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Stay sane with a digital detox challenge

Platforms are intentionally designed to be addictive. They work to boost self-esteem, create a feeling of belonging or monetise content

Have you been feeling tired, tense or grump? What about headaches, eye strain and stiff neck? This is not a medical consultation or a survey but a piece on social media burnout. Frequent Instagram, Snap Chat and TikTok postings provide immediate satisfaction, right? Dopamine’s effect. This emotional pleasure, however, has consequences.

Once, as a member of a committee for a social media content award, I could feel the almost palpable signs of job exhaustion. The 30s something-year-old ‘guru’ in social media within a broad public sphere had physical and mental red flags all around him. The young man was in charge of generating content for many clients.

Online weariness is defined as social media burnout. As a content creator, you're constantly watching what your competitors are doing, analysing metrics and thinking of new ways to stand out. It's a never-ending quest for improvement and a lot of time spent on the Internet. It is a big task to create relevant and unique text and visual materials and to keep communities engaged.

Online skills, content strategy, audience engagement and different approaches to analytics are all designed to keep the users absorbed for a long time, which contributes to social media fatigue. Both the content creator and the receiver experience the fear of missing out (FOMO) — the feeling that other people are having a good time without you, which leads to a constant checking on social media to see what friends, followers and competitors are doing. It is a jungle out there!

Platforms are intentionally designed to be addictive. They work to boost self-esteem, create a feeling of belonging or monetise content. Media specialists expect to receive positive feedback, approval, recommendation, branding recognition and an increase in sales.

Physically, social media burnout can affect sleep, cause nausea, headaches and a variety of other health problems. Mentally, it can provoke depression, memory loss, and oh well, poor academic performance. Anxiety, the use of drugs or other substances and suicidal thoughts are also common signs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognised burnout in 2019. It was classified as a disease caused by emotional, mental and sometimes physical exhaustion. According to definitions, stress is generally caused by pressure at work or other responsibilities, whereas burnout is caused by prolonged and repeated stress.

Much academic research on social media use has been conducted in recent years. While some scholars explain social media fatigue (SMF) in terms of information overload, others investigate the relationship between SMF and psychological distress.

The month of May is dedicated to mental health issues. One of its goals is to raise awareness about the dangers of constant Internet exposure. Producing social media material is a stressful job, but being 'hooked' on social media for enjoyment, self-esteem or gaming can be harmful to one's health too.

Another type of mental tiredness is 'zooming', 'Googling', or 'videoconferencing', which has many of the same symptoms as social media exhaustion. The avalanche of apps that one has to have, needs to have, or simply wants to have pushes the boundaries of digital weariness. Smartphones are swamped with applications from restaurants to retail stores to government agencies, and users must keep up with newly launched developments.

Social media platforms have many positive advantages, as evidenced by the prolonged Covid-19 lockdown around the world. Unfortunately, digital audiences are being bombarded with a slew of advertisements, public relations, and marketing strategies masquerading as useful information.

For several years, I emphasised the importance of media literacy, and then I expanded to include an understanding of technology literacy and social networking functions. Now, I turn my attention to the need for digital literacy programs to assist individuals in dealing with social media fatigue.

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