If social media has become our food, how well are you nourishing yourself?

Dinner Confidential: “The role of social media in our lives”

For a few of us, social media is a positive, inspirational place. But for many of us, the way we engage with social platforms is also a source of tension in our lives. For some, social media numbs us out from the sometimes painful realness of life, or acts as a welcome distraction from other things we should be doing. For others, it makes us feel lonely and unsatisfied with our bodies and lives (“I look so fat in that picture,” “everyone else seems to be having a great time expect me,” “my life ‘looks’ great, but at the moment I feel like shit”).

This Dinner left me thinking about a podcast I recently heard, where Judson Brewer, Director of Research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness, talked about “reward-based learning”.

Since ancient times, our brains have been wired so we’d know how to avoid danger and remember where food (our reward) is, “you eat the food, and then your body sends this dopamine signal into the brain that says remember what you ate and where you found it.”

While this biological structure helped keep us alive in the past, this behavior is not serving us in the same way anymore. According to Brewer, our reward-based learning can also be responsible for our unhealthy habits, in his words: “maybe I can eat food when I’m stressed out, or eat food when I’m sad or when I’m depressed and I’ll feel better because I get that dopamine hit.”

Well, for many of us social media is becoming our food.

When we need to do something uncomfortable or scary (write a long email, or have a difficult conversation), our brain says: “WAIT! Just check Instagram to distract yourself, avoid the unpleasant emotion and get that dopamine hit.”
 
There are so many autopilot behaviors associated to our social media use. But what became clear throughout the night, is that we all want to become more conscious users. We all desire for social media to be a place that lifts us up, makes us feel good (beyond the quick dopamine hit) and connected to other people.

Here are the key takeaways (aka Healthy Social Media Protocol):

  • Curate your feed. Unfollow those people who bring you down or feed your self-doubt
  • Take breaks when you feel like it. Close your accounts, have social media free days/weeks.
  • Consume responsibly. Be aware of the autopilot behavior (i.e. using Facebook as a productivity escape) and instead, consciously choose when to check our feed.
  • Share consciously (with intention). Not creating content for the sake of creating content, but rather, for the sake of connecting, inspiring others and even healing ourselves i.e. showing the world (and us) that we are — and can be OK after a difficult breakup…
  • Think of connection as a compass. Take notice if engaging with social media is making you feel connected OR lonely/detached. Course correct if you feel the latter.

Things to experiment with

On a scale of 1–10, how good/inspired/connected do you feel after using social media? What needs to change so you can increase that number? Try doing that this week.

Dinner Confidential is a 2-year project that aims to explore how women feel and how they approach life’s challenges through intimate monthly dinners. Check out dinnerconfidential.org to find out more!