Are We Sleepwalking Into Internet Addiction?

man using laptop

London based psychotherapist Tatiana Azevedo has seen a spike in the number of her patients suffering from internet addiction in the last year. In an interview, she explains what this addiction is, how it starts and how best to manage it. 

What is internet addiction?

“The extensive use of the internet as a way of regulating emotional distress to a level which negatively impacts someone’s life.” – Tatiana Azevedo

What is causing this?

While there are many factors that can make people feel more vulnerable to internet addiction, Tatiana highlights three primary causes. 

When COVID-19 struck, this forced many of us to move to digital working which means we are naturally spending more time online as it is. According to UK regulator Ofcom’s 2020 report, adults are now spending more than a day a week online.

Social media platforms are designed to be addictive. These companies want to take as much of your attention as possible. And they are doing a pretty good job at it. For example, the video-sharing giant TikTok increased their UK adult visitors from 5.4 million to 12.9 million between January and April 2020, according to Ofcom. Even Tatiana was shocked to discover that she had clocked up two hours on Instagram last week without noticing! 

Whereas some addictions, such as gambling, have financial barriers that act as a deterrent, no real barrier exists for internet addicts. With most individuals having unlimited access to the internet at a low cost, it doesn’t matter whether you spend one or 24 hours online.

How does internet addiction start?

Tatiana identifies two signs when someone is becoming hooked:

What is the internet being used for? Take social media for instance. The purpose of these platforms is to be social. So when social media is used for a secondary purpose – to regulate stress levels, avoid conflict or serve as a form of escapism – this is when it can become an issue.

When internet use starts to impact your life. For example, when you scroll on your phone for two hours instead of taking your daily walk, or perhaps you stay awake until 3 am one night which negatively impacts your performance at work the next day.

What are the knock-on effects?

Spending too much time on the internet leaves less space to address other areas of our lives that need nurturing. This includes time spent with family, time to be creative or time to drift off and be bored as this is often when we come up with some of our best and brightest ideas. 

How can we manage this?

Tatiana says that we are still in the early stages of understanding what internet addiction is in the UK. She believes that once we are back to normality, there will be a lot more research into this area. For example, exploring how long Zoom meetings should be before they start to affect people. 

But in the meantime, she advises that for those who feel they are spending too much time online, that they monitor their internet usage and start setting time limits. With various monitoring apps now available, this is easier than it sounds.

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