Over the past several years I've been seeing more and more patients for Internet and social-media-related issues. Prior to 2005 they hardly existed and now it is all too common, as I see at least one new patient a week for some sort of social-media-related malady. I've seen it ruin relationships. For example, a highly suggestive text intended for someone outside of a relationship is intercepted by someone's partner. In this sense, texting has become the 2012 version of lipstick on the collar. Or an employee who gets caught looking at porn on his work computer. Or the guy who gets lost in cyberspace until the wee hours of the morning -- only to deprive himself of sleep or develop back problems. The problems are ubiquitous.
Although there's no official diagnosis for Internet or social media addiction, in my view, if it negatively impacts any of the aforementioned areas and use becomes more and more frequent, then at minimum it's a dependence, and at worst it's an addiction. Don't fear, though. It is treatable.
Here's how to fearlessly break the pattern:
- Gain a sense of control by setting reasonable and attainable goals related to limiting your use. For example, if you typically spend five hours a day online, then try cutting it down to three hours.
- Stay focused on your goal by listing the top three problems related to use followed by three potential benefits of cutting back. Keep the list in a highly visible place such as on your desk. This will serve as a reminder of what you are working toward.
- Plan short but frequent use, as this will help to eliminate cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Mark your calendar when you'll allow yourself to use and when you won't.
- Disrupt the pattern of use by doing in real life what you ordinarily do online. For instance, send a Hallmark instead of an online card.
- As for texting, get back to basics and pick up the phone and call.
- Regarding online posts, only put online what you would be okay with the world seeing. Imagine your partner sitting next to you. Would he/she be okay with your post? If not, then you'd better stop.
- Ask yourself: "Would Mom be okay with seeing this picture posted online?" If you have to think about it for more than three seconds then you probably shouldn't post it.
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