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A Healthy Balance of an Online and an In-Person Life

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This week I felt inundated by requests on my timeline and by social media notifications. I belong to all of the usual spaces: LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, and a number of groups where there are constant postings, frequent job or writing assignment possibilities, and meetings both in person and virtual. Some events more than one colleague invited me to and then Facebook jumped aboard saying seven people you know are going to X, do you want to go too? Other meetings, I got multiple notices about from MeetUp even though I would be out of town for the actual event. And all of this electronic chatter made me realize how much my life has become a process of managing the virtual more than communicating with people face to face.

According to a Social Times article, even back in 2010 Facebook had more than 620 million groups one could belong to, which is a great thing if you're looking for people for common interests The Daily Mail reported last summer that the average Facebook user spends more than 46 minutes per day on itsapp.. That may not seem like much until you times it by seven days per week and realize that's more than five and a half hours out of the week or almost 21 and a half hours per month. And then there are all of the texts we send a receive daily (Bloomberg reportsthat 8 trillion texts are sent each year.)

But how can we tell if our virtual reality is overtaking our life and making us actually disconnected from others? The journals Addiction and Health and Frontiers of Human Neuroscience feature numerous articles with titles such as "The Role of Depression and Attachment Styles in Predicting Students' Addiction to Cell Phones" and "Prefrontal Control and Internet Addiction: A Theoretical Model and Review of Neuropsychological and Neuroimaging Findings".

The authors of "Prefrontal Control and Internet Addiction" write, "Some individual suffer from a loss of control over their Internet use resulting in personal distress, symptoms of psychological dependence, and diverse negative consequences." While you may not feel dependent on the Internet, you may feel dependent on your phone and its access to texting, the Internet, video chat capabilities, and all of the various methods of communicating with others. Huffington Post ran this article last fall on how to tell if you're a nomophobe (someone who is afraid to be without a phone).

The American Psychological Association offers these warning signs of too much stress. See if they apply to your use of social media and phone:

  • Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or overeating "comfort foods"
  • Increased frequency of colds
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory problems or forgetfulness
  • Jitters
  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Anxiety

If you feel any of these when your calendar starts to fill up or you feel too many demands on you, step away from the computer or turn off the phone. Walk outside. Play with the dog. Have coffee with a friend. Fresh air and reminding yourself that life continues beyond the screens help relieve stress and bring us back into balance.