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Social Media Addiction Guide

Find out whether the costs on your time are worth the benefits of social media use.

Written by
Team Pilot
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
May 12, 2023
min read
Social Media Addiction Guide
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  • Social media is designed to be addictive: there are 'product managers' at Instagram whose goal it is to increase 'daily active users', etc.
  • A digital detox doesn’t mean setting a torch to your app drawer. The best way to readjust and integrate social media into your life by creating 'hurdles', a psychological technique.
  • Measure what matters. If you start to note how much you're using this stuff, you can work out whether how worthwhile it is. Is it contributing more than the time it's taking away?

Where did the last 2 hours go?

Look, we really love social media here at Pilot (shameless plug for the the @pilothealth insta, give it a follow). Through the last 20 years, through MySpace, Facebook, Snapchat, Insta, etc. we have more cool stuff to look at, we're closer with our friends (and acquaintances), and our lives are generally better for it.


But we've all experienced that empty feeling of regret when you get up and you've realised you've spent 2 hours on the scroll. Or forgotten to enjoy a conversation because you were checking your phone, or capturing a gig on your Insta story.

There comes a point where people decide that they're overdoing it, and that's why we wrote this. We'll start with why it's addictive, then get into some strategies for handling it.

Do it for your sleep!

Finally, a big reason to reduce social media activity (especially at night or in the morning), is sleep. And it’s not just the light from your phone that’s a sleep liability; it’s the interactive nature of all devices and the over stimulation that comes with them.

Designed to hook you

Social media is addictive. It is designed to be addictive. This is the reason: the more addictive, the more likely the company survives, and their share price goes up.

And we should know, being in this world of software and startups ourselves.

Some of the smartest people in Silicon Valley spend their whole days thinking about how to make it more 'sticky' (a nice way of saying addictive), and their metrics are simple – increase daily active users AKA 'DAU' and retention rate (the % of people who join and stay on the platform).

And because these companies have so much data flowing in about usage every day, they can tweak their products / apps in small ways that work on our basic and underlying psychology. Read more about it here.

It's going to get worse before it gets better

So you have a very well designed and addictive platform, engineered to profit from the amount of time spent on it. Then you add in 'machine learning', which is basically letting computers design their own algorithm based on data flowing through a machine, and make adjustments. These 'AI' algorithms then optimise the addiction through thousands and thousands of iterations to see which techniques exploit us the most.

Instead of man using machines to better man, machines are using man to improve the machines. Facebook AI created its own language so it could exploit this better.

Scrolling for dopamine

Don’t stress about being a slave to the ‘gram – it’s a dopamine thing.

Dopamine is a great thing, when used wisely. Physical exercise, solving a problem, bumping uglies - dopamine drives us to do it. Short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops get you hooked at the expense of other things in your life.

The 'loophole' for social media apps to exploit is that our brains can get a dopamine hit from mundane and useless events such as getting a like on Facebook. Sadly, every time these companies release new features, they are effectively experimenting on humans in the same way lab scientists do on rats. Or poker machine companies.

The more dopamine we get the more it takes to feel the same rush. It leads us to chase a high that only ever gets further and further away. That's the root of all addiction.

Again, we shouldn't be angry – because the internet is fucking great.

How to cut down

Before you think we are coming after your cat videos and LadBible fails, we want to reiterate: at Pilot we are all about putting space between your actions and your decisions. Just making things less 'automatic'.

So you may take a step back then consciously make the decisions on how you want to live your life. You are in control. So how can you wrestle back that control?

There’s a really useful tool in psychology called a 'hurdle'. The idea of the hurdle is to give you a moment of clarity so you can make a decision about whether to continue with what you are doing.

Creating digital hurdles

Easy mode: turning off notifications

If you aren’t ready to go full hog and app delete, turning off notifications is a good alternative. Watch your productivity sky rocket! Don’t know how to do it? Here is a great guide.

Medium mode: put apps into folders

That way you will have a moment to realise what you are doing as oppose to scrolling on autopilot through an app with quick access. Also, your phone will look much less messy which impresses people.

Hard mode: deleting the app

One drastic example is is deleting the apps of your phone. Of course, you can just fire up your browser or re-download them, but it takes a bit of time and effort. By the time you think about going into the app store, that initial reactive compulsion has passed. You now have the choice whether or not you want to continue.

