This article is Part 4 of an ongoing series of articles under the project, ‘Addictions: Breaking Bad’
Sam’s phone is the first thing she touches ever morning. She needs to check what she missed while she was asleep. She continues to connect with the world throughout her day. Despite her consistent use she believes she has good control over her personal and social media life and she doesn’t really see it affecting her relationship with her family and coworkers. Her procrastination and low productivity keeps her from achieving her goals, her thoughts are muddled up and it's hard to think clearly, or focus in her prayers. It’s been ages since she spent time polishing her talents!
Sound familiar? Here’s an open secret – I was that Sam. At this point all I can do is sigh in grim acceptance of my days and be glad the chapter’s closed. It not unusual that I fell into the trap too: statistics show 8 in every 10 people have screen addiction. Its deep impact seeped into relationships and goals affecting our everyday lives.
Does any part of my old chapter resonate with you? Take this FREE Self-Assessment to find out what’s your level of connection to social media and find out which factors impact your life due to social media.
If your result shows that you've slight, moderate to severe social media addiction, then you are slowly developing or have developed unwanted social media habits- and that’s okay, all of us reach a low point several times during our lives, it’s just getting back on our feet that makes all the difference.
Here it means getting a digital detox. To put it simply, it’s taking a complete break from your devices so you can focus on real-life social interactions without distractions, letting go of the stress that stems from constant connectivity.
Of course Social media is both a boon and blessing in today's world, which we cannot overlook, instead of falling on either extremes (Anti-social media or pro-social media) we approach it with a balance to gain barakah from it which we will look at as we understand its factors.
The Vicious Cycle of Social Media Addiction
As you read through, observe the damaging habits without any judgements and social media’s impact on your life. Spot the changes you need to make. You will observe that not all the factors mentioned below will apply to you, which is due to differences in personalities, environment, etc. Hence, we must treat each title as a spectrum instead and note how deeply each factor impacts us and work on what is needed.
It starts with the chemical effects in our body. Every time someone engages with our content, our brains get a rush of dopamine, researchers equate that to a tiny amount of drug like coke. The more we engage on social media, the more dopamine is released causing our brain to get “high”.
This rush of dopamine increases our willingness to engage in social media, and hence a team of neuroscientists are specifically hired by app strategists to design their apps to increase their app usage.
People with low dopamine levels are more prone to addictions, craving a substance or activity increasingly to satisfy their dopamine levels.
- Consume foods rich in tyrosine and magnesium and avoiding processed foods, sugar and caffeine. Shawn Steveson says, “Everything that you eat, affects the way you think which affects the way you feel and it literally affects the print out or the receipt that you get of your body.”
- Read the Quran, i.e. with proper Tajweed and correct pauses, this regulates breathing. Reading it with explanation causes reflection of the verses, encouraging proper breathing and meditation that will slowly but surely redirect the dopamine levels and reset your mindset.
- Set small goals and work to achieve them. No matter how small, it gives the body a dopamine kick. Staying consistent will help you give the dopamine you need rather than seeking it out from social media.
FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out
The fear of missing out refers to the feeling or perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than we are. It involves a deep sense of envy and affects self-esteem.
For the first time in human history, FOMO seems to be literally sweeping the masses off their feet. Barely anyone is immune to it. With high tech facilities to stay updated on everything that’s going on in the world, it seems imperative that we stick to our phones and stay well informed.
With the access we have to other peoples’ lives, we experience a more nuanced and painful fear of missing out or being left behind more frequently than ever before. “It is generally a curated view into people’s lives encouraging social comparison. These comparisons backfire when it distracts a person from their own sense of meaning and purpose,” says Sullivan-Windt, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist and founder of the New Connections Counseling Center.
She explains, ‘At its root, FOMO can be a lack of self-awareness about what one values and a lack of intentionality in one’s life. A person who takes time to self-reflect and is very intentional in living according to her or his own purpose is generally more content, and less apt to measure him or herself against others.”
Translation: Self-Contentment is FOMO Repellent
The opposite is also true, Sulivan-Windt explains: “Those lacking in self-worth and without an internal sense of security are most often looking to others to measure their own worth.” Making social extroverts who thrive on group energy or those who lack self-confidence and security within themselves most susceptible to FOMO.
Once you understand the root cause behind your FOMO, you will be able to work on it and eliminate it over time.
“If you must compare, try comparing yourself now with how you were in the past. Or compare yourself now with how you want to be in the future. These types of comparisons can be more useful. You may recognize the ways you have grown and goals you have reached. You may also clarify future goals in terms of what may be more fulfilling.”
