When was the last time you checked your Facebook? What about Instagram? Twitter? Snapchat? TikTok? Pinterest? LinkedIn? Your fantasy football league? Email? Your other email?
Was reading that list exhausting? More exhausting than actually partaking in all of the above? Probably not.
Let’s take a step back – chances are, you’ve checked one, if not all of your social media accounts at least once today. More than likely, you’ve checked them more than once, or even just a few minutes ago.
Did you see something you liked? Something that made you happy? Or was it something you wish you hadn’t seen? Perhaps an image of someone traveling the world, while you’re stuck at home or work. Maybe a picture of a gorgeous influencer promoting a product that you wish you could have.
More than likely (again), you’ve probably seen something that you now want. But had you not seen it, you’d have been perfectly content with all that you already have.
Undeniably, we are living in the best time in history. We have everything at our fingertips – the most advanced technology, cutting edge medicine, space travel, infinite access to information, and so much more.
Yet despite these grand leaps in humanity, there’s one aspect of our collective lives that seems to have taken a massive hit: mental health.
Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem and shattered confidence are at an all-time high. While these feelings are not your fault, they are in your control. You have the power to change them, as long as you’re willing to take a different perspective.
It’s true that social media has its perks – the ability to stay in touch with faraway friends and family, or to learn a new skill, and let’s not forget online shopping. But deeply rooted within the constant need to swipe, scroll, slide, or double tap, lies a powerful and frightening truth: social media is no longer just a supplement to our already meaningful lives, it’s become an obligation – a way of life itself.
When we do something we enjoy, our body releases a feel-good hormone called Dopamine. Each time we play with a dog, eat our favorite food or finish a workout, our body rewards us with dopamine. In modern society, technology has added to this rewards system.
Scientists at Harvard say that receiving a notification stimulates dopamine release, causing you to feel that constant need to check your phone, much like a gambler that is addicted to a slot machine.
Each time you respond to the stimulus, which is the notification, the reward is dopamine – a process known as Potentiation. The more you respond to stimuli, the more you enforce the need to check. The link between the notification and dopamine can be viewed as the brain’s pleasure pathway.
Have you ever wondered why most social media apps are free and how they make money? Simply put, the free apps rely heavily on advertisers to generate revenue, but for an advertisement to work it must be seen or heard. Thus began the greatest race in history: competing for your time and attention. The companies that get the most of it are the winners. They win because their strategies exploit your brain’s reward system and reinforce potentiation. In other words, they’re constantly working at your brain’s pleasure pathways. They lure you into their apps. Whether you’re there for a reason or to mindlessly scroll through is insignificant to them.
Phones and apps are purposely designed to ensure that you spend hours on it.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a victim of the reward system. While we enjoy and benefit from social media, there is a sense of responsibility toward it that many of us tend to forget. It’s time to question your habits and break the pattern.
The first thing you’ll want to do is take note of how you feel after you’ve scrolled your favorite social media feed. If you feel drained, irritated, worthless and “uncool,” you might want to reevaluate the content you’re allowing yourself access to. Maybe unfollow that person from middle school that can’t stop bragging about this, that, and everything in between. While you’re at it, you can also remove your great uncle that shares nothing but “fake news” all day, every day. If you’re worried about offending someone you follow, simply ask yourself if that person is more important than your mental wellbeing. Remember, if something costs you your peace of mind, it’s far too expensive.
What would we do with our time if social media didn’t exist? Would we use our time in a more meaningful way, spend more time with family, visit the gym more often or read more books? Learning to co-exist and have a healthy relationship with social media is a battle we all face.
To answer these questions, we must start by limiting the time we spend on social media in order to create time for more meaningful endeavors. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate through the process:
- Turn off all social media notifications. Notifications appear in red dots because red is a trigger color – it signals help or attention. Since most notifications are generated by machines to get us back onto the app, it’s better to switch them off.
- Limit your home screen to tools and necessary apps only. Having social media apps on the home screen is a temptation to log on and scroll away mindlessly.
- “Purge” through your accounts. As mentioned above, remove content that does not make you genuinely happy, regardless of whose feelings will get hurt in the process. Don’t forget that the relationship you have with yourself is the longest standing relationship you will ever have.
- Recharge. Unplug. Level up – mentally.
Want to learn more about this topic? Check out the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” or subscribe to Mark Manson’s newsletter
Written by: Roshni Patel, PA-C