Find the Why

Why are you using social media so often? Are you using it unconsciously?

Why do you so quickly grab for your phone when riding the bus, or waiting for an elevator? Because it’s there? Look around on the train, who isn't on their phone? Remember when we went to our GP and we called it the waiting room? We should call it 'fiddle with your phone' room.

A big part of that compulsion comes from something else. Is there a reason? Or is the reason that there is no reason?

Dig deeper

Are you bored, stressed, feeling disconnected or maybe overwhelmed and wanting some escape? For most of these things, the social media distraction with exacerbate the problem.

Try noticing when you go for your phone and check in with yourself to see why you’re doing it. Be honest with yourself and simply find the WHY.

Mindful usage

It's fine to use it, just be in the moment when you are, and avoid filling time with it. Have a read of our guide on mindfulness for a crash-course on this life-changing stuff.

Practical tips

Bedtime mode

Try switching all technology of by 8pm, or two hours before bedtime. You need to put yourself into sleep mode before you can actually sleep properly. Again you can set this on your phone using the techniques above.

Replace the itch

Have a replacement exercise ready when you notice you’re reaching for the phone. It could be a finger spinner, a stress ball, a football. Something fun – it doesn't matter.

Use a reminder sticker

Put a sticker on your phone that you see every time you reach for it. When you put the sticker on the phone, make the agreement that this is going there to remind you not to use your phone so much.This type of intention can be loaded into other items like jewellery, such as a bracelet, watch, or wallet.

Try a one-minute breathing exercise

It will calm you down, reduce anxiety as well as a lot of other health benefits. Eventually you will lose the urge to jump on your phone altogether.

Remember your ABCs

  • Aware - actually be aware that you are flicking and swiping like a madman with no end in sight, or automatically have opened Instagram or Facebook as soon as you weren’t distracted by something else.
  • Breathe - Take a deep breath. In. Out. If you can do more than one, great. If you can do 4 seconds in, hold for 7 seconds, breathe out for 8 seconds, even better. This will have a calming effect on your nervous system.
  • Choose - You’ve created some space. You’ve stopped a reaction and now have a moment to decide what action you want to take. Either stop and put your phone away, or go ahead and use social media, your choice.

Measure your usage

The reality is, it's hard to really know how much you are using unless you measure it. That's because it's the little moments, 10 seconds here and there that add up throughout the day.

Estimate the amount of time you think you spend per week. Be specific. How many minutes per day do you think you spend on Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Write it down so you can’t lie to yourself.

iOS - Screen time

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Go to Screen time
  3. Tap ' iPhone'
  4. Last 7 days
  5. Check daily average for Instagram, Facebook (or the usual culprits)

So what do you think? Surprised? If you are, now is the time to add limits, (another hurdle).


How much screen time

  1. Estimate the amount of time you think you spend per week. Be specific. How many minutes per day do you think you spend on Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Write it down so you can’t lie to yourself.
  2. Open your Settings app.
  3. Navigate to “Battery” or “Power.”
  4. This will show you the screen time for all apps since your last charge. Android doesn’t show detailed app usage, but you can download free apps to track app usage. The aptly titled App Usage is both functional and free, and Stay Focussed is also good. Score!

Android P and the upcoming Q will have in-OS app usage limits which you can toggle, which can restrict usage after your time has expired. Stay tuned.


Facebook and Instagram gives you the ability to add time limits inside the app. For Facebook:

  • Click on the 3 vertical lines in the bottom right corner
  • Scroll down to Settings and Privacy
  • Select your time on Facebook
  • Select set daily reminder

This also works on Instagram.

Name your price

Once you've spent a few weeks measuring usage, it's time to spend a bit of time making a decision about whether to change your habit, or continue at the same rate.

Time is the most precious resource you have, and social media costs time.

What would you pay for social media?

A good question to ask yourself is, then, would you pay for social media? And if so, what would you pay. Spotify costs $12 a month, so what is Facebook or Insta worth to you, at a monthly rate?

But would you pay $100 dollars a day, considering that is the time we often spend on social media, (on a wage of $50 an hour, for 2 hours a day?) Probably not.

Create distance from yourself and your social media use and you might start to see that not everything adds up, and we're just scratching an itch.


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