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Photo: iStockphoto.
Photo: iStockphoto.

7 signs that you are addicted to social media

Feel you are addicted to social media? Here are the signs to look out for and what you can do about it

Selfies. Holiday pictures. Links of interesting articles. Posts. Thoughts of the day. Funny cat videos. Welcome to the virtual world of social media, where people spend hours consuming content posted by others.

Mumbai-based Prashant Gautam Nanaware is a typical example. “I take pictures of everything, including food, and post things online instantly," says the 30-year-old communication consultant who has Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp on his phone, with all the notifications always on. Even his travelling is full of clicking, “instagramming", and responding to incoming messages. “What’s an off time? My phone’s on my bedside when I sleep; when I wake up, I see my notifications first. And I like it when my photos and posts get likes or comments," he says. Recently, while watching Baahubali: The Conclusion, he did a live movie review on Twitter. When he participated in the Mumbai Marathon last year, he ran a Facebook Live session while running. He carries a full power bank and a charger for his OnePlusX and is online for almost 15 hours every day. “Social media has taken me over," he says. 

Like Nanaware, many of us are on the borderline of social media addiction. “Anything in excess is not good for health and can turn into severe addiction," says Sameer Malhotra, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “If you have a persistent desire to use it, neglect other priorities of life, become restless at the very thought of not being able to log in, neglect sleep, get your eyes strained, use it first thing in the morning, and have relationship issues because of being constantly on the platform, there’s a high chance you’re an addict."

Think you could be a borderline case too? Here are the signs to look out for.

Notifications are taking over 

Brr. Boing. Beep. Your phone keeps calling, blinking, beckoning you, and you oblige again and again, while you’re studying, working, eating, dating or sleeping. It’s stressful and you have Fomo (fear of missing out) attacks in the middle of the night, when you wake up to check yet another beep. A study, conducted by a team of professors from the University of Southern California, US, in January 2016 and published in the journal Psychology Reports: Disability & Trauma, looked at people’s brains while they surfed social media and found that they responded to notifications much faster than they did to traffic signals. Ofir Turel, the professor who led the study, rated the need to check almost as high as cocaine addiction. 

Change it: “We speculate that addictive behaviour in this case stems from low motivation to control the behaviour," Turel said in a press release. Try switching off all push notifications on social media apps. Head to Settings>Notifications>Off for each application. This way, you will have to make the effort to open an app to see the notifications.

The 11th Like makes your day

Getting more than expected likes on Instagram and Facebook can give you a high—and you may feel depressed if the response is tepid. According to a report by Britain’s National Health Service, released in September, social media posts are responsible for a spike in depression and anxiety in a quarter of women aged 16-24. “Constantly being on social media isolates you and makes you associate your self-esteem with what others think of you or how you compare to others," says Sandeep Vohra, senior consultant, psychiatry, at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, Delhi.

Change it: Get off the grid, develop hobbies, socialize more in person and use social media constructively to help others rather than feel jealous, says Dr Vohra. 

You prefer to date your phone 

You’re on a date, but you constantly keep checking your phone. Scientists from Baylor University, US, who studied “phubbing", or being snubbed by your partner for using the smartphone, found this had an indirect impact on depression and relationship satisfaction levels. In the study, published in January 2016 in Computers In Human Behavior, the scientists said that even the mere presence of the smartphone when you’re talking romance undermines the quality of the relationship. 

Change it: “You need to value commitments and prioritize real relationships over virtual ones," says Dr Malhotra. Have switch-off times, or put the phone in your bag, on silent mode, while on a date.

You feel sad after endless scrolling

Jealousy feeds your endless scrolling, you hate friends who post happy pictures of themselves and the world. You feel you’re the only one with problems, everyone else has a perfect marriage, beautiful children and picturesque holidays. You feel inadequate and dissatisfied. A study published in November by the University of Copenhagen in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking found that people on Facebook are 55% more likely to feel stressed, and one out of three envy others.

Change it: The same study offered some good news as well. It found that staying off for even a week from Facebook or other social networks can improve levels of well-being. So take a break and go read a book. “Discuss things that bother you about social media with a friend or, if that’s not possible, with a mental health professional," says Dr Vohra. 

You check the phone first thing in the morning

You’re still half-asleep, but you just can’t wait to know what happened in the social sphere while you were asleep. According to a March 2016 study by Fortis Healthcare in India, students are getting sleepless nights because they check their phones late into the night. A whopping 66% of those surveyed said they postponed bedtime to socialize on social media, while 42% used their laptops in bed at night. 

Change it: “Ideally, switch off social media 2 hours prior to sleep," says Pallavi Arvind Joshi, consultant psychiatrist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Bengaluru. And keep your phone away from the bedroom. If possible, switch off your phone before going to bed and switch it on after breakfast.

Low battery is an apocalyptic scenario 

The phone’s so deeply integrated into your daily routine that you can’t imagine even a few hours without it. You may have nomophobia, or the fear of your screen shutting down on you. Which is why you are armed with a charger, two extra juice-boosters and even an extra phone. Your fears are seconded by those dark spots where the Internet bars go missing. 

Change it: Imagine the world two decades ago, when no cellphones existed, when there were no batteries to be charged, and people still managed to have a life. “The world was going normally before cellphones were invented so heavens are not going to fall if your phone battery is about to die," says Dr Vohra. Prepare for the worst by keeping your phone off on Sunday. Spend time with family, in a park, far away from the metallic temptation.

You spend hours looking at nonsense

Vines of cats. Your ex’s holiday photographs. A verbose article your scholarly friend has reposted. A TED video. E-commerce thingummies for spouse. You scroll the endless timeline compulsively. You pick up the book you’ve been wanting to read, find a status-worthy quote, post it, and before you know it, you’ve been on Facebook for over an hour. Work and relationships start suffering. “This constant checking of messages on WhatsApp, Facebook, and scrolling through status updates interferes with your day-to-day activities and has a negative effect on your socio-occupational functioning," says Dr Joshi.

Change it: Stop it. “This much exposure to others’ opinions makes you lose your creativity, sometimes independent thinking, and even the ability for recreation, without one of the social medias around," says Dr Joshi. Constant commenting, liking, is making you dull. If you can’t control it, consider deactivating your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

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