The Prophet ﷺ spoke regarding FOMO:
On the authority of Abdullah bin Abbas who said: "One day I was behind the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) [riding on the same mount] and he said,
يَا غُلَامِ! إنِّي أُعَلِّمُك كَلِمَاتٍ: احْفَظْ اللَّهَ يَحْفَظْك، احْفَظْ اللَّهَ تَجِدْهُ تُجَاهَك، إذَا سَأَلْت فَاسْأَلْ اللَّهَ، وَإِذَا اسْتَعَنْت فَاسْتَعِنْ بِاَللَّهِ، وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ الْأُمَّةَ لَوْ اجْتَمَعَتْ عَلَى أَنْ يَنْفَعُوك بِشَيْءٍ لَمْ يَنْفَعُوك إلَّا بِشَيْءٍ قَدْ كَتَبَهُ اللَّهُ لَك، وَإِنْ اجْتَمَعُوا عَلَى أَنْ يَضُرُّوك بِشَيْءٍ لَمْ يَضُرُّوك إلَّا بِشَيْءٍ قَدْ كَتَبَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْك؛ رُفِعَتْ الْأَقْلَامُ، وَجَفَّتْ الصُّحُفُ
“O young man, I shall teach you some words [of advice]: Be mindful of Allah and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, then ask Allah [alone]; and if you seek help, then seek help from Allah [alone]. And know that if the nation were to gather to benefit you with anything, they would not benefit you except with what Allah had already prescribed for you. And if they were to gather to harm you with anything, they would not harm you except with what Allah had already prescribed against you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.” [Tirmidhi]
- Admit you have FOMO
Realize the level of FOMO you have, tell yourself, “If Allah wants to give me something, no one can stop it from reaching me, and if He did not mean for something to reach me, no one can give it to me.” Admitting that you have FOMO can relieve you as acknowledging the insecurity will help you truly tackle the problem.
- Set a limit
Use your phone after you wash your face and had breakfast i.e. avoid using it the moment you wake up. If you need your social media accounts, set a time dedicated to checking all your social media outlets. Make this your one and only time of day to check your accounts. Switch off your notification or set it to pop on a dedicated time of the day. Find a suitable time and stick to it.
- Practice mindfulness
It is the non-judgmental observation or awareness that focuses on a present experience. Try this mindfulness exercise: When you stand for prayer, observe the words you are saying, your breathing and the way your body moves as you change positions, practice imagining yourself standing in front of Allah. If that’s hard to do, then imagine Him watching you throughout your Salah. Rather than hurrying up, to get on to the next task, appreciate your current state of being. Try mindfulness with other activities too such as house chores/driving/eating etc.
Mindfulness helps those with major FOMO enjoy what they are doing in the here and now, instead of yearning for what else could be.
The dopamine rush we get rewires our brain with instant gratification, i.e. the physiological need to experience fast, short-term pleasure. When we first start getting social media notifications, our brains release a hit of dopamine. With the pace of social media, these hits come fast, and they usually come back-to-back. This trains your brain to expect instant gratification from notifications, which rewires our brain into expecting “immediate results” for everything else.
When we are consumed with our desire for immediate pleasure or satisfaction, we rarely make decisions that benefit our long-term future. This makes it hard to visualize and aim for long term goals with resilience and patience. Hence, goals that seem far off become “too much work”.
Imam Ghazali said: ‘Desires makes slaves out of kings. And patience makes kings out of slaves.” If we master our desires, we have better control on ourselves, but lack of mastery leads to enslavement of ourselves to our desires.When a person desires something or someone, their sense of longing is excited by the enjoyment or the thought of the item or person, and they want to take actions to obtain their goal, such as power, entertainment, food, and social contact.
The problem arises when a person turns from worshiping Allah to worshipping his desires. Allah talks about such people in Surah Al Furqan, ayah 43:
أَرَءَيۡتَ مَنِ ٱتَّخَذَ إِلَـٰهَهُ ۥ هَوَٮٰهُ أَفَأَنتَ تَكُونُ عَلَيۡهِ وَڪِيلاً أَمۡ تَحۡسَبُ أَنَّ أَڪۡثَرَهُمۡ يَسۡمَعُونَ أَوۡ يَعۡقِلُونَ
Have you seen him who has taken as his god his own vain desire? Would you then be a guardian over him? Or do you think that most of them hear or understand?
The person who makes “his desire as his god” is the one who becomes the slave of his lusts and desires. He serves his lust like the one who worships his deity. He becomes guilty of shirk as the one who worships an idol. And of all the false gods being worshipped and served instead of Allah, the worst in the sight of Allah is one’s own lust. [Al-Tabarani]
The man who keeps his desires under control, and uses his common sense to make decisions, can be expected to come to the right path by making an appeal to his reason even though he might have been involved in shirk or disbelief. If he decides to follow the right way, he will remain firm and steadfast on it.
On the other hand, the man who is the slave of his own lust, is like a ship without an anchor, who wanders about on any path where his lust leads him to. He is least bothered about the distinction between the right and the wrong, the true and the false, and has no desire to choose one against the other. Even if such a person is persuaded to accept the message of guidance, he will find it hard to observe any moral laws.
That is the gravity of following your own desires which stems from instant gratification.
- Accept that you fell into the instant gratification trap.
- Learn what it means to truly worship Allah.
- Quit justifying your actions- Accountability is key.
