Do you ever log onto to Twitter “for five minutes” only to find that two hours later, you’re still browsing your news feed?
Or do you find yourself constantly checking for Facebook updates on your smartphone?
Don’t panic – you’re not alone. Research shows that social media is incredibly addictive. One study has found that staying away from Twitter is harder than quitting smoking. Incredible, hey?
What Makes Social Media so Addictive?
The key to social media addiction is dopamine.
You’ve probably heard of dopamine as the pleasure hormone. This isn’t strictly true.
What dopamine actually does is encourage us to look for stuff.
As the folks at Team W explain:
From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps us motivated to move through our world, learn, and survive. It’s not just about physical needs such as food, or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information.
Do you see where this is going? Dopamine makes us what to look for new stuff. Twitter and Facebook are veritable goldmines of new stuff. Your brain on Twitter is like Scrooge McDuck diving into his money vault. Everywhere you turn, your brain thinks happy days.
Well, almost. There’s one more trick that Twitter has up its sleeve, which makes it even more powerful: unpredictability. Sometimes you’ll go on Twitter and Facebook, and your mind is blown. Boom! Sometimes you’ll have a ton of notifications. Again, this sends a flood of dopamine to your brain.
Other times, it’s a slow day (or a slow five minutes). Nothing much interesting. No notifications.
This unpredictability stimulates dopamine.
And there’s one more thing… dopamine loves chasing down rabbit holes. If you have incomplete information (e.g. a 140 character tweet), you won’t feel satisfied. You’ll need more. So you’ll keep looking. Hence, you stay on Twitter for hours.
Here’s One Approach You Can Use to Break Social Media Addiction
Social media isn’t going away. For most of us, it’s integral to our lives – if not to our work, then at least to our social lives. And your brain isn’t going to stop producing dopamine anytime soon.
As the folks at Harvard Health explain, your best bet is to find other ways of making your brain happy, and fulfilling your desire for new things:
It is not enough to “just say no”—as the 1980s slogan suggested. Instead, you can protect (and heal) yourself from addiction by saying “yes” to other things. Cultivate diverse interests that provide meaning to your life.
That could mean:
- Getting out into the real world and meeting new people.
- Finding a job that’s meaningful and purposeful (that doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your current job – it can just mean subtle changes, or a new attitude)
- Reading books – especially those outside your main field of interest.
- Trying a new sport.
- Cooking a different meal.
All these take more investment than checking social media, and so are more likely to give more long term rewards.
Over to You
What do you do to find meaning and purpose in life? If you’ve recovered from social media addiction, what helped you?
Let us know in the comments section, below.