In our hyper-connected world, it can be all too easy to fall into an addiction to something that most of us consider essential to our daily lives: the magical internet. This addiction may take the form of hours spent reading blogs, or following Facebook links and paths, or even just checking email over and over.
Regardless of what form it takes, it may take us a while to recognize it as an addiction at all. Like other addictions, we most likely have denied it and or rationalized it to ourselves, convincing ourselves that we need to check email so frequently so that we don’t miss an important business opportunity, or that we need to look on Facebook to keep up with friends and family. We think of it as just a harmless habit.
Indeed, that can be one of the hardest things about this addiction – unlike alcohol or drugs, we can’t just stay away from it. Everywhere we go, triggers will present themselves, including, possibly, our very real and valid work needs. Even if we are not in an office, the person next to us on their phone or i-pad makes us reach for our cell phone in response, as if we, too, are important.
So how do you know if you are addicted? Like any addiction, do you recognize that your phone or i-pad or computer use have become a problem at work, or interfered with your family time? Have there been arguments with friends or family? Have you missed appointments, work, or time with family because you were on the internet instead?
Could you reduce your time on the computer / phone easily, or would that take a lot of effort? If you can do that easily, and it’s not a big deal (and no anxiety), then you’re not addicted. If bargaining happens (things like “I said a half an hour but I really said an hour”) , or if anxiety comes up, then you may have an issue.
Internet Addiction Expert Dr. Kimberly Young Has Developed The Following List Of Symptoms
- Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
- Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
- Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
- Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
- Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
- Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
- Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
- Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?
Other Symptoms Include
- Failed attempts to control behavior.
- Heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and Internet activities.
- Neglecting friends and family.
- Neglecting sleep to stay online.
- Being dishonest with others.
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior.
- Physical changes such as weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities.
Does any of this sound familiar to you to describe either yourself or others?
As with any addiction, we can also recognize a pattern of denial here, saying things to ourselves like “I’m on the internet, but look at all of the things that I’m learning.” And, because we live in such a technical time, it’s more challenging to recognize that there is an addictive piece here. It’s possible, too, that we are trying to cover up or avoid something, and that is something that may come up as we work through our addiction.
So not only do we have to recognize it, but then we have to surrender to it. We have to realize that the addiction has the power here, and we will have to wrest our power back.
Tips For Working Through An Internet Addiction
We Can Start By Getting Some Success In Concrete Ways
Perhaps decide on times that you will turn the phone off– maybe after getting home for work or during family time. Start small here. We don’t want to start off with “I’m not going to go on my phone all day”, but perhaps just going from five to ten minutes between checking email or Facebook.
Find Substitutions For Times Away From The Internet
Call a good friend, take a walk, take a water cooler break, or listen to music intead. Start to tolerate the feelings here, and replace them with more positive thoughts that resonate with you.
Dealing With Imaginary Feelings Of Loss
We can replace those thoughts of “what if I miss something, what if I don’t get that big contract” with more helpful, positive phrases to ourselves. Perhaps something like: “I can enjoy these few minutes. Email / Facebook / blogs will still be there when I return.”
Talk To People Who Understand The Problem
Another tip is to reach out and get support from people who “get it “. Do you have a close friend or relative who understands? Be careful who you choose here– this needs to be someone who recognizes that it is an addiction, and is willing to help you through those difficult times.
Unlike alcohol or drugs, it’s unlikely in our modern age that you can go “cold turkey” from the internet. Learning to recognize your thoughts around it and getting a sense of where you can feel comfortable turning it off is very important.
A great psychologist or psychotherapist can really help, too. Recognizing the addiction and helping you to find a positive space within to overcome the fears and anxiety that come up are a specialty of Nassau Guidance’s counselors.
The earlier in the addiction that it’s recognized, the easier it is to shift it or work through it. We have great success with clients on working through this (and other) addictions, and hope that you will reach out to us.