- Avoid people who worship their desires. Ibn Abbas said, “Do not sit with people of desires; for indeed it causes sickness of the heart.” (Reported by Imaam Al-Aajuree in Ash- Sharee-ah 1/453)
- Practice saying no to your desires. Start with small desires and build from there.
- Create Long term Goals - It comes from your life’s vision. It’s the picture you have of the future life you would like to build, to help you stay focused and motivated.
- Create visual reminders of your Goals.
- Prepare for short term pain- Hardship with patience is better than a blessing without gratitude – Sheikh Abul Aziz At Tarifi. Brace yourself for trials and sacrifices and remind yourself that when you leave something for the sake of Allah swt he replaces it with something else.
- Dua. Dua. Dua – Without the aid of Allah, nothing can be achieved. So, seek help, and assistance from Allah.
A.K.A: “The root of all evil”. The way social media is designed advocates self-validation and self-idealization, heavily promoting a rat race for approval through “follow for follow”, retweets and shares, boosting ego and encouraging masses of people to create an idealized version of themselves and others.
This extreme focus on ourselves promotes an unhealthy self-obsession limiting our thinking and in process, limiting our minds to our needs of attention or support without much concern about anyone or anything outside our own self-interest, making little to no effort to understand others thoughts or feelings, developing in us traits commonly found in various personality disorders. Such a trait gives little towards self-reflection and introspection which is vital for our spiritual growth and closeness to Allah.
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ أَمْ عَلَىٰ قُلُوبٍ أَقْفَالُهَ
Then do they not reflect upon the Qur'an, or are there locks upon [their] hearts? [Surah Muhammad, 24]
- Observe your Intention for every act you do: Every action of a Muslim needs to have an intention behind it to convert their day into worship. “Every action is based on an intention.”
- Take your time to reflect upon an ayah every day (without sharing about it online).
- Follow screen free hours – Set a time where you will not be touching any device, no matter what, start with 5 minutes and add 5 more minutes to it every day.
- Volunteer in places you can offer your skills and serve the community.
How far can you go without using any of your devices? Some feel uncomfortable without it, some feel nervous and others both. We worry about someone needing us, or something goes wrong and it’s important or we might miss out of something. It also feels like we lost an organ when we don’t know where it is.
As Brielle Raven put in, we’re in a constant state of:
- Not being productive enough, checking our emails/messages, responding/ getting stuff done when we can.
- FOMO or the need to capture what’s going on in our own lives.
- Mindlessly occupying our brains with entirely utterly useless information and wasting away hours, sometimes multitasking and not concentrating on either!
Or all three.
This makes us feel inadequate, as if we aren’t doing enough while the others seem to be having the time of their life and we’re stuck in our own desolate homes, promoting an unrealistic negative view of ourselves, increasing low self-esteem and the need to “fit-in”. Why else would the mainstream trends be heavily sought-after?
Most often, feelings of inadequacy are rooted in childhood experiences, like having had overly critical parents, cruel peers, shaming authority figures, or, perhaps, not having opportunities to engage in positive, challenging experiences that help children gain feelings of competence and adequacy.
How does one become self-sufficient? It is by following Islam through the teachings of the Quran and of Muhammad ﷺ based on the narration by Abal Minhal:
Abu Barza said, "(O people!) Allah makes you self-sufficient or has raised you high with Islam and with Muhammad." [Sahih Al Bukhari]
The Prophet ﷺ used to make this Dua for self-sufficiency:
اللهم إني أسألك الهدى والتقى والعفاف والغنى
Allahumma inni as'alukal-huda wat- tuqa wal-'afafa wal-ghina
O Allah! I ask You for guidance, piety, chastity and self- sufficiency" [Riyadh as-Salihin]
- Get to the root factors that developed your inadequacy. Talk to a therapist if needed, to help you through healing.
- Ponder upon the legacy you want to leave in this world.
- Made Dua to Allah for self-sufficiency.
- Observe your thoughts of inadequacy rather than believing them.
- Aim for Ihsan not perfection.
- Find what skills bring you joy and set small goals to master them.
Which of these factors resonated with you? We’d love to know what your result is and your thoughts about the article!
Still not sure how much Social media's affecting your life? Take our free Social Media Addiction Quiz to find out.
In part 2, we will look at the intricate design of our brain and how social media addiction impacts our character. Until then, join our digital detox challenge and taste the sweetness of worshipping Allah and living the life best enjoyed.
And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient. Not equal are the companions of the Fire and the companions of Paradise. The companions of Paradise - they are the attainers [of success]. [Surah Al-Hashr, 19]
- Joint Article by Zaiba Fatima (General Psychology) and Sameera Hameed
Note: This series of articles involves and is written in consultation with clinical psychologists and other industry professionals.
Missed Part 1? Read: Rooting It Out: Understanding Addiction and Its Origins
Missed Part 2? Read: Gaming: Game Over? Or Level Up?
Missed Part 3? Read: Music: Lost In A Song
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