How to have a healthy relationship with social media

What are the chances that Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn drove you to this blog post? I would venture to guess very high. (Either way, we’re glad to see you!)

While social media can be a positive vehicle for staying connected with loved ones and sharing information, Sarah Keyes, a certified lifestyle medicine professional at Baylor College of Medicine, says there are downsides to staying plugged in.

There is a distinction to make between and habit and ritual. A ritual is something that you do when your mind is present and the activity re-centers your body and mind,” she said. “A habit is triggered by a cue or craving for some kind of behavior, then there is a reward.”

Keyes says that social media apps are designed to cultivate the habit framework. It’s akin to a casino trip – there’s no end to scrolling so your brain keeps going along with it.

“The automatic rewards, such as someone liking your comment or commenting on your post, are mindless. You may not even realize you are doing it sometimes,” she said. “It may feel like you are connecting with people but you’re actually tapping into an addictive component.”

Sleep deprivation and social comparisons

Keyes says the most pervasive physiological effect of social media use manifests in interruptions to our sleep.

“Many times, we get on social media when we have a natural dip in our circadian rhythm during the day. This tends to be during the afternoon, when your brain is tired and you crave a dopamine hit.”

As the day continues, we’re making less and less of the hormone melatonin while our screen time increases. Then, we don’t sleep as well at night.

“There is also the scrolling that happens before bed. Not only is the light damaging to our eyes, but the emotions that tend to come up as we scroll are activating,” Keyes said. “We do this social comparison thing: ‘Oh, Jenny bought a new car,’ for example. It brings up a lot of stress and feelings of, “I need to be that way, too.”

How to find balance

So maybe you’ve come to the realization that it’s time to reduce your social media use – but you don’t want to disconnect completely. Keyes shares these tips:

  • Set limits on social media using a timer
  • Limit social media use after a certain time of day (i.e., not using Instagram or Twitter after 7 p.m.)
  • Put your social media apps on a different folder or screen on your phone
  • Turn off your social media notifications
  • Delete social media apps from your phone entirely so you are only able to access them on your computer
  • Cultivate your feed: Follow accounts that are positive for you so you stay engaged

Beyond social media use, Keyes says it’s important to think about how much we interact with our phones overall (yes, this includes checking email.)

“Our phones are incredible devices, but we sometimes become beholden to them. The effect that notifications and screen time have on us is something to be aware of and examine as well.”

Keyes is an assistant professor in the Physician Assistant Program at Baylor.

Additional Resources

What is lifestyle medicine?

What does it mean to practice mindfulness?

-By Nicole Blanton

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