Whether it’s time spent on social media, gaming, browsing youtube or reddit, sometimes it might feel like we can’t stop doing it.
“I’m totally addicted to it” – These words are most likely to come from our mouths when we find ourselves doing something that whilst initially enjoyable, has started to feel “unhealthy” or shame-fuelled. Uncontrolled gaming, online gambling, watching pornography or feeling compelled to engage in sex can all have addictive qualities and leave us feeling miserable and out of control.
Whether these behaviours are defined or not as “clinical” addictions, doing something about them becomes a high priority when they start impacting on our mood, relationships and/or productivity. When we don’t take action or seek support, it is likely that our wellbeing will suffer.
If you have a problem with substances then view our substance use page.
Frequently suggested strategies
- Cut down or moderate your use
- Strike a balance between the behaviour and other fun or relaxing things in your life
- Set a time limit and stick to it
- Give yourself a set time of the day to do the behaviour
- Find other ways to manage stress
- Work out what leads you to this behaviour and do something different when those thoughts come up
- Start questioning what you are doing on the various sites
- Write down exactly how much time you spend on each site
- Decide what is of value on the site
- Try giving up viewing the site and see how you fare
- Limit online interruptions
- Instead of Facebooking, just call or see them
- Meditate as soon as the thought of accessing the site arises
Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that can prevent our progress with managing digital behaviour problems.
Shame or embarrassment
Often these behaviours are not something we are proud of and it can be really difficult to ask for help. We can feel isolated and guilty, feelings which can lead to increased use of these behaviours as we try to cope. This then exacerbates our despair. Talking about feeling “addicted” to any behaviour can be really challenging but counselling is a great place to face these fears and gain a new perspective or set of strategies that can make a huge difference.
Conflict between enjoyment and dependence
Often these activities have been initially associated with fun or enjoyment so we feel reluctant to consider reducing our use of them. We would not however be considering such a reduction if we were gaining the same degree of enjoyment or fulfillment in them as we did initially. Like any activity, thinking about changing a behaviour is often difficult so talking it through with someone, developing a plan and getting started are the most helpful ways to move forward.
I tried stopping before and it didn't work
Changing behaviour can take a few attempts and it doesn’t always happen the first time we try. Many of the behaviours described are also things we want to do some of the time so we can’t eliminate them entirely. Coming up with a workable plan is a great first step. Every time we try to change a behaviour we learn a bit more about what’s helpful and what’s unhelpful. The more helpful things we can do, the more likely we are to maintain a change.
Below are three things you can do to boost success.
Get some info
Reading or watching information related to a difficulty we are experiencing can help us to feel less alone, less guilty and able to see that things can change. There is lots of information out there but that can feel overwhelming so we have compiled a list of helpful resources below. Just because something is legal or socially acceptable, doesn’t mean it can’t cause us problems and finding out that you are not alone in these issues can be a really helpful first step.
Ask for help
Once we know we are not alone, asking for help is another key step towards making a change. The Counselling Service offers a range of support options but we are one of many. Services like Headspace, Reach Out, Beyond Blue and Lifeline all have a range of supports that are easy to connect with. Sometimes online support groups can be helpful and help us to connect to new interests that change our perspective.
Hatch a plan
We seem to find change easier when we plan it. Being specific (e.g. “I want to reduce my facebook time to once daily, at 5pm for 30 mins”), thinking about how we might spend our new available time differently (“I want to play guitar when I would usually be on facebook”), problem solving any barriers (“When I get the urge to check facebook, I’ll postpone it and do something else”) and rewarding ourselves (“At the end of the week, I will go out with friends to recognise my progress”) are good areas to focus on. Having a reason in mind around why we want to change this behaviour can also help during tough times. It helps us to deal with difficulty when we remember why it’s important to us.
Need more info?
For problem substance use behaviours check out our substance use page.
- Social networking addiction (article accessible through uni logon)
- Is social media hurting your mental health (TED talk)
- Social media addiction
- Addicted social media
- What is porn addiction
- Cybersex addiction (article accessible through uni logon)
- Porn addiction (includes video of 'Why I stopped watching porn')
- How to break a pornography addiction
- Help a friend with a problem
- Your brain on porn
- Don't forget to look at our page on Sex, sex and more sex to find out about how pornography can affect our ideas of sex.