I always hear people complain about their Facebook News Feed and how annoying it is.
One girl is always talking about her new baby.
The next is constantly bragging about her fabulous new boyfriend.
Another is telling us about his new CrossFit obsession.
And yet another has taken up the Paleo diet.
The proliferation of media sharing is a blessing or a curse. And while I always thought social networks were just another way for people to elicit praise and justification for the decisions they make, I’ve learned those are not the only reasons.
Some people are addicted to social media the same way others are addicted to heroin.
This is Your Brain on Social Media
Quick science lesson for you.
When you do something you enjoy, let’s say eating a piece of chocolate for example, your brain produces a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Dopamine is responsible for much of our emotional reactions, and is associated with feelings of pleasure.
According to a recent Harvard University study, the act of talking about oneself triggers certain levels of dopamine, sometimes creating a sense of pleasure that is similar to enjoying your favorite food or having sex.
Yes, you heard that correctly.
Talking about yourself just might make you feel as good as having sex.
Social Media Encourages Self-Sharing
Understanding how the brain responds to the time when we talk about ourselves helps us understand why social media usage has become so pervasive.
We crave that feeling of pleasure that sharing our day-to-day musings provides us just like we crave cheeseburgers. And the creators of networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Instagram have developed free avenues for us to satisfy that craving.
It explains why we have the urge to share a clever idea on Facebook, a brilliant article on Twitter, or an artsy shot of our evening glass of wine on Instagram.
It kicks up our dopamine levels and simply make us feel good.
And the feeling of pleasure is one of our most basic needs as humans.
What’s most interesting is that most of us don’t even realize what we’re doing when we bop around from network to network or why we love it so much. And I’m sure a number of you who are reading this are actually required to do just that for your day job, so you never question its power.
Social Media Addiction is Dangerous
But the dopamine cravings are starting to get out of hand. They are controlling our lives, making us less productive and more anxious.
For example, FOMO, the fear of missing out, has always existed (at least for me), but social media makes it much worse. And what’s even more concerning is that we’re passing our addiction along to our children whose developing brains fare far worse than adults.
What will happen if our kids wear out their dopamine transmitters before they even grow up?
It’s a scary thought, indeed.
So, how can we minimize the effects of the social media addiction and start taking the road to recovery?
Talk About the Problem
Admitting you have an addiction is the first step to recovery, right?
We are in the middle of a media revolution, and none of us knows how to cope – we are simply learning as we go.
But if we can recognize and understand what’s happening, we can better control our behaviors and help
This one seems obvious, but it’s much easier said than done.
Let’s imagine it’s the weekend (almost there!) and that you had the chance to sleep in (my favorite).
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? How anxious do you feel when you’ve missed hours of Foursquare check-ins, Instagram posts, and Snapchats?
What if instead of reaching for your phone on Saturday and Sunday mornings, you rolled out of bed, hugged your family, walked the dog, and didn’t check your social media notifications for the whole day.
Would you survive?
I know that I, for one, couldn’t imagine it. But what if we made a promise to (and with) our loved ones to try one disconnected day per week? And then maybe two?
We can slowly start weaning ourselves off of the addiction if we actually try it and find, shockingly, that we will not burst into flames as a result.
Make Time for IRL Connections
In addition to posting our own experiences, we like to see what our friends and family are up to on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
What if, instead of peeking into their lives online, we picked up the phone and made plans to see them in person?
Try making time each week, even if it’s just one weeknight dinner or weekend walk, to see a friend or family member that you haven’t seen in a while. And if it’s someone who lives far away, carve out an hour and invite them to a Google Hangout to catch up.
An hour with someone you care about will be much more rewarding than an hour of scanning through your feeds. I guarantee it.
Lead By Example
Perhaps the most important thing you can do as a parent, leader, mentor, or peer is display the behavior you want the people around you to emulate. If you make a concerted effort to not check your phone while you’re in the company of your team, family, and friends, you encourage others to do the same.
You can also practice this by scheduling certain times to check your networks, like our fearless leader Gini Dietrich does.
If you can start getting into the habit of knowing you only have a few minutes at certain times of the day to check up on things, you won’t feel the cravings other times of the day.
We need to work on quelling our cravings in order to become better employees, parents, friends, and leaders.
Can we make a pact to wean ourselves off the social media addiction together?
photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc