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Social Media Addiction: The 16 Alarming Symptoms & How to Break Out

Social media is fun and the signs and symptoms you’re hooked may seem harmless. But when social media addiction takes hold, the dangers become very real.

Social media addiction

Whether you actually given a thought about the signs and symptoms of social media addiction or not, social media is something which most of us spend a large amount of time on, every single day. The fact that our social lives have been put on hold due to the pandemic also means that we’re reaching for our phones as a way to interact far more often too.

How often do you scroll through social media?

Before the pandemic, the average amount of time spent per day on social media was 2 hours and 22 minutes, according to studies. That’s already a pretty sizeable amount of time and whilst we don’t have data for the pandemic yet, can you imagine how much that’s likely to have increased? Even before the pandemic, the amount of time spent on social media was increasing year upon year.

Now, having a quick look on Facebook or Instagram isn’t an issue, checking your Twitter a few times a day is fine. But when you start to fall into the realms of social media addiction, you need to pay attention to what you’re doing and take action to stop it becoming a major problem in your life. [Read: Why social media only makes you feel way more insecure]

Now, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. Firstly, it allows me to stay in touch with my friends and family around the world. However, far too much drama has been started on Facebook in particular for my liking, and I don’t like how much it forces us to compare ourselves to others. In that case, it’s dangerous. But when used for the right reasons, social media certainly has its plus points.

What is social media addiction exactly?

You might wonder why is social media so addictive when you can easily just put your phone down. The thing is, some people find it hard to know when to stop. That’s how social media keeps you addicted!

You become so obsessed with wanting to know what’s going on, you develop a severe case of FOMO. [Read: What is FOMO? How to read the signs and overcome the stress it causes you]

There is no solid pathway that will lead towards a diagnosis of social media addiction, and it’s more a case of how being away from social media makes you feel and the amount of time you spend on it. It can be about every social media platform, or just one or even two.

How does social media addiction start in the first place?

Social media addiction happens when your brain becomes influenced by the amount of time you spend looking at platforms. In this situation, you’re using social media a lot and compulsively, i.e. you have to look at it, you can’t stop yourself. It becomes a natural part of your day, usually the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing at night, with many sessions between.

Now, you might be reading that and thinking “I use social media like that”, but the key is how you feel about it. Can you take it or leave it? Or, do you feel like you have no choice but to look? That’s the key difference.

Also, it’s about how the content you’re viewing makes you feel. Do you regularly use social media to make you feel good? Do you look at social media and constantly compare yourself to others? Do you use it for validation? These are all negative reasons which are associated with social media addiction. [Read: Instagram envy – How to keep your life real when you’re green with envy]

Researchers think that around 10% of US citizens are addicted to social media. That’s quite a lot, right?

How you fall into the trap of social media addiction

For those who are suffering from social media addiction, scrolling through a favorite platform becomes a major part of your brain’s reward system. This is because the amount of dopamine your brain releases increases and that in itself has a huge association with rewards, e.g. feel-good factor and pleasure.

Your brain then rewires itself to think “hey, this is a good thing, I should do more of it”. In the end, you feel compelled and almost panicky when you can’t get hold of a device to check your social media platforms – you crave the feel good reward. [Read: How to lead a good life you’ll love and cherish – The 14-step guide]

16 signs and symptoms of social media addiction

You might think there are set personality traits of a social media addict, but that’s not actually the case. Anyone can become addicted to social media if they use it enough and use it for the wrong reasons.  

Let’s look at a few solid signs and symptoms that may point solidly towards social media addiction.

#1 A lack of self-esteem. This can be for a range of reasons but it’s also possibly down to assuming that everyone has a better life than you do. It’s very easy to think this when you see everything that is being posted and how it’s packaged up to look like a perfect picture.

This is rarely the truth – people just like to pretend their lives are great, usually to make others feel bad and them feel better. Sad, isn’t it? [Read: 14 ways to instantly recognize fake people and stay away]

#2 Needing validation from followers. If you feel you need to post a selfie for someone to tell you that you look good, or you need to tell people what you’re doing so that they say good things, you’re seeking validation and you’re seeking it in the wrong places. This is one of the major signs of social media addiction. [Read: Attention seeking behavior and why some people go looking for drama]

#3 Increasing amounts of isolation. Those who are struggling with social media addiction might think that using social media helps them to feel less lonely.

But in reality, it’s actually one of the major factors in them feeling lonely in the first place. Spending time at home with your phone in front of you isn’t going to help you to live your life. You need to get out there and connect with people, face to face. [Read: Why you’re feeling lonely in a relationship and what to do about it]

#4 Increasing anxiety related to social media use. Do you often feel panicky when you can’t check your social media platforms? Maybe there’s an Internet outage for some reason, or maybe your phone charge has gone. That means you can’t check your platforms – how do you feel? Do you feel a little anxious? That’s a key sign of social media addiction once more.

