How Social Media is Killing your Oxytocin Levels and Keeping you from Being your Happiest Self
People are slowly and surely replacing face to face human interactions with the cheap thrills and immediate satisfaction of social media interaction. I am guilty as well. I have an account and I check it often. But what if you knew the dark side to this seemingly harmless social prevalence? I bet you don’t think as you’re sitting there browsing your Facebook feed “I am damaging my oxytocin levels right now.” Maybe if you’re Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory! The dude is smart. But that’s beside the point.
I’m going to keep this in laymen terms and not bore you with an overabundance of medical jargon and information. So here goes.
First let’s take a brief look at what we’re talking about here. The brain and the feel good chemicals we need that are locked away deep inside of it:
Dopamine: “is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.” -Psychology Today
Serotonin: “ a neurotransmitter that is found in the brain. It is responsible for maintaining mood balance and the deficit of it leads to depression.” -Medical News Today
Oxytocin: “is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviors from maternal-infant bonding and milk release to empathy, generosity, and orgasm. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels increase; hence, oxytocin is often called “the love hormone.” In fact, the hormone plays a huge role in all pair bonding. The hormone is greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings.”-Psychology Today
This is the power trio of feel good feelings. The creators of happiness some might even say.
Oxytocin is arguably the most powerful of the three. So for the sake of brevity I’m going to be mostly focusing on it here. It’s often called: The cuddle hormone, The bonding hormone, and also The trust hormone. It’s super powerful. It’s the reason you want to cry all night in bed after a super hard breakup. You just lost your oxytocin supply. Literally. Your body is responding to stress. It knows it needs oxytocin to feel good.
Evolutionarily speaking, our ancestors relied on oxytocin to fortify and create close-knit relationships with each other, procreate, and build survival based communities as well as form strong romantic partnerships.
Think: “See that lion over there that’s about to eat your wife? Yeah, I got your back brother.”
Oxytocin served us WELL in times of old. And it serves us today too but there’s a twist to it now. Unfortunately, the Toffleresque “future shock” of the 21st-century digital age (marked by too much change in a short amount a time) is causing many of our ancient evolutionary biological systems to short-circuit. We are getting counterfeit oxytocin via social media. It’s not the pure stuff!
All too often, social media and other modern-day factors are reducing face-to-face social connectedness and exacerbating feelings of perceived social isolation or being an outsider who is unworthy of love and belonging. In other words, chatting with your pal on Facebook is not going to boost your oxytocin levels the same way chatting with them face to face would. That’s why it’s important to not let your online relationships replace your real-time ones.
Not finding that balance can be dangerous to your mental health. That is something we often don’t think about when going online. Its social acceptability and subtleness, in essence, is what makes it dangerous. Like a submarine’s missile lurching forth underwater aiming straight for our brains. You’re not going to see it coming. The destruction happens slowly and over a long period of time. To break it down more precisely. There are three ways Social Media inhibits the healthy flow of Oxytocin:
- It displaces more authentic social experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time they have for real-world interactions.
- Certain characteristics of social media facilitate feelings of being excluded, such as when one sees photos of friends having fun at an event to which they were not invited.
- Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers’ lives on social media sites may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives.
So yeah, you getting all green over your buddies vacay with his girlfriend in Mexico, is HURTING your brain. Literally. You are inhibiting your flow of oxytocin. Crazy right? Who would have thought something so small as looking at a picture could have a real physical affect on your brain chemistry! Interesting, yet slightly scary stuff. Envy inhibits Oxy.
There is a TON more I could say on this topic and an overflow of new information out there on this, but it would simply be way too long to keep your attention. I just wanted to bring to light namely that:
- you do have some control over your own oxytocin levels
- there are real social factors i.e. Facebook and other social media outlets alike that are quite literally hurting your feel good chemicals.
- your brain chemistry effects your overall sense of well being and happiness so you should be careful where you spend your time
So what should we do? Delete all our social media accounts and go back to being nomads living in caves? Well, maybe. But that would be unrealistic living in the 21st century. I rather advise this one word-balance.
Have balance with it. Don’t spend 8 hours on Facebook. It’s not good for your brain or social development as a person. I am talking to myself just as loudly here.
Make time for family.
Make time for friends.
Make time for lovers.
Seriously. Your happiness quite literally depends on it.
You are a gorgeously unique creature. You are the only owner of you finger print and DNA. There has never been a you before and there will never be another you when you die. Think about that for a minute.
You are priceless. Take care of your brain. Take charge of your mental health and your life. You only get one grand shot before it’s lights out.
Live wholly and freely. Don’t waste your brain cells on momentary connectedness. Ask that friend out for coffee. MAKE THE TIME. Drop the excuses. You’ll slowly start to see, life is sweeter that way.
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Information here was gathered from psychologytoday.com and mingled with my own thoughts and insights on the matter.