Written by: Jenny Smith
Online addiction is now recognised as a serious problem and services and information have now been made available for anyone concerned that their relationship with cyberspace is beyond healthy and constructive.
Filling a void
Many people recognise that they are looking to emails, Facebook, twitter or any of the other billion online options for a sense of connection that is actually impossible to find via a computer. However a lot of people do not realise this and unconsciously spend a lot of time online trying to fill a void in themselves. Like all addictions, this is classic behaviour of looking outside ourselves to someone or something else, in order to avoid a feeling within.
Types of addiction
Mental health charities have broken up online activity into various different categories of addiction including: cybersex addiction, cyber relationship addiction, net compulsion, information overload, computer addiction. Within these categories comes a plethora of activity such as intense bouts of gaming and programming, compulsive surfing of different sites, over-active financial exploits online such as gambling or extensive eBay shopping and finally online socialising.
Reasons for being online
There may be genuine reasons for you to spend a lot of time online. Your work may call for heavy social networking use in order to track feedback or promote new material, or you might have to research from lots of sites in order to report on issues.
When does it become a problem?
The problem of addiction arises when your online use directly affects your relationships, work, school or anything else that is important to you.
Signs you may be addicted include:
- losing track of time
- missing important dates with people in your life
- having trouble completing tasks at work or at home because you are not spending enough time focussing on these parts of your life
- feeling isolated or disconnected from friends and family
- feeling guilty or defensive about your online use
- looking forward to the next time that you go online and noticing that these sorts of thoughts are dominating your mind.
If you think youâ€™re spending more time than you should online, be gentle with yourself and know that you are not the only one. See if you can identify what is underneath the behaviour; are there particular feelings that you are trying to avoid? Is the internet soothing difficult mindsets?
Try to list all the things that you believe the internet gives you. For example, a place to offload, a feeling of connection, friendships etc. Then see if you can brainstorm alternative ways for you to meet these needs. Building support networks out in the physical world is one of the best steps that you can take in order to reduce an unhealthy dependency online. Maybe put a particular amount of time aside for your friends and family and see if there are local groups or clubs that you could take the risk of joining.
Try and reduce online time anyway
Even if you don’t feel that you have an online addiction problem, it is worth experimenting with seeing how reducing your time online goes. If you are someone with a smart-phone, experiment with changing the settings and see what it is like not to have access to emails and social media during the day.
Most people are developing some degree of dependency of being connected to cyberspace most of the time and although there are great benefits from the access to information at our fingertips, there are also some potentially serious repercussions from this amount of virtual contact.