Social media. We love it, we loathe it (don’t deny it).
Have you ever had the best intentions to read one evening, but after you get in bed you realize it’s been two hours and you’ve done nothing but check Facebook and watch Instagram stories? No, me either…
So what’s going on? It’s like we’re all junkies.
Actually, we are.
No, dopamine isn’t some new dance step all the cool kids are doing (yeah – I don’t even know where that came from). Dopamine is a chemical reaction/release in the brain. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into a scientific research paper (although nothing wrong with those), but I do think it is important to realize what is causing this social media addiction and the desire to be constantly checking our phones.
So what is it?
“Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior. From an evolutionary stand-point this is critical. The dopamine seeking system keeps you motivated to move through your world, learn, and survive.” (source)
So if Dopamine is all good, why are we talking about it in a negative sense towards our electronic addiction? The American Marketing Association has this to say about why we constantly feel the need to have our phones/tablets glued to our hands:
“Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation,” according to the study. “We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.” (source)
“…if you’re getting positive feedback in social media—‘likes’ and shares and retweets—it’s a positive ‘reinforcer’ of using social media, and one that allows you to, a.) get the positive effects of it, and, b.) return to it seeking out more social reinforcement.” (source)
With so many notifications, interruptions, and mindless social media/email checking, our dopamine systems are constantly being stimulated.
I want to pause quickly to note that those quotes are from the American Marketing Association – meaning marketers know this about our brains and you can bet use it to their advantage.
It doesn’t take a fancy scientific study to tell us that all that stimulation probably has some negative effects. For me, the feeling of overwhelm and exhaustion are two I experience.
Another negative effect is the act of being constantly interrupted by notifications and things calling for our attention. Did you know that every time you get interrupted it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track with the original task you were doing (source)? No wonder we often feel so unproductive.
Are you one of the majority of Americans who checks your email and/or social media notifications first thing in the morning after you wake up? I know I am guilty of it. By doing this, you are starting your day off dealing with somebody else’s agenda and reacting to other people’s agenda. This causes you to spend the rest of the day in that mindset which is not productive. Additionally, how many times have you checked email and gotten frustrated, stressed or anxious? Why are we starting our days like that? (source)
Well, this is all gloom and grim news. So what can we do?
I’m glad you asked!
Turn off notifications
Before you close the page in a panic, let me assure you. This is not as scary as it sounds. I have had my notifications turned off for over a year and I honestly have never looked back. It is SO freeing. The only notifications I still receive are phone calls (obviously), Facebook messenger (that’s how most of my family and friends communicate now), and finally, texts. However, with my text messages, I did put an auto responder on it telling people I’m usually slow to respond (which is true).
-Reducing the number of unwanted distractions
-You are in charge of when you check a certain platform or email so you can do so intentionally
-You are slowly breaking the addiction to the social media dopamine release
-Fewer interruptions = more productive (whatever that looks like to you – your to-do list, or a candlelit bath?)
Hair band trick
If you are like me, and completely guilty of checking social media for that dopamine kick with no other reason, this trick may be a good way to start checking more intentionally.
Put a hairband or a rubber band across the center of your phone. Every time you go to check your phone, the hairband can act as a barrier to give yourself time to check in and see if there was an intentional reason you were going to check something, or if it was just out of habit.
Bonus – people may notice and ask why you have a band on your phone. By telling them you are working on being more intentional about social media usage, you are providing some accountability to yourself!
-Train your brain you start checking intentionally
-Gives yourself some accountability
Charge your phone outside of your bedroom
You know the BEST way to avoid spending hours on Facebook before bed instead of reading that book that is collecting dust on your nightstand? Want to know how you can start your day off right by NOT responding to someone else’s wants from you?
Charge your phone in another room.
Yes, I’m serious.
The idea sounds amazing and so freeing. But the social media junkie in you may be coming up with excuses such as:
Social Media Junkie Side (known as SMJS): But, what if you need to check something
Rational Side of your Brain (known as RS): As if it’s hard to get up and walk 10 steps
SMJS: Well, what if someone is trying to reach you in the middle of the night
RS: Well, you can take your phone off silent and turn up the volume ALL THE WAY.
