In a tech-obsessed society where 500 million tweets are sent per day and 1.28 billion people use Facebook on a regular basis, how can you tell when your own love of “checking in” has gone too far? Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, PhD, technology expert and author of The Distraction Addiction, shares some of the most common signs that you should to sign off for a bit.
1. You make elaborate desserts and projects just to Instagram them
Did you spend extra time making your salad look picture-perfect or recreate a DIY off Pinterest just to appear crafty? If you’re guilty of situations like these, you may be ready for a break. “When you start crafting your life to be more Twitter– or Instagram-friendly, it’s time to step back,” says Pang. “Thinking about where you’ll go or what you’ll do with an eye to how it will appear on social media undermines your ability to be yourself,” he adds.
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2. You can’t rake the leaves or paint your nails without tweeting about it
We all have that friend on social media who can’t help but share every single detail of her life. Unfortunately, you may also be that friend. “Composing tweets about what you’re doing as you’re doing it or feeling the need to report your thoughts in real-time are all signs that social media is taking over your life,” says Pang. “There are only 24 hours in a day, and the more time we spend sharing with our friends what we’re doing hour-by-hour, the less time we have to discover for ourselves why we enjoy these activities and what our days are adding up to mean,” he explains.
3. You know way too much about your connections
“The big warning sign to look out for here is when you start becoming compulsive about knowing the statuses of your social media ‘friends,’” Pang says. So if you readily know that the random guy you once met at a party just bought a house, and you’ve already stalked his wife’s Facebook profile, you may want to reevaluate how much time you’re spending online. “The irony of social media is that while it can be great for keeping up with the details of our friend’s lives, too much engagement can obscure the big picture and weaken our ability to make sense of our own lives,” adds Pang.
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4. You feel like you don’t measure up to your successful/happy/thriving friends
Thumbing through your social feed can quickly lead to an inundation of good—and often envy-inducing—news. Witnessing your friends’ promotions, engagements, and extravagant vacations can stir up feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, whether you realize it or not. In fact, spending too much time on social media can cause feelings of negative body image among women, increase the amount of anxiety a person has on a daily basis, and even lead to damaged friendships and relationships. “When keeping up with your friends’ lives gets in the way of you happily leading your own life, you need a break,” says Pang.
5. You feel anxious when you don’t have access to your phone
Do you check Facebook at traffic lights or while talking to your friends at the table? Do you refresh your Twitter feed as soon as you wake up or as you’re falling asleep? “The more you’re on social media, the less material you actually have to talk about that’s interesting and worth having other people hear,” says Pang. Think about it: How many conversations or real-life events have you missed out on because you were too wrapped up in your phone? The more time you spend liking, the less likable your own world ends up becoming, Pang explains.
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How to take a step back
Start by setting aside a specific time every day for catching up on social media. “Humans have a schedule for exercising, going to work, eating meals, and sleeping. So if one hour per day, at the same time each day, is good enough for dinner, it’s good enough for your news feed,” says Pang. When you do post status updates, limit yourself to only discussing life stories, instead of off-the-cuff thoughts or irrelevant snapshots of your food or your dog (no matter how cute he may be).
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Finally, experiment with temporarily limiting your access. “Challenge yourself to abstaining from social media for a full week, or, if that’s too daunting, just delete Twitter, Instagram and Facebook from your phone for a week,” Pang suggests. “Does your life get better or worse? You may find that you feel perfectly satisfied without social media in your life,” says Pang.