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Social Media Addiction: It’s Time to Unplug



According to the American Society of Addiction and Medicine, addiction is “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual's life experiences.” According to the American Psychological Association, 8 in 10 Americans check their devices for social media content and messages, texts, and emails, with a fifth of Americans describing the technology used as a source of stress. Furthermore, evidence suggests an increase in cyberbullying with adolescent, male long-time users becoming perpetrators of cyberbullying. 


Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook are the three top social media sites that Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers constantly use for entertainment, news, and media services. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime follow along with joy as the most streamed on laptops, TVs, and phones. It has been noted that in almost every part of our private lives, such as being in the bathroom, phones are taken with us to pass the time. In this, most people have become overstimulated with all the technology at their disposal without thinking much about how this form of habit has affected them psychologically. For this reason, I am pulling the alarm on what needs to be said about our technology: they’re distracting us from ourselves and affecting our mental health. 


It is Making us More Lonely and Paranoid 


A 2018 study conducted by Cigna has brought about alarming attention to a growing epidemic: loneliness. Gen Z has been purported to be the loneliest generation, with a score of 48.3% reporting they have no one to turn to and are misunderstood. Millennials are the second loneliest with a score of 45.3%, and Gen X and baby boomers have a much lower number with scores of 45.1% and 42.4%, respectively. The greatest generation has the lowest score at 38.6%. It has been noted that loneliness is more lethal than obesity, which is why this epidemic is cause for alarm. According to CDC, those who experience loneliness are highly susceptible to numerous health concerns, such as dementia, heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, and suicide.  


In America and most of the world, we are facing a growing population of lonely people with reduced skills in socialization. The culprit? Technology. In the same Cigna study, those who engage in frequent in-person interactions have lower loneliness scores than those who rarely interact with those face to face. Daily in-person interactions have a low score of 39.6% of feeling lonely, while those who never have in-person interactions have a high score of 59.6% of people feeling lonely. As you can imagine, the rate at which this has been growing significantly during the Covid-19 era, which has been reported to exacerbate loneliness, has been steadily increasing due to the increase in social media usage, which this study has carefully analyzed. 


 Furthermore, another study added that reducing social media decreases loneliness and depression, stating that “limiting usage of social media to at least 30 min per day significantly improves well-being.” With Gen Z being the generation with the highest social media usage, it is essential to notice the link, though not a direct one, between loneliness and other health factors such as mental illness.  


Moreover, stress about real-life events such as gun violence and climate change has significantly increased stress levels within Americans as this news and information is readily circulated within social media. Gen Z reports having the highest pressure since they are the primary social media consumers.


It is Losing Sight of Mental health Awareness 


With one in five U.S. individuals living with a mental condition (52.9 million in 2020) and the growing mental health awareness within the younger generation who uses the internet the most, mental health and mental illness discussions are vulnerable to misinformation and misuse. 


In 2013, an influencer named Belle Gibson underwent chemotherapy for her lymphoma. As supporters ranked up on social media, she reported that she was cured of brain cancer through healthy eating. Supporters donated money to charities Gibson advocated for, but it turns out most of that time wasn’t being presented, and worst of all, she never had cancer. Federal court fined her $410,000 and later raided her home for the overdue fine. This kind of story repeats itself. 


Recently, Tik Tok has been experiencing a surge in what clinicians describe as a “sociogenic illness” or mass “psychogenic illness” in which people copy an illness they observe. This kind of phenomenon has been exacerbated through social media. For example, several Tik Tok influencers, predominantly around 18 years old and female, have reported faking certain illnesses such as Tourette’s Syndrome. Typically, the mental condition is seen at earlier stages of someone’s life and is predominantly found in males. Also, according to a study that observed this phenomenon during the Covid 19 outbreak, the observable tics and other beonline behaviors differ from those withhe neurological disorder. Furthermore, it was noted that many of those presenting with sudden unusual tics might have been undergoing psychological stress from the pandemic. For this reason, it’s essential to recognize the role of social media may have become an accidental, diagnostic tool for individuals; this is negatively imperative to a professional diagnosis.


Many other examples showcase how mental disorders, physical illness, and others like it have skyrocketed from the sociogenic illness phenomena or simply the abuse of mental/physical disorder awareness for social, financial, or political gain. However, this article aims to raise the alarm about how social media can subconsciously influence us. For this reason, we must secure ourselves from this subconscious influence the internet has on us as a public since what we see may not be factual.        


A New Perspective on Using Social Media 


As a Zillennial, which I like to call myself, born in 1996, debatably between Millenial and Gen Z, I have had the fortune and misfortune of seeing a world without smartphones and growing up with smartphones later in my childhood. Through my experience, I believe the world has become more neurotic with the information presented to us, from worst crimes to nihilistic notions spread like wildfire to anyone who permits it. I grew up with books, an internet that wasn’t fully saturated with much content yet, and my local park. Now, I see young children as young as four years old glued to a mobile screen.


With all this information in mind, I have compiled a few suggestions if you wish to take a breather from social media and find a way to live in the new age of technology. In this way, this list doesn’t completely isolate you from your social circles but promotes a healthy boundary between you and the online world: 


  1. Use your phone as a vessel to limit notifications: Start by going into settings and turning off notifications for your favorite social media sites. 

  2. If you are using a phone or tablet, use applications like Freedom or Forest, available in IOS and Android. Free applications like app block or Flipd can help you try out the functionality of these applications. Further information can be found here. 

  3. Browser extensions like RescueTime function the same way as mobile apps but on browsers. There are other free Chrome extensions like Strict Workflow and StayFocusd.  

  4. Nature is your best friend and reminds us that we are not plugged into our technologies. Walk outside, grow, and tend a garden (even a tiny plant would count). 

  5. Cook without a recipe or find a recipe in a book. Cooking is another method to recover from addiction. Limit your dependability sometimes with the internet. Often we start to abuse the reliability of our phones, but you can be surprised by how much you can figure out yourself without the help of the internet. 

  6. If you have problems and no one to speak to, do not immediately look to the internet. Similarly to cooking, we want to build our brain muscles to depend on ourselves and figure out our problems. We can go back from time to time again if we are struggling, but if your first cue is to look into your phone, try journaling, meditating, or simply sitting down with your thoughts to help figure out a problem. Furthermore, behavioral therapy would be another treatment to look into for addiction. 

  7. Meditate for at least 30 minutes a day. There is a great Netflix interactive guide called Headspace Guide to Meditation that can help guide you on how to meditate. After these lessons, you can do it independently without the help of phones. 

Overall, I am advocating for less usage of our technologies. Our devices have helped us in many ways that we couldn’t in the past, and they are marvelous for what they do; however, it is essential to recognize how we can abuse our dependability on our technologies. Time and time again, we can take a break, figure things out on our own, and go to events to meet people face to face, such as your local faith-based organization, volunteering events, or another community group to reach out to people that an algorithm wouldn’t expose to you. Diversify your experiences with the outside world, and you will see the beauty of a balanced, healthy boundary with the internet. 

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Tags: #social media #Gen Z #loneliness epidemic #social media addiction


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