This week on aSweatLife.com, in honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10 we’re talking about mental health to raise awareness of the issues we all face and lessen the stigma of discussing mental health openly. We believe #everythingisbetterwithfriends, and we encourage you to be open to discussing mental health with yours — and if you need to talk to someone right now, you can dial 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Social media is a huge part of my life. First and foremost, for my nutrition business, I discovered very quickly when I kicked things off that Instagram and offline work have a synergistic effect on each other. But let’s be honest– it also serves as a boredom BandAid. Standing in line at Starbucks is really uncomfortable without some mindless Instagram scrolling to distract me.
As an older Millennial (or, more appropriately, member of the “Oregon Trail Generation”), my relationship with social media has lasted a long time, but not without its embarrassing moments. There was even a time I was blocked by an ex! Definitely not a shining moment. And of course, there are still times when I post too much. Why? I don’t know for certain, but it might have something to do with Starbucks lines being really long in LA.
The social media habit is really hard to break. Shortly after my daughter was born, I went on my first solo drive, which I can’t begin to describe how simultaneously strange and liberating it was…until I realized I had left my phone at home. Thanks to “mom brain” this became a regular occurrence and, every time, I found myself filled with anxiety, stress and confusion. Out of habit, I’d reach for my phone numerous times, only to discover it wasn’t there, and find myself stuck in an awkward position, wondering what to do with my hands, eyes…you know, common senses that we seem to have lost touch with over the last couple decades.
These frequent absentminded moments made me realize how dependent I am on social media to fill empty space and time in my life. So, I did something about it…I went on a two-day social media detox. This is how I did it and what I discovered in the process:
I found other dopamine-stimulating activities…in the real world
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It compels us to act on reward-seeking urges, and when we do, the brain releases endorphins, which satisfies us. We get our “fix.”
The problem social media presents our dopamine systems is tenfold. It provides instant gratification that is, unfortunately, incomplete, and leads us to continually go back for more. The brain also releases dopamine in response to unpredictable stimuli, which a new notification on a social platform stimulates. As time goes on and we become more and more immersed in this sort of repetitive, quick-fix behavior, our brain starts to anticipate the reward/pleasure responses before they happen, and this is when the compulsive-checking habit takes over.
Every time I felt the urge to open a social app, I redirected my attention to something else that made me feel good. I spent more time in the kitchen working on new recipes, which I love to do but never seem to have enough time for. I was more engaged in play time with my daughter. I was overall more productive and in-tune with the world around me. By tuning in to my senses, I was able to reconnect with simple pleasures that didn’t involve photos of someone else’s reality…and that’s another thing…
Social Media Isn’t Real.
It can be easy to forget this sometimes when scrolling through the endless highlight reel that is Instagram. I rarely find that photos of people’s amazing lives makes me feel better about my own. Quite the opposite, actually. I can’t say social media has ever made me depressed, but the comparison game is hard to avoid and does have a strong impact on my mood.
Pulling myself back into the real world helped me identify some key insecurities that social media wasn’t helping me with. One such insecurity is my role as a new mom. Postpartum is one of the most vulnerable periods of a woman’s life. There are so many changes that happen all at once, and it can be quite discombobulating. Seeing photos of moms who seem to have it all together when you feel like you don’t have a clue what you’re doing is not helpful at all.
During my detox, I got to enjoy time with my daughter without the negative feedback loop, and it was not only refreshing, but also therapeutic.
I deleted my accounts and apps
It’s not that I didn’t trust myself. A two-day commitment isn’t that intense. I simply didn’t want the temptation near me. I wanted, for two days, to live as “pre-social media life” as I could. Not seeing my phone light up all the time or ding with every new notification was a strange adjustment, but also very freeing.
When the two days had passed, I did re-download Instagram, but have yet to download Facebook or the other usual suspects. I felt so good during the detox, I didn’t want to have access to so much distraction all the time. I’ve also started implementing regular “social separation” every week, when I purposely leave my phone in my purse or another room for a few hours at a time and focus on real world priorities. It has helped me better structure my days, and get a lot more out of them. I also think that a little boredom is actually a good thing, and forcing myself to sit with the discomfort of it sometimes is necessary.
Social media can be a force for good, especially for businesses who want to connect more authentically with their customers/clients/patients, and it’s created so many opportunities that were never available before. I personally love how connected I feel to people I work with and account followers, who get to see a face behind a brand, not just a bunch of services I’m trying to sell. For this reason, a longer detox isn’t really a possibility for me; however, I have come to learn, and appreciate, the value of practicing moderation with my usage.
If you feel that social media has been running your life, or getting in the way of enjoying the real world around you, I highly encourage giving a detox a try and seeing what you discover on your own journey.