ActiveRain, blogging, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Skype, Twitter, YouTube — are you suffering from SMFS (social media fatigue syndrome)? Here are the signs that it’s time to unplug before it’s too late.

Social media fatigue syndrome is defined as: "A feeling of physical and emotional exhaustion resulting from having to respond to too many pieces of digital communication. Symptoms include thumb cramps, chronic dry eye due to excessive computer screen exposure, quickness to ‘flame’ people who disagree with you on discussion boards, dizzy spells resulting from overexposure to Flash applications, plus inability to make eye contact or carry on a conversation in face-to-face situations.

"Additional identifying symptoms include unconscious compulsive eating of high-sugar and high-carbohydrate foods, caffeine addiction, and lack of muscle tone from too much sitting.

"People suffering from advanced cases of this syndrome stay connected 24-7, even taking their digital communication device with them to the toilet or using it in other intimate settings."

I recently discovered that I’m suffering from the early symptoms of SMFS. The chronic dry eye, the consumption of carbs throughout the day while sitting at the computer, and another couple of inches around my hips are pretty good indicators that I need help.

But how can I disconnect? There’s no question that you need to be involved in social media or you’re soon going to be out of business — or at least that’s what everyone seems to be saying.

Quite frankly, when I look at my Twitter stream flying by in real time, I’m glad I can speed-read, but then again, maybe I’ll just skip it altogether.

When I think about replying personally to all those "Friend" requests on Facebook, I really would like to do it, but I actually start to feel dizzy when I sit at my computer for too long. A trip to the kitchen to bake some chocolate chip cookies actually is an excellent cure. The problem is the waistbands on my clothes seem to keep shrinking in the dryer.

I religiously do my three blog posts per week, but I am sick and tired of tagging the posts. Finding the right picture for the post is actually the fun part — my poor right brain actually gets to do something where it’s engaged. The challenge is getting the picture to fit on the blog without the blogging platform going wonky on me.

Also, have you ever decided that you were going to be smart and draft your blog post in Microsoft Word so that the formatting and all the other details were perfect, and then when you cut and paste your post into the blogging platform, there are all these extra spaces that you can’t remove?

Or how about when you try to change the font size to match your previous blog posts and the blogging software keeps deleting your post each time you try to resize the font? I don’t know why WordPress and TypePad have both been acting so cranky lately. They tell me these are all signs of SMFS.

What’s the cure for SMFS? If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, you are probably suffering from a real condition called burnout. Burnout can result from business, financial, health or family issues as well as spending too much time on social media.

Burnout is serious. It causes adrenal fatigue due to overstimulation of the adrenal glands. Our adrenaline response is meant for short-term stress reactions — flight or fight situations that end quickly. When we stress our bodies for long periods of time, we experience fatigue and reduced immune response. This can lead to serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and a host of other stress-related illnesses.

Over the last three months I have made an interesting discovery. On a normal day, I might speak to two or three people by phone. The rest of the time I was communicating digitally either through e-mail, text messaging, or on one of the social networks. Even though I was exercising regularly and eating fairly decently, I was feeling totally exhausted. I was working 12- to 14-hour days, often times seven days a week.

As a psychologist and a coach, I know better. After our Awesome Females in Real Estate (AFIRE) conference, we had a follow-up teleconference call. I left that call feeling energized and motivated. What struck me was that when I spend time with people face to face or when I talk with them on the phone, it’s fun and it’s engaging.

That also seems to be the case when I do a Skype videoconference because it’s almost the same as having the person in the room with me.

On the other hand, I have an entirely different experience when I communicate with people via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Part of the reason is that we’re generally using only written words. There is no inflection, no emotion, nothing that gives you the richness that you experience when you can hear or see the person with whom you are communicating.

This is part of the reason that video will dramatically change the social media space over the next few years.

The other piece of the puzzle here has to do with taking time to disconnect completely from your work, from your cell phone, social media, and from your text messaging. My coach made me commit to take one full day off each week. This means turning off my computer, not checking e-mail, getting out of the office, and doing something fun.

I’ve been doing this for the last month and the results have been amazing. I’m getting more done in less time and the quality of my work is actually better because I’m not so tired. Best of all, I’m smiling and laughing again.

If you’re suffering from SMFS or from plain old burnout, the best thing you can do is to disconnect. It may be difficult at first, but the benefits are definitely worth it!

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