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Social Media Addiction

Hi all.

So if it isn’t obvious, I decided to take a week off from blogging over Thanksgiving break. Because it’s a holiday, darn it.

Heck yeah I made this pie.

I did grade papers four out of my nine days off. Oops.

On the other hand, I learned a lot from the papers I read. That’s one thing I love about being a teacher: all that I learn from my students.

Perhaps it’s ironic, considering my week-long blogging sabbatical, that a number of my students wrote about or at least mentioned Social Media Anxiety in their research papers. I guess it actually is a diagnosable condition with an official name: SMA.

One student who wrote about this topic discovered in his research that the average teenager spends 9 hours a day on social media. 9 hours! That’s the average–the mean! And that’s not even 9 hours of screen time; 9 hours of social media specifically.

In some ways, this statistic doesn’t surprise me. When I teach, students are constantly on their phones. Even if they put their phones away during class–which many of them don’t–then they’re on their phones before class starts. If they finish a group activity early, a few of them chat with their groupmates, but most of them get out their phones.

The bus is another place I see it. I’d estimate about 80% or more of the people on the bus I take to work every day spend the duration of the commute on their phones.

A little hard to read because of the glare. It’s a magnet that says “Do more of what makes you forget to look at your phone.”

For many of my friends, I know that checking Facebook, Instagram, or another social media platform is the first thing they do when they get up in the morning and the last thing they do before they fall asleep.

I think it’s a sign that I’m “old” that a lot of my friends use Facebook as their primary social media platform. My students tell me Facebook isn’t cool anymore. But I digress.

Another thing students discovered in their research is that social media is literally addictive. It literally changes your brain chemistry in a way that makes the addiction very, very difficult to control.

I spend a fair amount of time on social media. Sometimes too much time. But I can easily go two days without looking at Instagram. I can sit on the bus and watch the buildings go by and not feel that I’m missing out. I can open my Facebook page and ignore all the notifications.

I wonder if I have this more relaxed relationship with social media in part because I really didn’t get into it until I started college. I didn’t even have a smartphone until last year. I guess I’ve always been a few years behind the times.

That being said, I try not to judge or act superior. I’ve struggled with addictive behaviors too.

Almost all my life, I’ve struggled with trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling) and other BFRBs (body-focused repetitive behaviors) like nail biting. I don’t mention this much on the blog–and I’ve made a choice not to go into much detail about it here on the Hungry Caterpillar. Sorry. I just don’t feel that comfortable sharing.

I do feel comfortable saying that trich and my other BFRBs are truly addictions, if relatively harmless addictions. I’m astonished by the extent to which I feel they control me and how unsuccessful I’ve been trying to manage them.

Reading these students’ papers and reflecting on my own experience with social media, I can see how social media works in the same way. We can feel that it can control us.

And of course, since this blog is about eating disorder recovery, I’m going to circle back around and make note of just how dangerous Social Media Anxiety and addiction is for people at risk for eating disorders.

I knew that media and social media influence eating disorders, but this week I’ve been starting to wrap my brain about just how much influence they can have. Social media has become as big a part of many peoples’ lives as their education, or careers, or even their closest relationships. I mean, 9 hours a day?! No wonder so-called “health” Instagrammers who post every workout and every meal and publicly track every calorie and meal plan cause people to develop life-threatening anorexia, bulimia, BED, or EDNOS.

Of course, there are also wonderful non-diet, pro-recovery, and body-positive folks with wonderful social media accounts. Don’t hesitate to check out some of the awesome folks I’m following!

But I honestly think that, as powerfully as social media can help someone develop a normal relationship to food and exercise, the real hard work of recovery doesn’t happen on social media. On social media, surrounded by such a positive community that I’ve sought out for myself, I can feel so super-confident and 100% recovered. Which is great; don’t get me wrong.

Still, it’s when I go about my life in real time and real space, eat lots of pie over the holiday, go to the grocery store, or go on a walk, alone with my own thoughts: those are the moments when recovery gets tough. And honestly, I’ve needed those tough moments to get me where I am in recovery.

Forgive my digressive post. Just sharing some thoughts that have been on my mind recently. I don’t even have that many photos because my laptop is having issues!

If you’ve gotten through this far, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Do you ever feel that your relationship to social media has become addictive?

What are some of the benefits and downsides, in your opinion, of using social media as a recovery tool?