SMJS: Well, what about an alarm?
RS: There are things known as alarm clocks.
SMJS: well, but, well, but, well, but….
RS: yeah, just stop
I will admit I’ve only been doing this for a short while, and while it is weird the first few nights, I find that I have more time to do what I enjoy at night (talking with Mr. Blographer, reading, meditating).
-You won’t be tempted to check before you go to bed
-You won’t have to wake up and start your day automatically responding to someone else
-You won’t risk starting your day frustrated, annoyed or anxious by reading something in your email or on social media
-You’ll find yourself with more time to read, meditate, etc. When I posted my reading list for 2017, I heard from so many people who mentioned they wanted to read more in 2018 and/or they wish they had more time to read. If you are in the same boat, I challenge you to try this and see how much reading you get done!
Set aside certain times to check
Pick 2-3 times during your regular ‘work’ day to check social media, and that’s it. If you can get by with only checking email during those times as well, then add email in. For my day job, the option to only check email doesn’t work for me, but I can choose when and how often to check my personal email. This will help with being more intentional, and help break the dopamine addiction since you aren’t feeding it every time it wants a fix!
-You will be checking with intention since there is time between each check
-You can choose when you want to check, so you can devote your full time and attention to it
-No risk of being interrupted or distracted by checking throughout the day
-More productive since you’re not stopping to check social media and email every five minutes
Log in/Log out
I can hear you now…seriously? That is such a pain. Yep. That is why it works! If you have to log out and log back in each time to your email or social media, it may help you think twice about whether or not you are logging in intentionally or just out of habit, because you’re bored, or for that Dopamine fix.
-The act of having to log in each time causes you to be intentional about why you’re logging in
Take some time off
Pick an evening, a day or a stretch of days to give yourself time away from electronics. I have started taking Sundays off. I put my phone and computer away, and am very conscious and intentional about using them if I absolutely have to. If the thought of this sounds overwhelming to you, start small. Maybe pick one night a week and start with no electronics after 8pm. After you get used to that, start increasing the time. Eventually, the goal is to enjoy the feeling of not being tied to your electronics that you can go a whole day (or longer).
-Gives your mind a break from the constant stimulation of social media
-Allows you to focus on other things in your life (including the people in it)
-More productive since you’re not stopping to check social media and email every five minutes
Do a social media audit
I did a social media audit about a year ago and the results I found were really eye-opening.
So what is a social media audit?
For one week, keep track of the following:
- Every single time you hop onto any social media platform, your email, etc.
- How long you spent on each platform.
- Why you went on – was it boredom? Habit? You can’t remember?
- What do you remember reading/seeing?
- How you felt after each session
I realize this sounds like a lot of work but in reality, it took me an extra 30 seconds each time.
Here is what I found:
- I was spending a LOT of time on social media. Once I actually saw how much, I thought of all the things I could have been doing with that time.
- I often felt anxious, sad or frustrated after spending time on social media
- I couldn’t remember most of the things I spent time scrolling though.
Spend a week without social media.
After I spent a week tracking, I spent a week without logging on to social media (I had to do email – but tried to be intentional about it). I honestly thought this would be harder than it was. I kept track of how I felt throughout the week, and more importantly, after the week was up. I felt refreshed and more level-headed.
If a week seems like too much time to you, try for a day or two and go from there. You may surprise yourself!
-Paints a clear picture of how much time you’re spending on social media
-Gives you a better idea of how social media influences your emotions and thoughts
-Allows you to take a break and see how you feel without it
Overall, I’m not saying or even encouraging that we all just hop off of social media and electronics. They play an important part in our lives and society, and they aren’t going away. I will go so far as to say I think it is completely unrealistic to remove them completely. That being said, I do believe that a lot of us are at a place where we are looking to be a little less attached, and that is OK! I hope this post gives you some ideas.
What is your favorite way to detox or detach from social media/electronics?