#5 Total and utter FOMO. In addition to feeling anxious when you can’t check your platforms, do you feel like you’re missing out on something? Of course, in reality you’re probably not missing anything at all. Well, apart from your colleague from your last job posting about the amazing dinner they’ve just made.

Is that really so life changing that you feel like you’re missing out if you don’t see it? Jokes aside, FOMO can actually cause you to use your social media even more, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out. [Read: Dating someone with FOMO – Will they ever be ready for a real relationship?]

#6 Problems with sleep. We’ve all heard about the issues with blue light from phones and that if you use your phone before bed, it can disrupt your circadian rhythm – basically your brain thinks it’s daytime and keeps you awake.

Using your phone to check social media too much in the hours before bed can cause you to have very poor sleep and that in itself can lead towards a range of health issues.

#7 Not really wanting to do anything other than checking your phone. Social media addiction can feel all-encompassing. When you’re using your phone and constantly scrolling and commenting, you might think you’re busy, but you’re actually busy with the wrong things. You don’t head out for exercise, you don’t eat in some cases, and you might find that you miss important appointments and plans. [Read: Why do I feel so alone? The answers that can change your life]

#8 Total distraction, leading to problems at work. If you’re always thinking about what you’re missing out on, you’re not going to be focusing and concentrating so well. This could lead to mistakes and a lack of productivity at work. Over time, this isn’t going to put you in your boss’ good graces and your colleagues aren’t going to be impressed about it either.

#9 Being totally out of touch with the real world. Social media might appear to be quite real. But it’s very detached on so many levels. When you spend too much time checking social media platforms, you lose the ability to communicate face to face to the same level and you might find that you start to lack empathy because you’re not able to put yourself in the shoes of others as much as you could before. This is all because you’re totally out of touch with the real world.

#10 Assuming that everyone has it better than you. This particular issue comes from comparing your life to the lives of others as a result of reading their social media posts.

I mentioned earlier that this can cause low self-esteem. But it can also cause a huge dissatisfaction in life because you’re reading things and believing them to be true. Remember that people only post what they think looks good, and there’s nothing wrong with your life. [Read: Imposter syndrome – 20 signs and ways to stop feeling like a fake]

#11 Happiness depends on likes and shares. If your post receives a lot of likes or shares, you’re happy. If it doesn’t, your day doesn’t go as you wanted it to. When the performance of your posts matters more than the things you’re doing, that’s a huge pointer towards social media addiction.

#12 Checking social media first thing when you wake up. Many of us reach for our phones when we wake up. But if it’s the first thing to cross your mind, that’s an issue. You should be thinking about the night’s sleep you had, the dreams you had, and the things you need to do throughout the coming day, not whether you received any likes whilst you were sleeping. [Read: How social media is slowly killing your relationship]

#13 Post pre-planning. Do you spend part of the day planning what you’re going to post? Unless you are an influencer or a blogger and you need to use social media in this way, there’s really no need to put this much time and effort into thinking about what you want your followers to read. It points towards social media addiction more than easy use.

#14 A need to totally overshare. There are things people would like to know and things they really don’t need to know. If you’re totally oversharing on the personal details, it’s time to take a step back and remember that some things should remain private, or at least away from the virtual world. [Read: 12 things you do online that makes you look pathetic]

#15 Rather than experiencing life, you feel the need to share it. In addition to oversharing, you feel the need to share every single part of your day, including breakfast, dinner and lunch. Followers don’t need to know everything and you’re missing the good stuff.

#16 An inability to be present in the moment. If you sit there on your phone, rather than being present in the moment, your friends are quickly going to become tired of it. Again, you’re not living in the moment and you need to wake up and look at what’s around you.

How to break out of social media addiction 

Firstly, if you’re struggling with social media use, you should reach out for help. Your doctor will be able to give you advice on mental health care and help you to understand whether you’re struggling with social media addiction, or perhaps something else.

In addition, give these tips a try. [Read: How to motivate yourself to do anything and succeed with the right kind of planning]

– Delete social media platform apps from your phone

– Log out of websites, so it is more hassle to log on to a computer desktop site

– Try a social media detox – start small if you really do have an addiction problem and build up the amount of time you avoid using platforms [Read: 13 steps to a complete and effective social media detox plan]

– When using social media, give yourself a time limit

– Try new things and distract your mind away from social media

– Try mindfulness – this can be fantastic for helping you to stay firmly in the moment.

[Read: Social media and relationships – The good, the bad and the ugly all of us should know]

Social media addiction is a very real thing and it’s not an issue you should take lightly. Perhaps it’s time to step away from the virtual world and try living in the real one for a while?

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Nicky Curtis
Nicky Curtis
Having stumbled from one relationship drama to another throughout her 20s, Nicky is now somewhat of a guru in the crazy world of life and love. Telling it how i...
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