Currently there isn’t an actual psychiatric diagnosis for Facebook Addiction – but at times I think there should be. Many psychologists are seeing more and more people who show 9 signs of addiction, which can occur either simultaneously or separately:
- Preoccupation – You frequently have thoughts about Facebook experiences, whether past, future, or fantasy.
- Tolerance – As with any addiction tolerance, you feel like you need to spend more and more on Facebook to get the same enjoyment or “rush.”
- Chasing – You’re overly focused on your posts soliciting responses or reactions from your Facebook friends.
- Risked romantic relationships – You spend too much time on Facebook or social media despite repeated requests from your partner, or you participate in questionable Facebook interactions despite risking or losing your relationship.
- Risked opportunities – You cannot get off Facebook long enough to focus on your work, school or other opportunities even at the risk of losing them.
- Lying – You minimize or lie about the amount of time you actually spend on Facebook to your friends, family members, therapists or coworkers.
- Loss of control – You’ve unsuccessfully tried to reduce the amount of time you spend on Facebook or find yourself unable to completely deactivate your account.
- Escape – You’re spending time on Facebook and other social media as a way to improve your mood or escape problems and you’re finding that you prefer this escape to what used to be your escape.
- Withdrawal – At an extreme level, you experience irritability or restlessness during your attempts to cease or reduce Facebook usage.
These signs can appear as mild to extreme problems. In my private practice I hear about Facebook-related problems at least once a day: someone is upset at someone else for what they’ve posted, someone is angry at their girlfriend for spending too much time focusing on her newsfeed, or someone was caught on Facebook too many times and lost their job. When I’ve suggested to my clients who are experiencing Facebook-related problems that they take a break from it, they give me the, “Are you crazy?” look. The mere thought of logging off, even for a weekend, often leaves them feeling nervous. This is the addictive element of Facebook – continuing doing what you love doing even when it appears to be negatively affecting your life.
How to Overcome a Facebook Addiction
1. Facebook is not the problem; find out what is
Most people are able to enjoy many of Facebook’s benefits, without feeling overwhelmed and function just fine. The main problem with overuse is when you cross the line from casual social networker to dysfunctional behavior. If you think you have a Facebook addiction, you tend to spend way too much time on it because you feel like you’re missing something. Begin by asking yourself how you are feeling on most days. Are you depressed, nervous, mourning the loss of something from your past, or not at ease in your life? If so, here lies your main emotional trigger. It’s easy to blame the obvious point of our attention (Facebook), but many times an addictive behavior is just a symptom of some other underlying problem. Take some time to evaluate if you are using Facebook as a band-aid to your life. Are you using it to avoid dealing with certain issues, such as your relationship, work or other personal issues? Focus your attention on fixing whatever is wrong or missing from your life. Once you are aware of the underlying issue, you can be more confident to manage your Facebook use.
2. Keep a log of your Facebook use
When I ask people how often they check their Facebook newsfeed, this is what I hear, “Oh, a couple of times a day.” Upon close examination, it turns out to be way more than that. Insight is the first step to changing any behavior and keeping track of how many times you actually check your newsfeed (without being prompted to do so) may help you “see” your pattern. Maybe you log on only in the mornings, maybe you’re a binge user – checking it only once a day but staying on it for hours on end, or perhaps you need to compulsively check it a hundred times a day. And even when you don’t log on, your phone or PC tablet will likely send updates your way triggering you to log on, making you feel like you have no choice but to check it out. If every 5 minutes a mailman came by and dropped off mail, even the best of us are very likely going to recheck the mailbox. Once you are aware of your specific behavioral pattern you will be able to identify a trigger that leads you to log on in the first place. For many of us this entails boredom at work while others log on for other specific reasons. Awareness of what you’re doing, and at what time you’re doing it, is useful in determining purposeful Facebook use versus using it mindlessly. Write down these triggers so that you can become more aware of them – in order to avoid reacting to them.
3. Don’t try to quit cold turkey
A drug addict or an alcoholic can sign up for rehab; however, asking a student to give up what many consider to be society’s new platform of communication is a bit unrealistic. If you function out of Internet use – whether it’s because of school or work – the way you keep up with your friends is likely online. Instead of cutting yourself off from society, try instead to determine what is reasonable and productive Facebook use for you personally. If you log on 30 times a day, try logging on for 20, then reduce this number further until you are satisfied that your Facebook use is no longer intruding on your life.
4. Make a decision and stick to it
No matter how many times you many want to deactivate your Facebook account, the act is easier said than done and there may not be a need for drastic decisions. You like Facebook but it’s taking up too much of your time – I get it. But there’s no reason why you can’t just make adjustments to your Facebook use. Decide how you’d like to use Facebook so that it’s enjoyable without overwhelming you. If this means shaving off a few problematic Facebook friends, using it during designated times, changing the way you interact with people or deactivating it completely, then do that. Do what works for you and eliminate what doesn’t.
5. Take a Facebook breather
A couple of years ago I attended a 10-day Buddhist retreat in Prescott, Arizona. The first thing they did when I arrived was take my cell phone. You have no idea how anxiety producing this was for me. I had no way to connect with the outside world; no way of letting my family and friends know how I was doing. I reluctantly handed my phone over, but after a while I realized something – living without social media for 10 days is pretty amazing. I found myself spending more time communicating with the person seating next to me, I listened more intently, and spoke with more meaning. Now, I’m not saying I spend a significant time away from Facebook currently, but while the retreat lasted, it was nice just giving myself a break.
Try leaving your phone in your bag for an hour or leave your PC tablet at home for a day. As a reward for taking a small break from technology, spend that time cooking something wonderful or doing something social with a friend or family member. Designate some time, whether it’s a few days or more, away from Facebook and other social media. Let your friends know that you’ll be away “working on a project” and then just log off. Taking a break from anything gives us a new perspective into things.
Finally, if you’re not ready to quit, you can always join an Anonymous Group on Facebook itself. Believe it or not, Facebook has over 200 Addiction Anonymous Groups – but this might defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it?