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What happens when you abstain from social media

“I’m not addicted to social media,” I said defensively to my mom when she accused me of spending too much time online.

“Yes, you are. If you’re not on your phone, you’re on your laptop,” she replied.

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It got me thinking: Am I really addicted?

Social media has changed the way we live, from how we interact with other people and  how we articulate our views in life to how we purchase things. Well, what’s wrong with that? we might say. Anyway, we are in the information age, and almost everything is a click away.

I was 12 when I first made a social media account, not because I needed it, but because my friends had one. When I became a teenager, I was not really that preoccupied with it, but gradually, my online time increased every year. I found myself checking my phone periodically, such as when waiting for an elevator to arrive, when I’m sitting in a bus, when I get up in the morning, while eating my lunch, and before going to bed. For a millennial and someone working in the advertising industry, being online 24/7 is a must. But I know that my eyestrain is getting worse, and I am highly distracted. Thus I asked myself: Why not quit social media temporarily?

I unplugged on Jan. 4-8 and again on March 7-11. Contrary to what other people say, I didn’t die while I was away from the screen. It turns out that social media cleansing is one of the best detox experiences I’ve had, and I’m planning to do it more often. Why? Here are a few things I learned and that happened while I was on my vacation from social media:

  1. No more phantom vibration syndrome.

Have you ever had that bizarre feeling of your phone vibrating in your pocket when in fact it’s not? In strange occasions, I even thought I heard my phone ringing when in fact it was not. According to a research, nine out of 10 people have exhibited phantom vibration syndrome, in which people mistaken an itch or a muscle spasm as phone vibration.

People get too accustomed to their phone that it becomes a part of them. This is the same as wearing eyeglasses for long: Sometimes a person forgets that he or she is wearing them. The phantom vibration syndrome may not sound like a big deal to our health, but I find it to be very annoying.

  1. More free time than I have ever thought.

Social media is a constant stream of information and entertainment that hooks users to keep on scrolling. Whatever your niche is, social media always has something fresh to entice you to spend more time on the screen.

When I temporarily gave up social media, I learned that I have more free time than I have ever thought. I even find myself bored, and run out of things that I can do. It turns out that I was never busy, that I was just diverted, and my time was channeled into some baloney pursuits. People often say that the 24 hours of each day are not enough, but I beg to differ.

  1. More productivity, less distraction and stress.

Most of us will agree that social media is a big distraction. When I am writing and I am suddenly at a loss for words, I used to visit Facebook to relax a bit. I tell myself that I will just scroll for five minutes, but the truth is, it will become 40 minutes. From scrolling through my newsfeed, I will end up in a funny video of cats; I watch it on YouTube and the “recommended” button will entice me to watch more. Suddenly, I will be on Twitter, laughing out loud at the tweets of silly trolls, and then I’m in Pinterest pinning some quotes about procrastination. When I look at my clock, it’s already midnight and I no longer have the energy to finish my article. Sadly, I am entertained, but I end up wasting my energy and sabotaging my output.

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  1. Longer, better sleep.

When social media becomes accessible through our smartphones, the usage also rises. A predictable night for most teenagers and young adults entails going to bed as early as 9 p.m. and automatically browsing their newsfeed, and the next thing they know is it’s already 2 a.m.

Research shows that young adults who frequently check their social media are most likely to have sleep problems. This is because our mobile phones produce blue light, which is healthy during the day but becomes a foe at night for it blocks the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep at night. Now that explains why most of us suffer from daytime fatigue.

  1. Building, healthy, real-time and true relationships.

You may have hundreds or thousands of followers, yet still feel the agonizing buzz of crowded loneliness. It’s funny how Facebook recently included the emotion buttons, perhaps to give people the ability to communicate not only their views but also their feelings. Why so? It is because social media has altered our way of communication.

Nowadays, instead of solving conflicts, we prefer to unfriend, unfollow and block people. Instead of visiting a friend who is sick, we prefer to comment “get well soon” to their statuses. That raised the question: Is our generation really present and connected?

During the period of my social media fasting, I realized that meeting friends as opposed to chatting with them online is more expensive. It also requires time and effort, but guess what? Creating memories and engaging in real-time conversations have more impact.

  1. Fewer cravings.

Checking social media becomes unconscious behavior, at least for me, but after my unplugging, I can say that I have fewer cravings. I can now discipline myself and stick to my planned hours of going online. It surprised me that not checking what life is like online in a day was OK for me. Yes, it’s true that I’m back in the online world, but I am no longer consumed by it.

Let me say that social media is not all bad. Remember that because of social media, jobs were created today that never existed in the past 15 years. It makes the flow of information faster and connects everyone regardless of where they’re from. It has allowed businesses to expand their reach, emerging talents to be discovered, and many more. But it can also become an addiction.

It turns out that what connects us can also disconnect us. At the end of the day, social media is not really the problem; how we use it may be the problem.

And you? Are you sure you’re not addicted?

Julie Ruth Gagarin, 22, is an advertising and public relations graduate of Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She holds a day job in advertising and keeps writing as a sideline.

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