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10 comments

  1. Quill says:

    I probably do spend a lot of time on Facebook, but I’d be interested in how they quantify this “9 hours.” Is that 9 hours of actively looking at it, or having it open in the background and periodically looking at it? If the latter, I probably am around there somewhere. Admittedly it probably does take up more of my time than it’s worthy of. Most of what people post on it is crap, just memes and “repost this” stuff, not to mention an increasing number of “sponsored” posts, but some is actually quite meaningful or insightful, or about my friends (many of whom I haven’t seen face-to-face in several years) and I find it worthwhile for that. One thing I have noticed though is that when the quality of my in-person interactions is better, I feel less need for Facebook – it definitely fills a void. A year and a half ago when I was definitively in a relationship, I pretty much forgot about it entirely for a while, didn’t even bother to update my relationship status for a few weeks despite that being the biggest news of my life – people on Facebook seeing it just didn’t matter to me anymore.

    1. Joyce says:

      I imagine that it must be that: having social media open and sort of passively checking up on it while in class, doing homework, eating, exercising. How else could anyone possibly fit 9 hours a day in?…especially with how busy high school students are?

  2. Diane Wahto says:

    The pumpkin pie was amazingly good. I ate another piece for breakfast.

    It’s no wonder Facebook is no longer cool. All my peers are on it taking the air out of it. 🙂 I don’t have time to deal with it much, however. I need to do my own thing, such as writing in my blog, which I haven’t touched for a long time.

    It was good to see you. By the way, I always learned from my students, too.

    1. Joyce says:

      It’s one of the joys of teaching, I think: getting to continuously learn new things.

  3. Definitely an interesting topic pretty much each of us these days should be thinking about. Social media 100 percent is addictive and I do know I occasionally spend too much time browsing it or reading posts online for procrastination. Yet I wouldn’t think it accounts for nine (crazy!) hours of my day and I’m certainly not going stir-crazy when I can’t check my phone for a while. Actually, it’s one of my priorities to not check my phone the first hour after waking up and then also not for a few hours in the afternoon. We don’t miss anything important not looking at our phones but a lot in doing so.
    It honestly worries me how social media-dependent teenagers and even some children are these days. I’m even a bit concerned what this will mean for P.’s future. Yes, call me an overly worried aunt …

    1. Joyce says:

      I think that’s really wise: “We don’t miss anything important not looking at our phones but a lot in doing so.”

  4. Cora says:

    It’s just so colossal right now. Everywhere you look, people are looking down at a phone. You can’t even limit it to a certain generation anymore – you are seeing it in all ages. Though of course, the younger ones are the ones I am worried about. The not paying attention in class, or the moment there is silence or “nothing to do, popping out the phone – it’s just so automatic now. Sadly I definitely see and feel this in myself. But I’m aware of it so I try to remain conscious and not pull it out when I don’t actually “have” to. SM has some benefits, for sure, but in general I think it is causing more harm than good. The inability to communicate face to face, or to spend “open” time with nothing to do – I think these things have become such a fear, which explain why SM has absolutely become an addiction.

    Recovery is a whole other gamete. Like you’ve said, I think there are many people out there, or platforms, that can serve as really awesome motivators for anyone recovering. And with todays’ technology, we can reach those platforms and read what all sorts of people have to say. But it also allows for obsession, comparison, and a feeling of false safety. Too much to say. I could go on, but I’ll leave it for another time.

    1. Joyce says:

      I feel it in myself too; perhaps not as powerfully as my students, but I still feel it. That “open” time thing is something I think a lot about. It’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t that automatic cure for the slightest boredom: the internet. And, no, it’s not all bad; there are many great things about it. But I do think we need to be thinking about it.

  5. Emily says:

    This was something I finally realized this year. I was addicted to my phone and the approval of people on social media. God really convicted me that all I need is His love and approval, and I can just do social media when He wants me to, and I can not do it and still be accepted in the beloved Jesus Christ.

    I agree sooo much with this that social media is such an easy addiction to have, and i confess to having an addiction to it; it’s a really draining miserable thing. But when I get on social media to interact with friends and see how they’re doing and what God is doing in their lives and pieces of God’s beauty in food and His creation it really doesn’t make me want to be addicted to it.

    Thank you so much for sharing this Joyce!

  6. Kaylee says:

    I totally need that magnet (and what it encourages us to do) more in my life. This hits waaaay too close to home. As a student on a college campus, it amazes me when I’m walking around how basically EVERYONE is on their phones while walking. Then I realize the sad truth that I am on my phone too, checking Instagram, scrolling through Facbook, Snapping someone.

    Weirdly, I think my addiction to social media has gotten worse in the past couple of years. I don’t want to attribute it to ED recovery but sometimes I feel with my loss of extreme self discipline and restraint in terms of food and exercise, I have also lost that restraint when it comes to my phone.

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