Recent studies reveal new data about the seriousness of internet addiction’s impact on mental health. We look at the dangers, and offer some tips on safeguarding your wellbeing in our hyper-connected world.
There’s mounting evidence that spending too much time online can lead to serious psychological disorders and even increase the risk of suicide among certain people. This not only changes the way we think about the way we use the Internet and our smartphones, but the way we approach internet addiction treatment.
A Growing Mental Health Crisis?
A group of researchers in South Korea recently released the results of a study that found that, of 3,212 people interviewed, 204 (6.35 per cent) were suffering from Internet addiction. Most of these were young, unmarried and unemployed males, with about a third reporting poor sleep quality. The study also found that those who had difficulty falling asleep at night were much more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
In Britain, where a recent survey found that Instagram is the worst social media platform when it comes to young adults’ mental health (followed by Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has warned that ‘social media may be fuelling a mental health crisis’ among the country’s youth.
Internet addiction has also emerged as an issue here in Hong Kong. A recent survey found that at least 40 per cent of young people admitted that they struggled to control their use of of mobile devices. A quarter of those surveyed said they spend at least five hours on their smartphones every day.
Signs of Internet Addiction
Internet access has become so embedded in our day-to-day lives that it can sometimes to be difficult to imagine life without it. And while it has enriched our lives in many ways, we could be dealing with too much of a good thing.
There are a number of ways that the Internet and especially social media can elicit activities and emotions that put you under psychological strain, and it’s often difficult to recognise them for what they are.
Take some time to consider how and when you use the Internet and social media and the effects it has on you. If you’re exhibiting any of the following signs, it may be time to revaluate your internet usage or consider seeking help:
1. Your Online Habits Are Causing You Stress
Are you forever on the lookout for updates on your social media feeds, email account and text apps? If so, you may be what the American Psychological Association refers to as a ‘constant checker’. The Association found that people who are constantly checking their phones tend to have very high stress levels, particularly those who check their work emails at weekends. Try counting the number of times you check your smartphone or computer every day. It could be a lot more often than you think.
2. Your Internet Use is Getting You Down
The Internet, and especially social media, can cause a host of negative emotions including anxiety, inadequacy, low self-esteem and loneliness, potentially leading to depression and mental health issues. This can be caused by a host of factors, from comparing yourself to updates and images posted by other people to the endless pursuit of likes, retweets and other online interactions. If you’re finding that your time on the Internet is just making you feel bad, it may be time to take a step back.
3. You Panic When You Can’t Find Your Phone
If you experience this on a regular basis you are suffering from nomophobia – the fear of being without your phone – but rest assured you are not alone. One study found that
58 per cent of men and 47 per cent of women in the US are affected by ‘no mobile phone phobia’, with a further 9 per cent getting stressed out when their phones are off. While this might be reasonably natural during working hours when you need to be contactable, it begins to become problematic if, say, you find yourself unable to leave a room for five minutes without your phone.
4. You Have Difficulty Sleeping
If you are up at all hours on the Internet, it will be extremely difficult to function properly in your profession and in normal day-to-day life. This is one of the chief signs of internet addiction and can have a number of knock-on effects, including anxiety, stress, depression and even suicidal thoughts. If your internet use is depriving you of a good night’s sleep, try the tips below to help you achieve a more balanced relationship with it.
How to Protect Yourself from Internet Addiction
Do a Digital Detox
A month, a week or even a weekend away from all digital devices can do wonders for your wellbeing. More people, including celebs, are digitally detoxing enjoying the freedom of time away from their phones.
Set Strict Guidelines
If time and work commitments don’t allow for a full digital detox, try to set limits on your internet and smartphone use. Set aside times of the day for checking emails, interacting on social media and browsing the web. Above all, try to eliminate constant checking and mindless browsing from your day-to-day internet use.
Get the Sleep You Need
Last but definitely not least – if you’re losing sleep because of your internet use, we advise that you remove all connected devices from your bedroom. An old-fashioned alarm clock will get you up in the morning, and you’ll feel better for it. At the very least put your phone into ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode at bedtime.
Internet Addiction Treatment in Hong Kong
Excessive internet and smartphone use can be a tough habit to break, and there’s no shame in seeking a little help. Just a few weeks of outpatient counselling can help you break free of your unhealthy online habits and protect your mental wellbeing.
The Cabin Hong Kong has certified therapists who specialise in all kinds of behavioural addictions including excessive use of mobile devices, social media and the Internet. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.