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Angelia ponders social media addiction and outlines some small steps you can take to break bad habits in a digital age.

Users in more ways than one

Are social media users in the driver’s seat, or are they users with social media as their drug of choice?

2018 has already seen a lot of press on the topic of social media addiction, including an article this week about social media bosses choosing ‘not to get high on their own supply,’ i.e., they’re not using the platforms they’ve purposely designed to be catching. Add that to the news item that broke at the end of last year about another techy pastime: video games. This one saw WHO flagging extreme overuse of video games as a mental health condition, further highlighting the potential addictiveness of the brave new world of tech.

Apparently, social media can be the source of intenser pangs than cigarettes or booze, according to research by Chicago University quoted by Lifewire. Self-disclosure communication provides us the same feel-good vibes that great food does (off the back of some research from Harvard). No wonder we’re all chasing likes.

In no way am I trying to conflate real, life-debilitating addiction with the niggling feeling that maybe those 12 minutes on Instagram were wasted. But what better way to educate future generations than to glean more self-awareness ourselves? As Zadie Smith recently wrote in The Guardian, “Do we wish to pass down our dependency and obsession? It all has to be thought through. We can’t just let the tech companies decide for us”.

Feeling like you’re not in total control of your social media use is probably enough reason to take a closer look. Here we go.

Re-rail the derail

Getting a phone notification or even needing your phone to carry out a small task opens the door to getting distracted, in a really big way.

A study from back in 2015 found that “subjects performing a task that required intense focus performed poorly when they received notification of a text or call on their phone during the experiment.”

Well, there’s an obvious action point right there. Inject some volition in how you use your phone by sifting through the apps you allow to send you push notifications, and evaluating whether they deserve to distract you on a regular basis.

Do you need notifications for an app you check pretty regularly anyway, like Instagram?

Being pulled in by notifications potentially distracts you from curating the stuff you read, undermining our ability to prioritize what’s most important to meet your goals.

Step 1: Turn off your push notifications, or at least trim them right down. For further motivation look no further than here.

Keep it social

Spending too much time on social media and letting it regularly hijack our attention can distract us from reaching out to the people around us – writing that message, sending that word of comfort, asking someone how they’re doing. Before you open that app, take a sec to consider whether there’s anyone you’ve been meaning to reach out to, and then do it.

Be the model citizen of the social media world of your dreams. Think of this as a digital Golden Rule. If you feel like your social circles aren’t being generous in liking the post you agonized over, exercise generosity yourself by engaging with the people who matter the most or even standing up for the underdog. If a bigger fish isn’t noticing your stuff, maybe there’s something you could do to give a smaller fish with fewer followers a leg up. So often in life, we repeat the behaviors that hurt us the most.

Step 2: Always choose connection over scrolling, send that message now.

Step 3: What goes around comes around – embody the behaviors you’d like to see more of in this digital world of ours. Works perfectly well IRL, too.

Self-care is always a good thing

There’s a sense in which this is about productivity: buckling down when you need to reach the targets you’ve set for yourself.

It is important to have down time too though, and if you find Instagram or Pinterest relaxing then you do you! To some there’s nothing better than bouncing around Instagram having all the feels after a good day’s work, checking in on what friends, celebs, and brands are up to around the world.

The key here is boundaries. Everyone is figuring out how to live. Just because you haven’t figured it out yet doesn’t make you stupid or sillier than someone else who has – it’s a profound question we should be asking ourselves, a question that some classic geniuses were devoted to: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Plato via Socrates)

Examining something means changing your behavior from time to time, and adjusting yourself to those examinations. Otherwise, you get into a trap of not even believing that rare spark of recognition. And that’s a dangerous place to be.

What boundaries could you set for yourself to keep social media fun? If your work involves being on social media lot, how can you work on mentally carving out me-time? Are there other spaces you could be using to connect to the people around you? Experiment with taking breaks from social media and how that makes you feel. Put your phone in your bag at work, or turn your phone on airplane mode at a set time each evening. Is there an intriguing book you could get addicted to, right now?

Step 4: Experiment with your personal social media boundaries, one tweak at a time.

Go for happy stalking, not sad stalking

Social media enables us to fulfill our very natural instincts of curiosity without any of the stigmas of doing so. It’s like being able to follow someone who piqued your interest down the street and into their life because you’re invisible. OK, maybe stalking someone on social media isn’t usually that creepy because it involves scrolling through content that has voluntarily been made public. (Though online harassment does happen and should not be downplayed.)

And yet this is where the time vacuum potential of social media begins to rear its ugly head, especially for those of us who are obsessively inclined or in a delicate place. Here, you’re not able to actively engage with the content for fear of exposing your bad habits (it happens!).

So how to curb this habit?

  • Admit that everyone does it – lurking on someone’s account now and then isn’t the end of the world.
  • Go for happy stalking, not sad stalking, by:
    • Targeting someone you haven’t seen for a while and are genuinely curious about, as opposed to someone who regularly triggers the jealousy lizard. Then send them a message or reach out to them. If now’s not appropriate, leave a reminder to yourself to do so later.
    • No digital lurking if you’re in a sad place or if you’ve had a bad day. There is way too much good TV out there which will be much better at helping you switch off.

Step 5: No lurking when your happy place ain’t working.

It might be that you take self-care seriously already

But why walk the fine line just because? Tech is only going to get more important in our lives, so it’s about time we start taking cultivating good habits seriously.

Do the hard work now, and soon you’ll be better equipped to advise the younger generation by leading by example, whether that be the person you’re managing, your kid or godchild, or a close friend who needs some advice.

If your to-do list is already up to your eyeballs, how about you leave with this one tiny next action step: what’s the one app you could kill the notifications for, right now?

It’s a brave new world out there.


– Heidi Aho is the English-language Copywriter at HELSINKING Angelia. Is there a topic you want her to tackle? Drop her a line or a stray thought at

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