Have you ever found yourself reaching for your phone to check for messages when you haven’t received any? Or perhaps you scroll through your social feeds for hours on end and don’t get your work or studies done?

Then you may be addicted to the internet and social media and are over-using it on a daily basis.

Read on to find out how you can deal with and cut back on your internet and social media use.

First, we’ll look at what internet addiction is, the effects that it has on you, and why you would want to cut back on your use.

What is internet addiction and what effects does it have on you?

Internet addiction, along with smartphone and social media addiction, are characterised by an inability to control your use of the internet, your smartphone, or social media.

According to Sree Jadapalle’s research, this inability can result in:

  • impaired social interaction
  • impaired academic performance, and
  • distress.

Studies done on this type of addiction also shows a correlation between internet addiction and mental health problems like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and eating disorders.

Cal Newport likens social media to a slot machine in his 2016 TEDx Talk “Why You Should Quit Social Media” and Dr Jadapalle’s study indicated that there are brain abnormalities associated with substance addiction and other addictions present in the brains of people who are addicted to the internet.

In a 2017 study by Adrian F. Ward, the so-called “cognitive cost” of smartphone use and over-use, found that even the presence of a smartphone may occupy your limited cognitive resources – even if you don’t use it while busy with and focused on other work. Ward also notes that this cost is the highest for those who use their smartphones the most.

Summary: Internet addiction can cause a number of negative health effects, especially on mental health but also on physical. Studies of “addicted brains” show that people addicted to the internet share similar brain abnormalities as with drug addicts.

So then, what can you do if you’re already addicted or find that you’re overusing your smartphone, social media, and the internet?

1. Temporarily limit smartphone usage through apps

Sleep tracker and smartphone

If you just stop using your smartphone or social media one day, you may find that you start craving it rather intensely, thus instead it may be smarter and easier to limit yourself to a specific amount of time per day that you can use your devices or specific apps or games.

Of course, if you need to be on the internet for work, it can be impractical to say you’re quitting using the internet. Instead of quitting or going cold turkey so to say, you can block some websites while you’re working. This will ensure that you don’t just go to the site to check your feed for “5 minutes” and when you look up it’s 2 hours later!

Here are some apps that you can use to limit your social media use and internet browsing:

  • Offtime – This app blocks what distracts you, but also shows you how much you use your phone (which can sometimes shock you!). It’s available for iOS and Android.
  • Flipd – This app locks apps that you choose for a period and you also can’t override it like some of the other apps. And no, even turning your phone off and on won’t help. So, if you really need to not be able to use apps for a set length of time, this is the app for you. It’s available for iOS and Android.
  • FocusMe – Available for MacOS and Windows, this desktop app blocks websites and apps that you choose for a limited time or forever. This app is also good for setting time limits on certain platforms for yourself or your family.
  • SPACE – What makes SPACE different, is that it gives you an addiction score as well as shows how often you unlock your phone and logs your usage for the day. You can also set challenges to meet goals you set for yourself… just don’t get addicted to this app! It’s available for iOS and Android.

2. Change your medium and pick up pen and paper

If you find yourself browsing other websites while doing research for a project, or trying to write something and even blocking websites or apps don’t work, try changing the medium you’re working in.

Instead of typing everything in a digital document, make your notes by hand and then import them into your program of choice later if you need them to be available digitally. Even then you have the choice of simply taking a photo of the notes and keeping that, or doing revision of notes by retyping them (while probably trying another of the blocking apps).

You can also use pen and paper when journaling or writing your morning pages, studying religious texts, or try bullet journaling instead of using a digital diary and calendar.

3. Try a hobby that is not app/internet/online exclusive

What do you consider to be your hobbies? Or do you find that you don’t actually have a hobby that you do in your spare time, but you would like to have one? Then this is the best time to find something that you like doing that is also completely offline.

There are hundreds of hobbies available – it’s amazing what you find when you start searching – and many of them you can do on a limited budget. Hobbies like knitting, crochet, and sewing have been shown to have wonderful calming effects on the mind.

You can also spend some time outside doing gardening (even if it’s just a balcony garden), walking, or even go hiking in your area.

Sure you may want to put the odd photo on Facebook or Instagram, but teach yourself to do this after you’ve finished the activity and not while you’re busy; otherwise you’ll just get sucked back into the rabbit hole of social media feeds.

4. If it doesn’t benefit you, cut it out

Be honest. Do you really feel a positive impact on your life after using social media? Or do you feel, like author John Green, “a weird mix” of scared, angry, and outraged after using social media?

In fact, even your favourite social media app can have negative affects on your life and you may not even notice it at first. Much of the effect of the app on your wellbeing has to do with what you’ve curated to be on your feed.

While the algorithms of the different apps definitely plays a part in what you see (and inevitably click on), by curating your feeds can go a long way in helping you to not be bombarded by negativity.

One thing you can also do, is to have different feeds for different interests or topics. In this way you can have a Twitter feed, for example, that contains only the news and relevant topics that you want to follow. Limit yourself then on this feed as well as it is so easy to get sucked into the rabbit-hole of politics and news and not realise how much time you’re spending on it!

5. Seek professional help and support

High angle view of woman lying on sofa by her therapist at home

If you find that you are depressed, simply cutting back on your social media use may not make such a difference as you will need to treat the underlying condition. This can be done through something like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT can teach you more practical steps that you can take that will help you overcome and deal with this addiction.

6. Pay attention to what you pay attention to

Back view of businesswoman practicing yoga in lotus position with gyan mudra on carpet in office with laptop

Finally, you need to pay attention to the content that you consume. For example, which websites and apps really deserve your attention? Is there content that you will even miss if you don’t follow it?

A good way to go about this is to ask yourself if you would pay for the service you’re using (if it’s free at the moment) and whether you don’t rather want to pay for another service that will benefit you more.

You can also ask yourself what your time is really worth. Is it more important to scroll through your social feeds or to finish that novel or painting that is only half-finished because you think you don’t have time to work on it?

You may even need to ask yourself what’s more important – your family and friends, or your social feed?

In the end, it’s up to you to want to change the way in which you use your social media apps and the internet. Taking your first step to curb the urge to use it won’t be easy, but soon you’ll find that you don’t even miss all the time you spent on it!