We’ve all been out to dinner with a friend who has forbade us from digging into our meal until she snapped the perfect photo. Or maybe you’re that friend who lives life waiting for the next Instagrammable moment. Bottom line is, we’re all just dying to share the most glamorous moments of our lives on social media.
But what about when life isn’t so sharable? According to licensed therapist Nicole Amesbury—who counsels patients through Talkspace, a web and mobile app that connects people directly with licensed therapists for messaging therapy—working overtime to craft an online life that’s more likable than your reality can have some detrimental effects.
“We were finding that with all our clients, there was a social media puzzle piece that was coming into play with their concerns, be it depression, eating disorders, relationships, anxiety,” Amesbury explains. “So, we wanted to do something about it so that people can use social media in a way that makes them feel good about themselves.”
These observations led Talkspace to recently launch a 12-week Social Media Dependency Program that encourages people to reassess how they use social media in their daily lives. So we asked Amesbury (for a friend, of course): “How can we know if we have a social media dependency problem?”
Here, she shares the signs that you may need to redefine your relationship with social media.
- You check your feeds every spare moment you get. “A lot of people don’t sit down and take a time of the day where they say ‘I’m going to spend x amount of time and look at my different sites,'” Amesbury explains. Instead, we check our phones every spare second, while waiting in line at the grocery store, at a red light, or walking to and from lunch. This ends up leaving us overwhelmed with an information overload.
- You’re having trouble focusing at work. Are you finding it hard to actually work long enough on a task to get it done efficiently? Your social media habits may be to blame. “The problem when you just check really quickly is that you’re really changing the brain. Over time, spending hours a day on your smartphone, we’ve seen people with difficulty concentrating, and they start to feel very fragmented and distracted in their lives,” Amesbury adds.
- “Tag me in that!” is a common phrase for you. Or maybe it’s “Are you going to post that?” Either way, the preoccupation with how a photo will change your online persona may not be healthy. Think about this: Do you want to see the photo online so you can look on it fondly or show your mother how happy you were with your friends? Or do you want it to go up because your butt looks really perky from that angle and you know your ex will see it? If the answer is the latter, your intentions may need some adjusting.
- You spend more time posting than living in the moment. What you’re putting out into the social-sphere is just as important as what you consume. “We see that people check into the nicest places, they crop and touch up their pictures, and they present to the world who they want to be seen as,” Amesbury says. “It’s because they want to get likes, and then they’re at their house and eating leftover takeout that doesn’t look great by themselves, and they feel very much alone and sad.” It can become really isolating.
- You feel worse about yourself when you log off. Isolated, inadequate, depressed, or unhappy with your image—all can come from the image competition we’re playing online. “In our walking world, we come into contact with so many people and we might compare ourselves to those people,” Amesbury explains. “But when you go online you’re comparing to everyone else online.” This can leave you feeling, instead of warm and connected, alone and just not good about yourself. Isn’t that the opposite of what socializing should do?
In the end, social media isn’t going away, Amesbury notes. Cutting it out cold turkey is like going on a crash diet, she adds. “You’re going to trim down, and the second it’s over, what happens? We know people binge and it doesn’t work because food is still around.” Plus, social media helps us connect with faraway friends and family; it’s not devoid of positives.
“So we’re definitely not recommending to cut it out of your life completely. It’s all about learning how to integrate it in a way that betters your life.” If you’re being mindful, you’re already on your way.
READ MORE: 8 Ways to Keep You Self-Control While Under Pressure