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Switch off Instagram and WhatsApp — your detox from social media starts now

HONG KONG — With lockdowns and social restrictions worldwide stretching on amid the coronavirus pandemic, many people are using social media apps like never before. Some, recognising they are doing so to an excessive degree, have sworn off them for a time.

If you’re spending hours on social media but finding no pleasure in it, try switching off from it entirely for a while.

If you’re spending hours on social media but finding no pleasure in it, try switching off from it entirely for a while.

HONG KONG — With lockdowns and social restrictions worldwide stretching on amid the coronavirus pandemic, many people are using social media apps like never before. Some, recognising they are doing so to an excessive degree, have sworn off them for a time.

When the Indian government mandated a countrywide lockdown in March, Ms Anuja Chumbale moved from Bangalore back to her hometown in Aurangabad, Maharashtra state, to be with her family. She deleted WhatsApp in April, and Instagram around 10 days later, as she realised her social media habit was taking a mental toll on her.

“It was so unconscious. I would be scrolling for 10 minutes … then 30 minutes would go by. I would spend three to four hours [on these apps a day],” the 24-year-old admits. A frequent texter, Ms Chumbale wrestled with the urge to check every single notification. “At some point, I realised I spent too much time on my phone.”

She had grown weary of pandemic-related content, she says, using the term “WhatsApp University” to describe people sharing their “knowledge” of the coronavirus online. “There was a lot of false news,” she says. Additionally, she found updates, particularly on the death rates, “triggering” as the information made her feel helpless.

Ms Chumbale says she feels freer since disconnecting from these apps, and adds that she does not miss always being available. “If people really wanted to find you, they call or email … you’re still reachable,” says Ms Chumbale. “It has helped me focus more on my goals and what I want to do.”

She recently graduated from Christ, a university in Bangalore, India, with a master’s degree in psychology, specialising in human relations and development. Since the country’s pandemic-struck economy has shredded India’s job market, Ms Chumbale has been unable to use her hard-won degree to make a living. She has taken up an internship in human resources at a technology firm to tide her over.

That’s another reason she’s decided to switch off — it’s hard to see updates from friends about their professional lives, whether they are sitting in their office or boasting about a job promotion. “I know it’s not my mistake, but all that [content] makes me feel incapable and hurt,” she says.

“Because of the coronavirus, people are losing their jobs and, being a recent graduate, I am not getting any jobs,” she says, adding that she had studied very hard to earn her degree.

To fill her spare time, Ms Chumbale has turned to a beloved hobby — cooking. “I help my mum in the kitchen. I’m always behind her asking her to tell me what to do,” she said.

Mr Alan Wood is a primary psychotherapist at The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab in Chiang Mai in Thailand. The centre offers a universal programme to treat anyone battling addiction, including internet addiction. “People may use [social media] almost like a hit, a dopamine fix, it can almost be like having a pipe,” he says.

Like any unhealthy habit, you must acknowledge if there is a problem. Mr Wood suggests asking yourself if your habit is no longer positive or enjoyable, and whether you feel you are becoming unbalanced, obsessive-compulsive and allowing it to disrupt other areas of your life.

“Do cognitive behavioural therapy journaling, in which you look at the validity and utility — whether it’s a good or bad thing,” he explains. If these apps are affecting your relationships, sleep, health, professional life or finances, for example, social media may be an unhealthy habit for you.

Dr Joyce Chao Puihan, a clinical psychologist from Dimensions Centre in Hong Kong’s Central district, also encourages social media users to set a limit on the time they use these apps. “Is one or two hours a day enough? Everyone has to decide what is appropriate or healthy for them,” she says.

Dr Chao advises her clients to be conscious of what they see on social media. “You have to have your own filter, like how email has a spam filter,” she says. People with many apps can easily become overwhelmed with information. Another common sign of overuse, she says, is if people around you are complaining about your habit.

“People go on social media for many reasons … some to socialise, some to escape. If you’re using these apps to avoid [other] meaningful activities, ask yourself why you are doing that,” she adds.

Re-calibrating your relationship to social apps can help you face anything that you have been avoiding.

In Ms Chumbale’s case, since 2015 she has suffered from polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that affects hormone balance and can cause irregular periods and weight gain. She is on a weight-loss diet to manage this condition.

“I don’t think I would have been able to sustain my diet for almost 50 days now if I was always on Instagram,” Ms Chumbale says. She is a vegetarian and currently avoiding, among other foods, dairy products, gluten, and many kinds of fruit. Disconnecting from Instagram “helped me not see what others were eating”.

There are ways to limit time spent on social media short of stopping entirely. For example, during work or social meetings, you can avoid using your phone so you can be fully engaged with what is going on, Dr Chao suggests. “Sometimes, I have meetings and ask people to put their phones in a box” until the meeting ends, she says.

Both experts approve of digital detoxing. Wood says it allows users to spend more time being present with others, or in nature. “Their lives will become richer, more rewarding and fulfilling,” he says. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

Related topics

social media mental health addiction digital detox

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