Growing up is hard in the social media age. Teens are constantly fed images of beautiful people who seem to be living a picture-perfect life based on strategically uploaded photos. Singer and actress Selena Gomez knows this all too well. Having held the title of the most followed person on Instagram, she has seen just how much of a toll social media can play on a person’s mental health.
In a recent interview with Vogue, Selena goes into detail on just how toxic social media became for her. “As soon as I became the most followed person on Instagram, I sort of freaked out,” she says. “It had become so consuming to me. It’s what I woke up to and went to sleep to. I was an addict, and it felt like I was seeing things I didn’t want to see, like it was putting things in my head that I didn’t want to care about. I always end up feeling like shit when I look at Instagram.”
Along with struggling with symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks and depression that culminated at the tail end of her Revival Tour, Selena pulled the plug on everything going on in her life to check into a 90-day rehab center in Tennessee last October. She describes the experiences as “one of the hardest things [I’ve] done, but it was the best thing [I’ve] done.”
“You have no idea how incredible it felt to just be with six girls,” she says. “Real people who couldn’t give two shits about who I was, who were fighting for their lives.”
The Struggle is Real
Selena’s transparency about her social media addiction is an important dialogue for us to begin. In 2012, the National Institutes of Health released a study identifying Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) as a problem that "ruins lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems." Social media addiction would also be classified as a form of IAD.
Just like drugs, social media can serve as a vice that feeds on our insecurities, anxieties, and fears. In the social media world, image is everything. The right pictures or the right words can gain followers and a higher societal status. Addiction can easily begin as a harmless habit. We may use it to catch up with old friends and look at their lives. However, if we aren't careful, we can begin to compare ourselves to the images others present online.
What am I doing with my life? Do I match up to that? Why don't I look as happy? These are all questions that we can catch ourselves asking as we scroll through our endlessly filtered newsfeed. What many may not know is that our dopamine levels actually increase as we see things on social media that trigger happy feelings. Over time our brains can become dependent on social media to boost our dopamine levels in moments of sadness, anxiety or pain. While there is nothing wrong with finding inspiration and happiness through images, words and connections with friends, there are a ways to tell if you're addicted to social media.
Symptoms of Social Media Addiction
Here are some signs that you are on the verge becoming, or already are, a social media addict:
- Feeling anxious when not using social media
- Constantly comparing yourself and your posts to what others post
- Feeling sad or angry when no one likes or follows your posts
- Posting with the intent to receive x number of likes or followers
- Thoughts of worthlessness or inadequacy as you use social media
- Worrying about what others are saying about your comments/images on social media
- Becoming paranoid about posting/not posting to your account
- Restlessness when away from social media
- Difficulty sleeping
Social media addiction reveals a deeper issue at hand. That's why if you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to talk about it. Opening up to someone you can trust is a step to freedom. As Selena said in an interview last month, what we are all in actual need of is in-person social connection and compassion. "We're just so disconnected to people now," she said. "And it's hard when you're looking at something every single day, you're missing your entire life in front of you.”