that can constitute a “TikTok addiction.” Analysis by experts from the University of Trinidad and Tobago looked at data from 354 college students (173 TikTok users and 313 Facebook users) and found that TikTok can encourage compulsive behavior and app dependency.

Users of both platforms were asked to fill out a questionnaire that evaluated six criteria. This included whether they have obsessive thoughts about TikTok or Facebook and whether they feel an increasing need to use the platform.

Participants were also asked if they use social networks to forget about personal problems and if they have tried to reduce the time they spend on the platforms and have failed.

In addition, they were asked if they are concerned when they cannot use the platforms and if the use of the platforms has a negative impact on school or work.

Those who scored highest in all categories used TikTok the most intensively. While most people (68.2 percent) were found to be at no risk of TikTok addiction, 25.4 percent were at low risk and 6.4 percent were at risk.

While social media is an ideal way to keep in touch with family and friends, and has proven particularly useful during the pandemic, experts have raised concerns about how it can negatively affect people’s mental well-being.

Mental health charity Mind has warned that being “constantly bombarded” with people sharing news of new jobs, relationships or holidays can lead to low self-esteem when comparing ourselves to others.

UKAT (UK Addiction Treatment Group), a private addiction treatment company, said it had seen a “real increase in society’s level of dependency on the internet”.

“We know this because we treat people for social media and internet addiction, and have seen first-hand an increase in the number of people we treat for this since 2020,” says Nuno Albuquerque, UKAT lead treatment consultant.

While some people may find that spending time on social media can negatively affect them from time to time, others may face a more serious social media addiction that has a lasting impact on their everyday lives.

Signs that you may be spending too much time online

It’s helpful to reflect on your relationship with social media and consider how it makes you feel.

“If you feel agitated or feel the need to keep checking your profiles, it could be a sign that you’re spending too much time online,” says Albuquerque.

One key signal is how a person feels when they’re offline, Albuquerque adds. “Are they in a bad mood because of the absence of social networks? Perhaps they are experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms like headaches and insomnia?”

“Understanding how they feel when they’re not on social networking sites is a great way to determine if a person’s relationship with them has become unhealthy and potentially even addictive.”

Symptoms of social media addiction disorder

Experts believe that a social media addiction disorder can be just as harmful as substance use. It can not only affect personal well-being, but also have an impact on relationships with friends and family.

Some symptoms to watch out for include feeling anxious or irritated when social media platforms are down or the internet connection is slow.

Those at risk for addiction may become increasingly isolated to spend time on social media, perform poorly at school or work, and show a lack of interest in their relationships.

Strategies to deal with it

The Independent spoke to a variety of experts about strategies that people who think they’re at risk for social media addiction might want to explore to deal with the problem.

be mindful of your time

Jess D’Cruz, Information Content Manager at Mind, recommends setting aside time every day to do something offline.

This could be something as simple as reading a book, exercising, getting outside in nature, or trying a relaxation technique.

Several studies in recent months have pointed to the benefits of spending time outdoors for mental well-being. In October 2021, research from the University of York found that being outdoors led to a better mood, more positive emotions, and less anxiety.

Some people may also find it useful to create specific windows of time during which they are allowed to use social media.

This can help limit the amount of time you spend on them and make you more aware of how you use each app. Some smartphones make this easy. For example, Apple allows users to set limits for specific apps, which can be done through our phone’s settings.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of notifications you get from social media apps, Apple also has a “downtime” feature that mutes notifications in addition to phone calls and select apps.

Take note of your feelings

Experts encourage all social media users to be aware of their feelings. If you think social media may be having a negative impact on your emotions, simply making a note of it or writing it down can help identify triggers.

“Think about your mood after spending some time on social media. If it’s still low, that shows social media use isn’t self-care,” says Priory addiction therapist Dee Johnson.

“Try going for a walk, then go back to thinking about your mood and you’ll probably see that it’s gone up a bit. Rate your mood on a scale of 1 to 10 so you can compare the effect of different activities.”

“Keep track of your moods this way, because writing them down will give you strong evidence of the impact your social media use is having on you.”

Spend time with friends and family in person, or develop a new hobby or skill

A social media addiction can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, shame, guilt, depression and self-loathing, says Johnson.

Experts recommend prioritizing spending time with loved ones and building healthy relationships offline. This can help counter feelings of low self-esteem that occur when a person compares himself to others online.

Additionally, this physically takes the focus off social media and provides a sense of satisfaction offline.

Experts have also highlighted the importance of developing self-confidence. They recommend trying a new hobby or learning a new skill that isn’t related to technology. This can foster feelings of contentment, build self-esteem, and serve as a distraction from social media.

Be kind to yourself, seek professional help if you need it

“Sometimes people avoid dealing with painful issues and use social media as a distraction, but it makes them feel worse in the end,” says Johnson.

“Don’t use negative self-talk. Be decent with yourself. Always remember that you are not alone with this.

For those struggling to implement healthy coping strategies, experts say it’s best to seek help from a professional with whom you can talk about your issues.

“Seek professional support to talk about your problems, because the more you avoid them, the more difficult they become over time,” adds Johnson.

Anyone affected by the issues in this article can contact the Mind Information Helpline on 0300 123 3393.