Social Media Stress - Should I Digital Detox?

Apr 08, 2018

Given all the press about the impact of social media and screen addiction on mental health, the need to totally disengage from work and the expectations of others, it probably seems like a good idea?  Many of us follow a pattern of social media cycling – intense usage leading to the need to take a break from it, and we feel guilty and stressed about the time we spend online.

Anyone who has tried a taking a social media holiday will know that its not easy and unless you go back in to that world with different boundaries, it probably doesn’t change the cycle significantly, so is it worth it?

Could regular social media holidays be a key tool for reducing stress?

According to a new study *, giving up Facebook can reduce levels of stress hormone cortisol. But the same study also reported that quitting Facebook lowered participants sense of wellbeing.

The measured levels of cortisol in the saliva of Facebook holiday-ers went down.  But the holiday-ers didnt feel any less stressed. In fact they reported lower feelings of well-being, feeling unsatisfied with life and were looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity.

So are the rather sensationalist headlines “Quitting Facebook lowers stress in just five days” and “Deleting Facebook could be bad for you” both true?

Social Media Stress Response

Social media triggers various processes in our brain … and therefore all sorts of feelings and reactions.  As the name suggests, most of these are to do with being social, feeling part of the tribe, a sense of belonging, self-worth, happiness & bonding.

  • Dopamine – anticipation and achievement of goals, reward, motivation to do what we want / need.
  • Oxytocin – social bonding, belonging
  • Serotonin – feeling respected or significant to others, happiness

Anything that seems to threaten this feeling of belonging to the tribe or ability to survive – real or imagined – is considered a risk and will trigger feelings of social media stress.  These can be feelings of shame & low self-esteem, being more aware of potential threats & negative news, feelings of isolation or loneliness

How can we develop a healthier way of engaging with social media?

How we choose to engage with social media can influence the degree to which we get joy & sense of belonging or social media stress.  Noticing patterns in how, when, who, why, what you use social media for, and making small changes has made a huge difference in the enjoyment I get from it.

1) Being deliberate in HOW you use social media – set limits

  • We all know the feeling… go in to check out a notification, look up from the screen 30 minutes later! Feelings of blame or regret for “wasting time” on social media are very common  

-> set a time limit /number of clicks limit. Ask what do I want from this” when you pick up the device to check your feeds.

2) Being deliberate in WHEN you use social media – make it a reward for doing something

  • The dopamine hit and reward from social media is almost certainly far quicker and more frequent than whatever it is distracting you from!
  • The reward hit from a social media likes, comments, posts, etc is very addictive and distracting.

-> if its going to feel like a reward, it may as well be one. For example, I now use social media as a reward for completion of something I need to do, and make it as invisible as possible when not actively using it

3) Deliberate choice of WHO you follow and WHY – would you miss them if they werent there?  (AKA MariKondo-ing social media)

  • Compare & Despair – feelings of inadequacy from a distorted view of other people’s lives are very common stress triggers … no one wants to be the weak-link in the survival chain! I post a lot of travel pictures … I don’t post my daily commute, me watching reality TV in my PJs, or trying to squeeze in to last years jeans!
  • Other people’s stress spreads like wildfire on social media. They vent online about people, customer service, politics….  We are also more aware of the struggles, hardships and life events effecting people all over the globe.

->take note of who / what you follow and why. How do their posts generally make you feel – included or excluded, proud or ashamed / envious, informed or angry? What benefit do you get from following them?

-> if it does become too negative, take a social media holiday

4) Being deliberate in WHAT you do on social media – positive impact from action

  • Quantity is no substitute for quality when it comes to online friendships. The sense of social belonging, engagement and fulfilling relationships comes from interaction rather than passive scrolling.
  • The same is true of news feeds, online discussions. Research shows that engaging in the debate online can HELP.

-> Don’t be a passive follower of 00s, create a deep connections with fewer people or issues through interaction.

Bottom line, modern life and especially social media were not designed with the stress response in mind but rather than a binge-purge approach, setting clear boundaries around WHAT, WHEN, WHY, HOW will keep things balanced.


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