Social media - are you controlling it or is it controlling you?

Do you look at your smart phone first thing when you wake up? How many times do you feel jealous when you read what one of your friends is doing? Do you slip to the loo during work to check your messages or to see what others say they are doing?

Although not officially recognised yet as an addiction, there are growing concerns that some people seem to be dependent on social media (SM). But, it must also be recognised that SM has positive benefits and can be useful - for example, to those who are socially awkward. However, SM browsing certainly seems to encourage compulsive and, some would suggest, addictive behaviour in some individuals.

To be addicted is when there is a physical or psychological need or dependency that becomes a compulsion (a continued repetition of behaviour and preoccupation) so that the activity or substance takes over the person’s life, usually to their detriment. Compulsive behaviour is the compelling performance of an act repeatedly and is usually taken up to reduce apprehensions or anxiety.

Do you recognise yourself in one of those descriptions? Are you concerned about how often you have to check your status or that of others? Could your use be almost reaching an addictive stage? Whether SM use is addictive or not is almost not important. If you feel it is beginning to control, take over or is destroying your life or a relationship, it is a problem for you. Perhaps that is why you decided to read this article. Or maybe you are concerned about someone else’s use?

It has been observed that there has been an increase in depression in some users of social media. Currently researchers are looking into the causing effects. Is it that, although you are electronically connected to lots of ‘friends’, you don’t have the human contact we need? Is it because you read about the fantastic lives (and remember, we tend to emphasise the positive things happening in our lives) others are having and compare our ordinary lives to theirs? Or is it because we hate been dependent on a machine? Lots of unanswered questions.

One of the theories around the growth of SM use is that we as humans need to be recognised and validated by others. Using social media can give us extensive opportunities that our normal day-to-day lives don’t. Our existence is confirmed and we feel more important by the growing number of ‘friends’ we have or by the number of times our thoughts or photos are passed on. And, of course, for some there is the fear of missing out - not being part of the ‘in crowd’. Especially important for teens and young adults.

But if you feel that SM occupies too much of your life then you need to do something about it. Acknowledging that you are too focused on social media is the first step. Then, I would suggest, you need to look at why you allowed it to happen. What does SM give you that you feel you lack? Do you feel more interesting/more popular? And why is this important? These are things that you could explore with a counsellor.

Once you have accepted this, then you need to introduce controls to your use. SM, computers and phones are useful tools but they are just that - tools for you to use. And, as they are a growing part of modern life, you will have to figure out how to use them but prevent them taking over your life. Taking time out to develop a plan of action that works for you is important. And don’t expect that you will be able to change overnight. Small, carefully planned step will work best.

Believe more in yourself and that you are a loveable, useful and effective person and phones, computers and social media will become tools that you use for your benefit.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Canary Wharf, E14 4AS
Written by Owen Redahan, MBACP. B.Sc.(Agr)
Canary Wharf, E14 4AS

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