The Savage World of Social Media: How is it affecting you?
By: Mj Angel
There is a new phobia out there, and it has a great deal to do with social media. Social phobias are becoming more and more complex as we continue to integrate our world with our phones and their multitude of apps. But how is it affecting you? In this report, I will talk about:
- How social media affects your emotions
- How to moderate your social media
- And lastly, what to do if you have developed a social phobia in recent years (where you never had one before)
The Friend Zone:
I did a little experiment this winter; I deactivated every social media account I could find except one, where I keep a photo journal of my travels, and sat back and waited. No one even noticed. The “friends” and “family” I had on my account did not even wonder what was going on. The only people to make contact were a cousin I am very close to and two long time best friends. This tells me that social media has become a crutch. In a society where everything needs to be done yesterday, we prefer keeping contact with people as conveniently as possible, and social media makes this happen every day. But who are your true friends? Who calls you on your birthday or Christmas, and who simply uses Facebook to do their civic duty? We have become accustomed to new ways of being social, but that does not make it healthy for us to do so. What do you do right when you wake up? If you’re like I WAS, then the first thing you do is check your phone. Who “liked” your photos, commented on your feed, and what is going on in the world? We immediately expose ourselves to others opinions, inaccurate world and local news, the negativity of others, and most harmful of all, the atrocities that the news glamorizes to get ratings. Negativity has always dominated our culture. After all, when we first arrived in this nation as settlers, we had to fight to survive. And it is well known that negative events stick out more in our mind than positive ones.
In our brains, we have tiny cells called neurons, constantly firing; electricity is sent through the body via our heart and nervous system. Each event, emotion, or thought is a result of the neurons “starting their engines” and bouncing from connection to connection at light speed. Sort of like telephone wires transmit electricity beginning with a transformer box, the pacemaker of the heart sends out electrical signals to not only pump our heart, but to operate our brain and nervous system. Our bodies operate on a constant circle dependent on homeostasis to keep us running pristine. The brain sends our hormones that help us grow (amongst a million other things), the heart pumps blood to circulate through our digestive system, nervous system, bones, and reproductive system. Beginning with the brain, it is one big circle. This is relevant because each time you view a negative event, it causes neurons to fire and bodily processes to jump into action to protect you. Negative energy is not just a metaphysical (new age) concept, it is scientifically proven that when we subject ourselves to stress certain hormones are sent out. This causes our system to work harder and faster to disperse the jolt of negative energy we experienced simply by viewing social media photos of an abused child or terrorist cell. Each negative event creates a stress response that some of us have become immune, or accustomed, to immediately dispersing. The stress we expose ourselves to, whether good or bad, causes our brain to react. This is why women who are over-stressed tend to put on weight around the mid-section. A stress hormone called cortisol is sent out. This hormone is responsible for a great many things, but mostly for weight gain. Stress also literally wears our nerves raw; being stressed for too long causes nerve cells to begin to wear out. Nerve cells are covered in a sort of envelope made of electrolytes; constant stress begins to wear this sheath, or envelope, off the cell sort of like wearing holes in your socks. Wearing the myelin sheath, the envelope, off the nerve makes it impossible for that nerve to conduct and direct electrical signals like it is supposed to. This creates what we call psychosomatic pain; this pain, originating in our minds, is caused by the constant stress we expose ourselves to. Negative responses are much more taxing on the body than positive ones. We send out more hormones, our hearts race, we become anxious, and we begin to worry about things that we do not need to worry about.
As human beings, we are naturally social. And social media has made us all feel like we need to do more, give more, see more, and “interact” more. But how many of your “friends” are people you actually know? How many of them do you see face to face at least once or twice a year? Chances are, less than half of your friend’s list are people you actually know. So, here is experiment one, so you can see clearly the effects that social media has on your mood, health, and psyche. For a whole week, do everything as you normally do- except keep a journal that looks like the one below (you can draw the squares on any sheet of paper, fold it up and keep it on you at all times). Simply put a mark in the box below each category as you experience it. When it comes to “How you felt,” use words that you will associate with how you felt. For example, if you viewed a negative news article, you check the box, and then in the “How I felt” area, write something like “stressed”, which refers to you noticing a jump in your heart, faster breathing, or other symptoms of stress. If it made you feel angry, simply write “angry.” It does not have to be any more specific than what you would recognize in whatever word choice you use. Do this for a week and then tally your results. How often did you check social media? Was there more negative than positive? Remember, negative refers to many things, such as a friend complaining about their life in their status, a photo of a sick or injured animal or child, or a sensationalized news article that seems to be intentionally trying to “stir the pot.” Once you are finished with this exercise, move on to Exercise 2.
