Internet addiction has been a big topic in the media in recent years. Some people spend so much time online that it negatively impacts the rest of their lives. So what is internet addiction and how can you avoid developing it?
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What is Internet addiction?
You may have heard alarming news about the epidemic of internet addiction and the damage it can cause, especially to young people. You will also hear people use similar terms like “computer addiction” or “gaming addiction”.
In some countries, such as China, the situation is so serious that the government has regulations in place intended to limit Internet use among young people.
The Harmful Effects of Excessive Internet Use
One thing is clear: some people use the Internet or games to escape their problems. The signs can be numerous:
- They might stay up too late to play games and not get enough sleep.
- Their school work or career could suffer because they spend too much time in front of their computer.
- They might socialize less with friends or family because they are too involved in their virtual life.
Excessive internet use can prevent them from getting what they want out of life.
Even people who do not suffer to this degree can have problems with excessive internet addiction. We have all had the experience of knowing that we should start this work project, or go to this party, or that we should go to bed.
But the computer is there. And we click on another video or sit down to watch just one more episode. We’re drawn to the comfortable glow of the screen even when we know we should be doing something else.
We only hurt each other in the long term.
Is drug addiction the right word?
Psychologists disagree on whether “addiction” is a useful model for this problem.
The concept of addiction comes from the problem of drug and alcohol abuse. These substances generally create physical and psychological dependence. It is not clear whether Internet or computer use is really “addictive” in the same way as drugs.
If someone is spending too much time on their computer, it could be the symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself. They may be struggling with anxiety or depression, and being at the computer makes them feel safe and in control.
They might experience social isolation in order to make friends online. Or they might find it difficult to motivate themselves to do their job or homework and start using the internet as a distraction.
But let’s leave the terminology aside. To prevent internet addiction from becoming a problem, you need to address these deeper issues.
Strategies to Avoid Internet Addiction
If you or someone you know is concerned about excessive internet addiction, there are some strategies you can put in place to reduce its appeal and change your life.
1. Set clear goals
Decide exactly what you want to achieve, which you are not getting because of using the Internet. It could be doing your homework. Or it could be spending more time with your friends and family. Or it could be more exercise.
Then write this goal down on paper. Think about why this goal is important and how your life will improve if you reach it. The idea is to replace a negative feeling – “Urgh, I have all this homework to do” – with a positive one – “I’ll be so much less stressed and more confident in school if I finish my homework.”
Then set an achievable goal. It could be “I will be working on this project for 20 minutes every day”. Or “I’ll go to the gym three times a week.” Make it as specific as possible.
2. Make a plan
Whatever your problem is, you need to create a plan. If you are in school or university, you can set up a study plan. Or you can define your work project or your fitness plan.
Write down how much time you want to spend on your project each week. Write down what you aim to achieve during this time. Think about when and where you’ll have specific blocks of time to devote to your project instead of being on the internet.
Start small. Remember, you won’t be able to achieve your goals all at once. It will take time and patience to meet them.
You can start by working five minutes a day on a project. Or go to the gym once a week. Pick something easily achievable that you can handle even if you’ve had a really bad day.
3. Reward yourself for your efforts
Once you’ve realized what’s in your plan each day, you can give yourself some internet time as a reward.
Planning for breaks is very important. When you first start out, you’ll be tempted to say you’ll be working four hours a day and not using the Internet at all. But it is not realistic. You can even handle it for a few days, but then you’ll lose motivation and give up completely.
Be honest about your downtime. You might work an hour in the evening and then take the rest of the evening to watch TV or use the computer. Take advantage of this time knowing that you earned it because you achieved your goal.
4. Make it work for you
Consider what you think about using the internet so convincingly. Do you like the social aspect of online interaction? Do you like the challenge of trying to beat an opposing team in a match? Do you spend time on Twitter because you want to keep up with the news?
Find ways to tie what you love about the internet to the rest of your life.
Determine what is preventing you from making a change. Maybe you hate studying because you feel bored and alone. In this case, you can join a study group. Maybe you hate going to the gym because you don’t know what you’re doing there and you feel like a fool. In this case, you can hire a personal trainer to show you how to use the equipment.
5. Get social support
One of the most important factors for anyone who is successful in changing their habits is the support of those around them. If someone you know is trying to change the way they use the internet, support them and praise them when they make progress.
Shaming someone for their choices and making them feel bad is not an effective way to motivate change.
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Stop Internet Addiction and Achieve Your Goals
Changing ingrained habits is not easy, and it can be difficult to break free from internet familiarity. But by focusing on the goals you want to achieve and putting a plan in place, you can avoid going back to your old ways.