The Dark Side of Dopamine: Your Brain on Social Media

*Thud*

“Sh*t!” you mutter under your breath, embarrassed because:

1. You’re supposed to be sleeping.

2. You’re certain you’re the only one who has ever dropped your phone on your face while laying in bed at 2 am scrolling through Instagram (news flash- you’re not!) 

 

 

I think most of us could benefit from pruning our social media habits so that we have more time and mental space for innovative ideas and -- you know-- to actually sleep when we’re supposed to be sleeping! 

Social media addiction is an actual behavioral condition that is characterized by “being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.”

Even if you’re not one of the 5-10% of Americans who struggle with social media addiction, if you feel like you’re spending too much time scrolling through the ‘gram instead of being an active participant in your own life, then this blog is for you!

Our phones are like little dopamine stimulators that give us an immediate reward every time we get a new like or comment, this is why social media is so addicting! When we see a new “love” on our “impromptu” selfie (yeah, that one where we spent far too long deciding whether Juno or Clarendon filter looked better), the reward center of our brain, the nucleus accumbens, is activated in the same way it is activated when gambling or using drugs. 

Why does this become a problem? We are literally training our happiness and fulfillment in life to be dependent on that next “high” from social media, and when it doesn’t come it can lead to feelings of depression and loneliness.    

This 3-minute TEDEd talk explains how heavy social media users perform significantly poorer in task switching tests because “multitasking” online reduces your brain's ability to filter out interferences and can make it harder for your brain to commit information to memory.

It’s not only adults who spend hours at a time scrolling through social media, the average American teenager spends up to nine hours per day on social media per day! This is adversely affecting our circadian rhythms, ability to focus (the average attention span is 8 seconds- shorter than a goldfish!), and causing us to live in an almost constant state of FOMO.

So what’s a person to do?

5 Tips for Healthy Social Media Use: 

1. Set limits for daily use. Write them down. And FOLLOW THEM! Notice how you feel when you stick to a specific time frame vs. scrolling with no end in sight. ⠀

2. To avoid mindlessly scrolling, set a purpose before you log into your accounts. 

Are you looking to catch up with friends? 

Are you looking for new functional medicine and creativity tips? (If so, you’re in the right spot!)

Are you checking for an item in a buy/sell/trade group? 

Are you looking for local events happening this weekend? 

Whatever you are doing, make it clear to yourself so that you feel in control and can log out when you are done.

3. Consider taking social media apps off your phone to avoid the temptation of scrolling when you feel stressed. ⠀

4. Notice how you feel after you spend time on social media. Do you feel rejuvenated or drained? If you’re feeling drained make sure to put your mental health first and only follow people that inspire you and make you feel uplifted. Take stock and do a “Friendventory” every so often to clear the toxicity. It’s okay to not be friends with everyone.

5. Next time you pick up your phone to check social media, ask yourself “Do I really want to be doing this right now?” and “What else could I be doing instead of this?” Try to fill your time with other things you love to do:

5 Things to Do Instead of Going on the ‘Gram

1. Go for a walk and leave your phone behind. Pay attention to your five senses instead! Look at the nature around you, feel the sun on your face (unless you live in Wisconsin, then this is in the realm of imaginary fantasy), hear the birds chirping, feel the breeze on your arms, notice the beautiful world around you.

2. Meet up for coffee or tea with a friend and really listen to what they are saying. Be fully present and deeply enjoy your time together (you don’t need to snap a pic to “prove” it happened, just leave your phone in the car to avoid the distraction).

3. Get an app on your phone that allows you to read books. Read a chapter of a book while you’re waiting at your doctor appointment or in the school pick up line.

4. Instead of grabbing your phone to scroll when you feel anxious, do some deep breathing exercises to calm your sympathetic nervous system down and ground yourself.

5. Estimate how much time you spend on social media and get clear on how much time you ideally want to be spending on there. Use the time that you free up to start learning an instrument you’ve always wanted to play, or learn to draw/paint, etc. You can take my Free 10 Day Creative AF Challenge for more ideas on how to spark your personal creativity.

What are some of your favorite tips for healthy social media use?!