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by Beth Sonnenberg | February 8, 2018

Beth Sonnenberg, LCSWHow much time do you spend answering emails or text messages, or catching up on social media? If you kept track for just one day, you might wonder how you manage to work or spend time interacting with the people in your life. Another question to ask yourself: Is social connectivity a positive influence on your daily life? If the honest answer is no, it’s time to make some changes. Following are six ways to break the habit of being a “first responder” and regain control over your social media interactions.

1. Schedule response times. Set aside half-hour blocks in the beginning, middle and at the end of the day to read and respond to email messages. If you are inundated with work-related text messages, too, do the same for texts. If you reply to everything immediately, you are constantly diverting your attention from one task to another. For that reason, your responses might be less thoughtful, because you have not given them your full attention. Similarly, catch up on social media at designated times, such as during lunch or after work.

2. Dare to say no. Many people ask things of us via text, email or social media that they would definitely not ask of us in person or even over the phone. It’s easy for someone to message everyone they know with requests for donations to a cause, invitations to an event or other favors. Ask yourself if the person would have made such a request to you in person, and whether you want to oblige — or feel that you should. Remember, it is just as easy to say no via return message.

3. Keep posts in perspective. For some people, posting on social media is virtual bragging. Remember, you are not seeing what goes on behind closed doors. Resist the urge to compare yourself, your family and your relationships to what you see on social media. The husband who confesses his undying love for his wife, or surprises her with a romantic getaway, might look like husband of the year on Facebook — but is he doing so to make up for bad behavior? And maybe your friend’s new amazing purchase is the result of a midlife crisis and has put her in major debt. Realize that everything is not as it seems just from a beautiful photo and a few lines of text.

4. Mind your emotions. If someone says something to anger you, commenting on a Facebook thread is not the appropriate forum. Additionally, if you are upset with someone, talk to them face-to-face or at least have a discussion over the phone. It is too difficult to tell a person’s tone from the written word, and misunderstandings often occur, making the situation worse. You will make much better progress and save time by picking up the phone or meeting in person.

5. Live in the moment. Make sure your meals are phone-free, limit use on vacation and be present with your friends and family. You can always look at your feeds, snaps and emails later, but you can never recapture the time you spend making memories.

6. Shut down at night. Your phone should be turned off — and not in your bedroom — when you go to sleep. Keep a charger in the kitchen, and resist the urge to check messages before morning. Remember, most of us grew up without cellphones or social media — and we survived.

Beth Sonnenberg, LCSW, is a relationship expert in private practice in Livingston, N.J.