Social Media and Mental Health: Here Is What I Learned
Although I intentionally distanced myself from social media during the months October 2017 to April 2018, my experimentation started long before that. This is what I mean: June 2015 I left the U.S. and after that stopped regularly using social media and email. I checked when I needed, posted when I did, kept in touch with a select few folks, but I didn’t scroll or spend much time on it. In October 2017 when I returned back to Philadelphia and began the process of settling into one place, I decided to delete my Instagram all together. I received a lot of “you are crazy!” because I had a decent following and so many beautiful posts from my years of traveling.
My gut told me I wasn’t crazy. I needed to do this to create a healthy relationship with our digital platforms. I’ve also felt social media platforms can create this illusion of what reality is and what life “should” be like. In the past year I’ve began shifting my perspective to seeing technology for what it is: a tool to enhance the quality of my life.
It is one thing to believe that and to live that. I did a good job for the years I was away including the months I wasn’t on Instagram. Here are the practices I built around technology over the months:
- I do not check my phone or any other tech an hour before bed
- I turn off my wifi off so I don’t receive buzzes and boops from What’s App & also so I resist the temptation to mindlessly reach over for my phone and check something that probably shouldn’t be checked
- I charge my phone far enough away from my bed so I have to walk over to grab it if I need to (I now charge my phone during the day and keep my phone on the other end of my nightstand so I have to lift my butt out of my bed in order to get it if I really need it)
In the morning:
- I don't check my phone first thing in the morning – only checking it after I have done my daily morning meditation and yoga
- I turn my wifi off while I do my morning writing
During the week:
- I don't use the computer once a week
- I have minimum interaction with my phone over the weekend
- I leave my phone at home when I go on runs or exercise
The moment I created a new Instagram account and began to re-immerse myself into the world of social media, I was once again reminded of how addictive these platforms can be.
There have been many times I’ve worked into the night and checked my phone first thing when I woke up. I’m now getting back to the practices I cultivated over the months even though I am more active on social media. I’ve learned that the real test of discipline is continuing those practices while still immersed in the digital world.
My greatest lesson from all of this?
Draw boundaries with technology.
Create your own practices that work for you and stick with them. Quite frankly, when I stopped working with my boundaries (aka the practices listed above) I felt pretty crappy.
Instagram and other forms of social media really are an illusion. When I say this I simply mean that we are able to hand pick what we show the world. I don’t think social media should be labeled bad. Technology is a wonderful thing if used properly. However, the act of scrolling and looking at other people’s lives does create “death by comparison”. I didn’t miss social media one bit because I was so immersed in my life and the things that brought me most joy, not what brought other people joy.
Seeing another’s joy perhaps can bring us joy or we can forget to feel grateful for what we do have because we are too busy looking at what everyone else has. Gratitude to me is one of the pillars to living a truly joyous and fulfilling life. When we are constantly looking at someone’s life, we may forget to experience our worth as human beings.
You must be wondering if my life was so great without social media, why I am actively using it again. Social media for me is a wonderful way to share my message and my work. By getting back on social media, it was a challenge for myself to continue putting my work out there for others to see no matter how gritty it is or how few people end up seeing it.
To end, I’ll leave you with an excerpt I pulled from one of my past blog posts, Imposters and Authenticity:
Emily Rose Barr writes, “A 2011 study suggested that nearly 41 percent of us have a behavioral addiction, that number sure to have grown with the increase of social media platforms, smartphones, and tablets. By design, such technology is meant to catch our attention, and sustain it. It’s easy to see how we’ve become a culture caught up by likes and shares, one that struggles to appreciate the here-and-now of our experience”.
The effects of our devices and social media on mindfulness and authenticity may be greater than we think. Simon Sinek talks a lot about this, and although I’m a little skeptical to say that this only plagues one age group or demographic, his words ring true in many instances (in my opinion).
In one of his interviews he talks about millennial and internet addiction:
We know engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine…Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, drink, and gamble. In other words, it is highly, highly addictive.
We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking, and gambling, but no age restrictions on social media and cell phones. You have an entire generation who is access to an addictive, numbing chemical called dopamine as they are going through the high stresses of adolescences. Almost every alcoholic discovered alcohol when they were teenagers. When we’re very very young, the only approval we need is the approval of our parents.
As we go through adolescence, we go through this transition of approval from our peers…it allows us to acculturate outside of our immediate family to the broader life. It is a highly stressful period of our lives and we are supposed to learn to rely on our friends…Some people cope with alcohol and it becomes hardwired. They will not turn to people, they will turn to the bottle. We are allowing access to these dopamine inducing devices and as they get older, too many kids don’t know how to create deep meaningful relationships. They will admit their relationships are superficial. They will admit they don’t rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends, but they also know their friends will cancel with them if something better comes along.
Deep meaningful relationships are not there and worse, they don’t have the coping mechanism to deal with stress to when significant stress comes up, they are not turning to a person. They are turning to a device, to social media which offer temporary relief. We know, the science is clear, that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than those who spend less time on Facebook.