Checked Social Media: Viewed a negative event, comment, news article, or photo: Viewed a positive event, comment, news article, or photo: How I felt right when I saw a positive/negative event, photo, news article, or comment:
Social Media Fast:
Now we are going to compare how you feel on social media versus how you feel without it. Some people actually experience withdrawal symptoms as if they were withdrawing from a drug. This is a strong sign that your emotional well-being is tied to your social media. This is not a good or healthy way to live. Now, for Exercise 2, you are going to fast from social media for two weeks. This means signing out of every platform you are subscribed to, including SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and any others you are a part of. The only thing you should be doing on your phone is taking phone calls and answering text messages, if necessary. Do not engage in any “back and forth” arguments or negativity via your text messaging, social media, or any other platform. If you need your email or another app for business purposes, restrict yourself to only using it for business and then promptly signing out. Check your email deliberately-turn off notifications. Continue to use your journal to document how you feel, how it is affecting you, and how you now view its benefits versus its drawbacks.
It may take a couple tries to do either one of these exercises, so do not beat yourself up if you are not successful the first time. Once you are able to complete the exercises, email me your comments, experiences, responses, and any other info you have once completing your fast. Email [email protected] and I will use your experiences in a follow up article documenting what it is like to “go off” social media. I will include whatever name or, if you want, photo, to identify you and your comments in the article. I am currently on my fourth week of social media fasting. I keep a photo journal on Instagram, and I use Vocal to submit my articles. Other than that, I am not on any social media platform. I have also employed a “cleaning service” to tidy up my “online presence.” They will find every photo, tag, link, search result, and comment related to me and wipe it off the internet. I have chosen to do this because I learned that via Facebook, not only is our banking info often shared, but so are our photos. Did you know that yours, or even your child’s, faces could be superimposed onto other people’s bodies in porn sites? Once I learned that Google had merged with Facebook, and all of the info that is shared between the two, I felt it safer to eliminate my online presence until it again becomes secure, if it ever does.
We all want to feel connected. As a counselor, I have learned that when people do not feel connected to those around them, they can begin to suffer major side-effects, like depression, anger, resentment, and fear. So how do you connect if you are not doing it on social media? Once you have eliminated social media, take your extra time to find ways to really connect. Community centers offer adult education classes like pottery, painting, yoga, and even swimming classes that you can join and make new “in person” friends. This will help you feel more connected than ever before. When they ask to join your social media, which seems to be the first thing people do, explain simply you are fasting from its negativity for your own well-being. You can choose the way you want to communicate with your new friends, but while you are fasting, instead of texting someone, call them. Connect with their voice; they say you can “feel a smile” on the other end of a phone line, which in turn will make you smile. Smiling alone, along with a good laugh or even long cry, are the best stress relieving cleaning agents we have naturally occurring in our bodies. An old saying goes “a good laugh is a dry clean while a good cry is a nice wet wash.”
Make it a point to connect with people in your community. There are tons of non-denominational churches that offer singles activities, themed dinners, holiday events, and other such entertainment. Not all entertainment inside a church is focused on preaching God’s word. Sometimes, they are just getting together to socialize, and this is a very, very good resource to feel connected to the world around you. A non-denominational church I attend even has the occasional money guru (how to manage your finances) or comedian. Often times these are paid events that you need a ticket for, but what better way to feel connected than to go and laugh or learn with others who share your interest.
Remember to keep a journal, and if you wish, send me your results, questions, comments, and any other info you wish. I have noticed during my fast that my stress level has gone down to nearly non-existent, I am accomplishing more in my days, and I have been more successful than ever before. I fully believe this is because I am not seeing all of the negative news (if it does not directly affect you in your everyday life, it is not necessary to know, view, or worry about), and I am not experiencing the mind racing stress that goes with the competition of the online world. I have learned who my true friends are and I make a constant effort to call them, even though I hate talking on the phone, because I always feel good after I hang up… I feel connected. I do not find myself wishing I could have the gourmet dinner a friend posted pictures of, do not need the things I saw constantly in the ads, and do not feel pressured to make my life seem like something it is not, just to impress my friends. I am free to be me and live my life in a forward pattern. I hope and wish the best for you!