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The Signs and Symptoms of Digital Addiction (and How to Kick the Habit)

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What is digital addiction?

Digital addiction is seeing something beautiful and quantifying it by how many “likes” it will get you. Digital addiction is refreshing your mini-feed until your thumb calluses. Digital addiction is opening up your social media app when you have no phone service. Digital addiction is the new norm.

Signs of Social Media Addiction

1. MINDLESS/DISTRACTED EATING:

You cannot eat without Snapstagraming your food to your followers. You and your lover are hardly seated before your phone comes out. You place it face down on the table, because face up is “rude.” After having your eyes dart to it, like moths to a flame, you pick it up just in time to give your appetizer a photo shoot.

2. OBSESSIVE PHONE CHECKING

Your phone is the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see in the morning. You check it before you’re even fully awake. And why wouldn’t you? You need to count your retweets from yesterday’s witty remark (shockingly fewer than expected). You need to see the acclaim your baby’s pictures are awarded (only to find a child of the same age already proficient at the piano and fluent in Chinese and Spanish). You need to (begrudgingly) check your emails. Hyper-connectivity, amirite?

3. ALWAYS UPDATING FACEBOOK STATUS

Your friends have caught you updating with a funny Facebook status in the middle of a serious conversation. “No, yes, I know Trump will only support DACA in exchange for funding for his wall, but—wait, what are you– why peach and eggplant emojis?”

4. TAKING YOUR PHONE TO THE TOILET/BATHROOM

You have forgotten what it was like to go to the bathroom without your phone. To be fair, though, when else are you going to look at memes or swipe Tinder (obviously not in public)? You know the drill, swipe, tap, scroll, wipe.

5. SOCIAL MEDIA LIKES AND SELF ESTEEM

A new week rolls around and someone asks you how your weekend was… as if they didn’t see your 3 different Burning Man Instagrams, your eponymous Facebook album, and a deluge of snaps? What an ungrateful follo-  I mean, friend. (note to self: unfollow Steve).

6. ADDICTED TO LIKES ON SOCIAL MEDIA

You “like” all of your own content. Yes, I know. Self-love and a sense of self-worth are great. But, nothing screams auto-fellatio more than you liking your status on your forward thinking opinion of equal pay.

7. CHECK-INS ADDICTION

You feel such a compulsion to “check-in” to every place you go that you even consider “checking-in” to the restroom. Of course, you don’t check in until you’ve liked your own status on how Facebook is unfairly monitoring its users.

8. FACEBOOK OBSESSION

You feel the need to post a Facebook status lamenting the untimely death of a celebrity that you know about from his Wikipedia page that you just checked.

9. EFFECT OF SOCIAL MEDIA SLANG

You speak in keyboard shorthand sarcastically, but also seriously. “LOL! That’s hilarious!” “OMG, like, the hashtag struggle bus has arrived. LOL!”

Digital addiction isn’t all hashtags and LOLs, however. The results are in and Instagram has the highest risk of damaging the mental health of our youth. This survey of 1,479 young adults ranging from 14 to 24 years in age, found that the social media was a place to be a positive space for expressing and identifying the self, but conversely and concurrently negatively impacted body image, sleep habits, and anxiety levels. Social media is most likely to affect its ardent teen user base, yet the surge in mental health issues amongst the same cohort is rarely addressed due to the stigma around the topic.

Social Media Compared To Drugs

Another question to be raised is how far does self-expression stretch before it is unhealthy? This same demographic feels “panic-stricken and physically sick” if s/he foregoes posting umpteen selfies on Facebook. In a related study, brains scans of high-frequency Facebookers yielded gray matter that looks as though it were affected by cocaine. Yup. This essentially states that Facebook is as addictive as cocaine.

When you abuse substances they eventually abuse you. Facebook overuse is now being correlated to the negative outcomes of drug and alcohol abuse. Typically, Facebook overuse begins to affect daily activities adversely: work, school, relationships with family and friends in an analog setting.

How Can We Get Rid of Social Media Addiction?

There are ways to control excessive usage of Facebook. Psychological studies to combat social media addiction are being conducted especially because of the influx in news and articles of defamation as of late. Across an array of studies, one of the first steps to beating digital addiction is measuring the amount of time spent on Facebook. Keeping a journal that acts as a time-log will shed some light on the extent of your problem. Often times, people then chose to limit themselves to certain times of the day or short windows where they are allowed to use social media.

Cutting the problem out entirely is a strategy that is employed for other types of substance abuse. Teetotalism and going cold turkey with tobacco are quite common, albeit rough. Deletion and deactivation of your Facebook account, the former a permanent, the latter a temporary, solution—can sometimes be the best course of action. Deletion is wiping your Facebook account for it to never return while deactivation is just having it hibernate for a little while. The latter just hides your info and messages until you jump back on the bandwagon, while deletion is a permanent wipe down of your presence on Facebook.

You probably spend half, or more, of your day online. The tech that has transformed our daily lives dragged serious risk factors in on its coattails. In a world that blares alarms and feels constantly “on” it is no surprise that experts report spiking fatigue, anxiety, stress, and depression in our day-to-day experience. The diffusion of now-ubiquitous technology has leaned on the layperson. We have new pressures. We have FOMO when offline. We have to be Instagram-able every day. We are expected to be always available. Whether your time spent online is on social media, trawling the web, or quizzing to see what your favorite flavor of ice cream says about your virility, there have been direct correlations between time spent online and risk of mental health issues, hacking, harassment – or worse.

The Solution is Digital Wellness

Digital wellness can be defined as choices-cum-habits to improve your daily life by interacting with technology in a suitable manner. For example, being mindful about which apps you use and limiting how much you use them. Let me explain. “Life imitates art, far more than art imitates life,” says Oscar Wilde. This is superlatively exemplified in social media. We now tailor our day-to-day lives to pump up digital personas. We have forgotten to enjoy a sunset without “#nofilter.” There are times we need to put down the phone and limit ourselves to software that has proven itself to be addictive.

Think of digital wellness as a digital detox–or, even, a digital diet. Imagine social media being your favorite food. Now imagine your favorite food being free and served to you on a space-gray platter, 24/7. However, the most insidious part of social media is that it doesn’t affect your waistline–i.e. you cannot see the immediate effects, but you can feel them. It is no help that our study of the brain remains not much less arcane as it was decades ago. In short, you suffer out of sight. As with every change, it is easier to wean yourself off of something rather than just go cold-turkey, especially if you want to change your habits rather than your lifestyle. With a digital detox, you can learn to use less with apps and self-imposed routines that are available if you wish to seek them out.

There is no online versus offline life anymore. Even when we put our phones down, we live with technology. So, let’s roll with the punches. Let us learn use technology again–and not the reverse.

The other day, I was walking around my neighborhood without my phone. I left it home on purpose. At first, I felt naked. Totally exposed. I had just moved cities and didn’t know east from west (needless to say, I am geographically challenged). I was trying to go buy groceries 10 blocks from my apartment, but kept getting lost… as a result, I embarrassedly stopped many bystanders to ask for directions and the time. They were weirded out, but accommodative. With or without prompt, I told them I had intentionally left my phone at home and had no idea what I was doing, where I was going. Ultimately, I painted a bunch of “woah, he’s brave” smiles on some strangers.

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