Each day, many of us spend countless hours and devote a great deal of mental attention to what we see online. While much of this time may be useful, functional, practical, and enjoyable (You're reading this online right?), many aspects of this online trend are not useful to us or actually bad for us.
More and more frequently phone use negatively impacts emotional intimacy with people in our own lives. Checking up on others posts on social media can have negative consequences on people's self-esteem. Some people report difficulty focusing or meeting deadlines because of time wasted online.
Problematic internet and social media use is becoming increasingly recognized as a mental health concern. It is characterized by a level of use that impairs relationships; brings about family, work, or interpersonal difficulties; and impacts daily function in a negative way.
One in eight Americans are believed to experience internet addiction. Approximately 70% of those addicted to the internet are reported to also experience some other form of addiction.
Those who experience internet addiction may experience a "high" when using their computers or phones that is similar to the high those who shop compulsively experience when making a purchase. A genetic component may also make it more likely that some who use the internet in a problematic way will become addicted to it. Familial and social factors may also play a role, as a person might turn to virtual reality more and more to escape negative situations in everyday life. As one uses the internet more frequently and experiences positive feelings and sensations as a result of internet usage, one may come to depend on the internet in order to feel good or even normal.
In some cases, gender may play a role in the type of addiction one experiences. Research has shown that men are more likely to become addicted to online games, cybersex or porn, and gambling online, while woman may be more likely to use social media, test or quiz websites, and online stores in a problematic manner.
A person who experiences internet or social media addiction may:
*Exhibit a preoccupation with the internet even when not using it.
*Use the internet and social media more and more frequently.
*Be unable to stop or cut back on use (despite attempts to do so).
*Feel moody, irritable, restless, or low with efforts to cut back on the internet or social media.
*Risk losing employment, romantic relationships, friendships, or academics in order to spend more time online.
*Lie to friends, family, romantic partners, and mental health counselors about the time spent on the internet.
Types of internet addiction may include sexting or cybersex addiction, online gaming addiction, shopping addiction, addiction to gambling sites, fantasy sport leagues, chat rooms or blog sites.
Although one of the characteristics of internet addiction is the amount of time spent online, what truly matters is the way the internet is being used and the effect it has on one's life. A person who spends 40 hours a week using the internet at work and then come home and spend an additional 2-3 hours using the internet each day. This practice, however, would not be considered internet addiction unless it has a negative or harmful impact on the individual's life. In problematic internet or social media use the time spent involved with them generally increases.
Problematic internet or social media use can be harmful because it often has a significant impact on one's daily life. A person's work or academic performance may fall and relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners may be impacted negatively. A person can experience health concerns such as fatigue, headaches, backaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Mental health concerns can include eating and food issues, depression, stress, and anxiety. Late-night logins are likely to disrupt sleep patterns and may lead to fatigue or poor concentration. Long term sleep deprivation is likely to have a negative effect on physical and mental health. Additionally, individuals with problematic internet or social media use may turn to the internet in order to combat isolation in daily life.
It's easy enough for any of us to experience these issues. What's important is to acknowledge when internet use causes problems, and to recognize it does not have to be that way. If you are concerned with your online behaviors, the following are some pointers you can try.
1) Develop Self-Awareness About Your Online Behavior.
Addressing your online habits requires a fair amount of honesty with yourself. You will need to examine how you usually make decisions about online activities and reflect on how you are feeling about these activities. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
*When and how often each day are you online?
*What types of things are you doing online?
*Which activities cause you to lose track of time?
*Do online distractions get in the way of your productivity?
*Do online activities interfere with your home life or your social life?
*Do you feel in control of your online behavior?
*What is your mood like when you go online and does it change after you've been online?
*Are there any patterns you notice that you would like to change?
2) Examine the Purpose of Online Behavior
Once you recognize your online behavior it may be easier to acknowledge the emotional impact the behavior has on your life. This emotional impact can vary from day to day or between different situations. In one study, 56% of teens reported feeling anxious, lonely, or upset when they think about not having their cell phone with them. Can you relate to these powerful emotions?