The internet has revolutionised our lives. But this doesn’t come without its downsides.
According to psychologists, the internet is like a slot machine. Each scroll or click gives your brain a little boost of dopamine if you enjoy what you find, encouraging you to keep scrolling and clicking.
And if you don’t enjoy it, you feel inclined to keep scrolling and clicking until you find something you do like. Over time, this becomes an addiction.
More and more of us are becoming internet addicts – a psychological condition first diagnosed in 1996. And just like other addictions, withdrawal can have real side-effects including anxiety, depression, moodiness and cravings.
We all depend on websites and apps to stay connected, for entertainment, work and learning new things, but how much is too much?
While there isn’t a clear consensus, one study suggests that spending upwards of five hours a day online can be disruptive to mental and physical wellbeing.
Andy Woods, Design Director at Rouge Media explains the five signs to look out for if you’re worried you’re addicted to the internet and what to do about it…
1. You start your day with it
After a night without it, you’ll be itching to get online as soon as possible – jumping in before you’ve even got up.
The urge to check social media, the news, emails and messages is led by the desire to find out if something amazing, awful or hilarious has happened overnight and scratch “the itch”.
You might find yourself checking the weather online before you’ve checked for yourself the old-fashioned way…by opening the curtains.
2. You over-spend online
One way to make the online world more interesting and get that extra hit of dopamine is to spend money. This can be on shopping, gambling, investing or gaming websites and spending can soon spiral out of control.
If this sounds like you, avoid saving your card details to sites that tempt you to spend and keep your wallet or purse in an inconvenient place, making it harder to part with your cash.
3. You’ve lost the spark
We all know that taking your phone to bed is a sloppy habit for all kinds of reasons – not least its impact on a good night’s sleep.
But you might not have considered the impact of your bedtime routine ending with your smartphone on your libido and sexual intimacy.
This divided attention come bedtime can have real-world impacts on your closest relationship. So, ditch your phone, tablet or laptop in the bedroom and be present in the here and now.
4. You can’t concentrate
Poor concentration is a common side-effect of internet addiction. Research shows that over-using technology can affect the brain’s cognitive function and even more worryingly, stop your brain’s ability to refine higher cognitive ability – particularly in children and teenagers.
The internet, device interfaces and apps are all designed to fight for your attention, leading to sensory overload which makes it hard for you to focus on one task. And this can spill over into everyday life, for offline tasks too.
To help you stick to one thing at a time and keep productive, don’t auto-save your log-in details for the apps that distract you the most, making it harder for you to access them.
You can also use screen time controls to limit app access or functionality during certain times of day.
5. You get lost down rabbit holes
Google estimates there are roughly 5 million terabytes of data on the internet and this is growing exponentially. That’s a lot of stuff to look at.
If you find yourself getting lost down rabbit holes online without realising you’ve been endlessly clicking, scrolling and watching for hours, this is a clear sign something’s wrong.
You may come across something genuinely useful, but 99% of the pages you visit won’t be worth the time investment – especially if you don’t have a goal to achieve online.
Screentime limits can work well to combat this, but you can also set yourself loud alarms to remind you to surface without wasting hours chasing rabbits.
Internet addiction can be serious
Just because you use the Internet a lot does not mean you suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder.
The trouble comes when these activities start to interfere with your daily life, affect your wellbeing and cause friction within your relationships.
If you recognise the above issues and you’re struggling to cut down on your internet use, consider speaking to your GP or seeking support from a qualified mental health professional who can help you to overcome it.