We have all been there, checking our Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or Twitter feeds only to find we have fallen deep into the rabbit hole of the social media allure. It’s especially hard to stop when feel-good hormones are released throughout the process – we are hard-wired to respond to social rewards so we experience surges in dopamine that are similar to getting the high from drugs, gambling, or a eating a sugary desert.
With thousands of ‘friends’ and countless photos to comment on, it seems obvious where the term ‘social media’ got it’s name- but it turns out it really isn’t that social after all. The research is clear, the more time spent on social media platforms, the more likely we are to feel down on ourselves from viewing all the ‘picture-perfect’ posts. But there’s more than that, we also stop socializing with people off the screen (picture two people sitting beside each other while silently scrolling on their phones- sound familiar?). This type of behavior can really wreak havoc on our relationships and creates big barriers to real intimacy. Not to mention the other things that get neglected when a ‘quick’ check turns into an hour of ‘likes’ and comments.
Does this mean we should refrain from all social media? Not at all. What it does mean, however, is that we need to make an effort to be intentional and mindful about how much time we are dedicating to our online relationships.
To do this, we first need to consider why we are spending time on social media and how it contributes to our life goals and satisfaction. These are questions I help my clients look at with all sorts of behaviors, including addiction, toxic relationships, and choices around food and exercise. When the consequences are too high, or outweigh the benefits of a certain behavior, that is when people need to abstain from that behavior altogether. For example, some people make the choice to take breaks or turn off their social media accounts. Alternatively, some behaviors can be managed with harm-reduction.
A harm-reduction approach attempts to maintain the benefits of a behavior while minimizing potential consequences. For example, if you tend to spend too much money at the mall, you would bring a set amount of cash to go shopping, but you would leave your credit card at home. For online use, this harm-reduction means setting specific boundaries around when, and for how long, one engages in online activity. There are several ways to do this, such as time blocking in your calendar, as well as techie tools that help you limit your screen time. Instagram, for example, has just made it easier to track your time spent online.
The most important thing is to set yourself up in a way that you can enjoy online activities, without the added stress of neglecting other important parts of your life, like relationships, work, and hobbies.