How to Deal With Social Media Withdrawal

5 min
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According to a global study by Smart Insights, the average person spends at least two and a half hours a day on social media. The time that we spend using these platforms not only suggests how large of a role social media plays in our day-to-day lives, but it also signifies how the way we connect with each other has changed from primarily physical to a more digital world in the modern day. 

It makes sense: these platforms can help us in many ways. We can use them to communicate effortlessly with friends by liking or commenting on their posts. We can also use social media to express our thoughts more courageously, without feeling judged as harshly as if we were to speak up in public. The excessive use of these online networks, however, can lead to social media withdrawal: a mental obsession around these digital platforms that makes us feel anxious, stressed, or suffering somehow when we don’t have regular access to it, often with an ever-increasing “fix”. 

Read on to learn why it happens, how to avoid the trap of social media addiction, and tips on cultivating healthier social media habits.

What Is Social Media Withdrawal?

Social media withdrawal occurs, simply put, when we stop using social media and face mental, emotional, or habitual struggles around that. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it can also appear in more subtle ways. For instance, if you feel bored when you’re not scrolling through Facebook or TikTok; feel guilty when we forget to react to our friends’ tweets; or struggle to keep our eyes away from Instagram (with a real sense of FOMO when you’re not constantly connected), these are also signs that you might have a social media addiction. 

A symptom of addiction, the way withdrawal plays out will vary from person to person. Common signs of it include feelings of anger, anxiety, and agitation. Some people may also experience boredom, along with an ever-increasing urge or craving for social media, or the feelings and information that it may offer you. This desire might grow stronger during times when one cannot, or are not allowed to, access these social networks. It can start to feel like a “need” as opposed to a “want”. And this can not only harm our ability to concentrate, but they can also affect our mental health. 

In fact, experiencing feelings of withdrawal when you don’t have constant access to your network of choice is considered to be one of the earliest signs of social media addiction. But although social media addicts tend to be more susceptible to it, people who are simply casual users of social media can also experience it. Simply put, social media withdrawal involves any negative feelings and emotional nuances that we feel when we are not scrolling through our feeds.

Why Does Social Media Withdrawal Occur?

In 2019, Dr. Hüseyin Bilal Macit – a Turkish computer scientist – and his colleagues put forth the idea of the Social Media Dopamine Loop, a theory that explains how social media usage can change the way our brain functions and describes how these changes can lead to withdrawal. 

The model postulates that when we receive positive reactions after we perform an action on social media, we tend to gain a sense of reward – for instance, getting likes after creating a new post. This sense of reward can then stimulate our brain to release dopamine, a happy hormone that generates positive emotions. 

As the cycle continues, our brain can learn to associate social media with positive emotions. When we are not using social media, our dopamine levels drop, causing us to feel withdrawal – such as boredom and anxiety. Eventually, this loop can lead to a compulsion to check social media, as the brain desperately craves another "dopamine boost".

Social Media Dopamine Loop

Tips to Help You Deal With Social Media Withdrawal

This urge to use social media can harm us socially, mentally, and emotionally. Rather than connecting with others face-to-face, people experiencing this withdrawal tend to pay more attention and dedicate more time to engaging with others in the virtual world. When they stop visiting these online platforms as frequently (or at all), they may ruminate about social media, or even experience a fear of missing out (FOMO). This can not only distract them from focusing at work, but it can also create a barrier in their ability to have healthy social well-being, build quality relationships, and seek happiness outside of their chosen social media platforms.

Thankfully, this mental obsession can be likened to a habit – and habits can be broken. Here are some tips that can help you to cope with social media withdrawal:

1. Ditch Your Devices Before Bedtime

This type of withdrawal can create an invisible force that pulls you towards whichever device you use to browse social media, such as your phone or computer. To reduce this temptation, put the device away, ideally somewhere you can’t be as tempted to reach back for it - and be strict about that boundary. Set an alarm for when you need to put it away if you need to, and stick to it! 

We are most likely to use social media before we sleep. Some may even view using social media as a reward at the end of a hectic day.

2. Uninstall Your Apps or Turn Off Your Notifications

Perhaps it’s not always feasible for us to delete our online accounts when we live in the twenty-first century – it is the era of social media after all. But there are ways to reduce our dependence on them. To tame the craving, set up some barriers around your ability to access these networking sites. For example, you could uninstall the social apps on your phone. You don’t necessarily have to delete your accounts, but removing these apps can make it harder for you to access social media – you then can’t visit these sites unless you open a browser, enter the link, and type in your username and password. With all these extra steps, your brain is likely to have found something more interesting to do before you even hit the login button. 

If you don’t want to uninstall the apps, turning off notifications can also help to reduce your desire. In fact, a United States study has found that 70% of people check their phones within five minutes after they are notified. Hiding these cues might save you from wasting hours of mindless scrolling.

Social Media: A Double-Edged Sword

Social media can certainly help us better connect with each other in an easier and more accessible way, quite often in ways that most of us wouldn’t have thought possible in the past – not to mention how modern technology has made working remotely in the comfort of our homes possible. It’s not the existence of social media that’s the issue, and it can come with many wonderful benefits. The problem arises when we become overly dependent on these online networks. And when we fail to control our addiction to social media, it can take control of our mind and behavior, and steal our precious time spent elsewhere (which is essential for a healthy offline-online balance).  

Take a look at your social media consumption. How often do you find yourself tapping back to your phone, or refreshing a feed page on repeat? If you notice that you often feel an urge to use Whatsapp, watch YouTube videos, or scroll through Instagram whenever you’re not using your phone, or that you can’t go more than 30-60 minutes or less without needing to check it – be it at work or school – it may be time to let go of the bad habit!

All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Global Social Media Statistics Research Summary 2022; Social Media Withdrawal; A Research on Social Media Addiction and Dopamine Driven Feedback; The Power of Qualitative Research in the Era of Social Media; 2022 Cell Phone Usage Statistics: How Obsessed Are We?; How Does Dopamine Affect the Body?; Blue Light Has a Dark Side.

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