Social media has become so ingrained in our culture, that it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t been around for very long.
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It’s so new, that, Joseph Rock, PsyD, says the research is just emerging on how our behaviors surrounding social media could be measured against standards for being diagnosed as an addiction.
He says one of the pitfalls of social media is that, for some, it can produce feelings that keep them coming back for more.
Why you just can’t get enough
“People get a sense of social well-being ― it’s as though they’re interacting with somebody, like they’re interacting with friends,” he explains. “Researchers find people who are really heavy users develop a tolerance to that feeling, so they need more and more exposure to get the same effect. What does that sound like? Drug and alcohol use.”
One recent study showed that people using one social media platform for long periods of time had the tendency to make riskier decisions. Another study linked heavy social media use with having more physical ailments.
Dr. Rock says it’s important to understand that these studies did not show cause and effect, but the results are still worrisome.
People who have a tendency to be addictive might head toward social media as well as people who are sedentary.
How much is too much?
While we don’t yet know how much social media use is too much, Dr. Rock says we do know that spending too much time being sedentary is not good for our physical or mental health. He says it’s also possible that constant use of our devices for social media is changing how our brains function, because it is constant, readily available and interruptive.
If you are unsure if you are spending too much time on social media, Dr. Rock suggests asking friends and family what they think. If you’re still not sure, try letting them go for a while.
“Try stopping and see what it feels like, if you can, just for a few days, try stopping cold turkey,” Dr. Rock suggests. “If it’s really very uncomfortable for you ― keep in mind that breaking any habit feels weird ― but if it’s really, really uncomfortable for you, that’s not a good sign.”
Researchers are starting to draw parallels that people may actually be able to form addictions to social media, but because social media is so new, the research is just beginning to scratch the surface. Dr. Rock says there will be more studies to come to find out if social media addiction should be considered a mental disorder.