Instagram being down sends Internet into a spin – how to tell if your social media use is a problem

Addicted to social media? Here's how to spot if your Instagram use is getting out of hand. (Getty Images)
Addicted to social media? Here's how to spot if your Instagram use is getting out of hand. (Getty Images)

The reaction to Instagram being down for a couple of hours is shining a light on our social media usage and whether we're in danger of becoming addicted to scrolling.

In case you missed it, Meta Platform Inc's Instagram has now been restored for most users after a technical issue disrupted services to thousands on May 21.

At the peak of the outage, more than 180,000 users reported issues with accessing Instagram, with many heading to Twitter to complain about the problem.

"Everyone running to Twitter to check if Instagram is down or not," one user wrote alongside a meme of people running through an airport.

"Everyone tweeting 'instagram down' all at once really made me feel a sense of community," another joked.

"Me finding out insta is down after switching my Wi-Fi and data on and off for the 50th time," yet another user tweeted.

The response to the app being down is obviously exaggerated for the lols, but did the communal panic hide a more sobering hint that our social media use might be getting out of hand?

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Social media could be having an impact on our mental health. (Getty Images)
Social media could be having an impact on our mental health. (Getty Images)

If you're you worried that you might be getting addicted to Instagram and other social media sites, you're not alone.

In fact recent research estimates that over 210 million people worldwide suffer from some form of social media and/or internet addiction.

Meanwhile, stats from audience insights platform, GWI, indicate that 39% of Brits check Facebook more than once a day, almost a third (29%) check Instagram more than once a day and almost a quarter (23%) use five-six different social media/messaging service apps.

Signs your social media use is becoming a problem

Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and founder of The Private Therapy Clinic, shares signs to look out for:

  • Spending excessive amounts of time on social media.

  • Neglecting real-life responsibilities due to social media use.

  • Feeling anxious or irritable when you can't access social media.

  • Comparing yourself to others on social media and feeling inadequate.

  • Using social media to escape negative emotions or problems.

  • Feeling like you have to constantly check social media to stay up-to-date.

  • Experiencing eye strain, headaches or insomnia due to social media use.

Why we're getting addicted to social media

There are several reasons why social media addiction is becoming more of a problem including accessibility, according to Dr Spelman.

"Social media is easily accessible through smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, making it easier for people to spend more time on social media," she explains.

Social validation is another factor with apps such as Instagram providing a platform for people to seek validation from others through likes, comments, and followers.

"This can lead to people spending excessive amounts of time on social media in order to maintain their online image and status," she adds.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is another factor with social media creating a fear of missing out on social events, news, and other important information.

This, Dr Spelman says, can lead to people spending more time on social media to stay up-to-date.

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There are some psychological factors at play too.

"Social media addiction can be linked to psychological factors such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem," Dr Spelman says. "These factors can drive people to seek social validation and escape negative emotions through social media."

The design features of social media apps could also be keeping users coming back for more.

"Social media platforms are designed to keep users engaged by using features such as notifications, likes, and infinite scrolling," Dr Spelman adds. "These features can make it difficult for users to disengage from social media."

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How to spot if your social media is getting out of hand. (Getty Images)
How to spot if your social media is getting out of hand. (Getty Images)

What to do if your social media use is getting out of control

Set limits

...on the amount of time you spend on social media each day. "You can use apps or features on your phone or computer to help you track and manage your time," Dr Spelman suggests.

Take breaks

To help reduce your dependence on it. "Consider taking a day or weekend off from social media to see how you feel," Dr Spelman adds.

Find other activities

...that you enjoy and don't involve social media. "This can include reading, exercising, or spending time with friends and family," Dr Spelman suggests.

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Be mindful

Particularly of how you feel when you use social media. "If you notice that you feel anxious, stressed, or unhappy after using social media, consider reducing your use," Dr Spelman says.

Unfollow or mute

...accounts that trigger negative emotions or have a negative impact on your mental health.

Seek support

If you feel that social media is affecting your wellbeing, talk to friends, family, or a mental health professional.

"Remember that social media can be a useful tool for staying connected with others, but it's important to find a healthy balance that works for you," Dr Spelman adds.