As a retired therapist, I have worked with clients who have struggled with addiction. Today, in our largely virtual world, I believe many business owners are addicts – not to a particular drug of choice but to their social media accounts.
While calling social media an addiction may or may not ring true for you, now that we are all working from home (or at least have some kind of increased virtual demands on our daily lives), many of us are spending exponentially more time on social media, and understandably so: With minimal ways to connect in person, business owners are looking to the internet for ways to keep the conversation going with prospects, clients, and fans.
However, there are healthy levels of engagement… and then there are unhealthy levels. In my coaching conversations, and even in my conversations with non-client connections and referral partners, I have noticed that, in comparison to the amount of time a person struggling with addiction spends focused on their drug of choice, many business owners feel a deep level of attachment and constant awareness around how important social media interaction is to the success of their business. The intensity and even desperation I often hear is concerning, especially given my background. In my professional opinion, this constant fixation with social media borders on being classified as an addiction (per the definition in the DSM V).
Now, please know I am not accusing anyone or diagnosing anyone. The amount of time a person spends thinking about or engaging in an activity is neither negative or positive. In fact, as a therapist, seeing a pattern like this simply means it is something about which we need more information. We need to know, from the patient directly, whether the fixation is impacting their social lives, work life, family life, feelings about self, etc.
Fortunately, we already have some of the answers because Psychology Today has been studying people’s fascination with social media and how it impacts their lives for almost a decade.
So, what exactly are we doing online, and how is it impacting us? Let’s start with the basics. Most people check their social media accounts on their smartphones. This leads to more exposure to bright lights, which can impact sleep quality. Then there is the impact on posture from additional computer or smartphone usage (you know, that hunched over pose), which can cause muscle pain, joint discomfort, and even long-term physical damage.
Then there’s the mental stuff. Measuring your success based on likes, comments, followers, and subscribers creates a huge dent in the self-confidence and self-esteem of adults, but it’s especially damaging for developing teenagers. And this is what their brains (and ours!) are being wired for. Our desire for the immediate gratification of another like or a new follower can have a lasting impact on how we perceive ourselves and how much we compare ourselves to others. It can noticeably interfere with personal development and long-term self-worth, and the younger it starts, the harder it is to overcome.
When someone does not like your comment or follow you, it can cause feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. I see my own child bouncing up and down in her virtual classroom, trying to get the teacher’s attention and answer the question that’s been posed. Once she is ignored, I see her slump down in her chair and disengage. Would she do this in a physical classroom as well? I don’t know. However, that dejection and disengagement she experiences when she is competing with 20 students for one person’s attention will only be amplified when she eventually gets on social media. There will be hundreds of millions of people who could pay attention to her, not just her teacher. But if no one responds, how will she feel then? Her whole world view, as well as her self-perception, could shift based on that experience.
The truth, as we all need to be reminded, is that social media is not real. It is a false reality of filters, cropped photos, and what other people want you to see. Though relationships built online are great for staying connected with friends who live far away or family you do not get to see that often, for the most part, those pretty-picture accounts you see are nothing more than a sliver of the truth plus a lot of wishful thinking. Trusting that network to be honest and open leaves you vulnerable physically, mentally, and emotionally. It leaves you out of touch with the real world and the real-life activities still happening all around you.
Speaking of being out of touch with reality, spending so much time on your phone can actually leave you feeling an odd, phantom buzzing, even when your phone is not even on you. Why? Because the brain, after so much repeated stimulation, actually chemically begins to wire itself in anticipation of a possible comment or like. And it’s not only social media that causes this phenomenon. It’s any repeated phone usage that stimulates the brain in a specific way. When I used to be on call for crisis situations with social services, I remember hearing my phone even when I was not on call that week. My brain was anticipating it, and, therefore, my body and mind were automatically reacting to the thought pattern (because of how often I had been on call), not realizing it was a false alarm. It was the epitome of unhealthy. And now, our bodies are doing it when there is no real crisis going on… just someone possibly leaving a negative comment about your new hairstyle.
To help kids adjust, evolve, and grow – in a healthy way – in this new environment, many schools and companies have come up with a “Digital Citizenship Course” designed to teach kids how to behave appropriately during remote learning and working.
While teaching our kids good online behavior is a start, it isn’t enough. It is not just behavior that will impact your job or learning environment. It is your mindset and your self-awareness. And those are things we can all work on, regardless of how virtual we may be. So, my team and I at A Better Place are also working on something new. Rather than another “how to behave online” guide, we’re launching a “Digital Well-Being” product, specifically designed for companies and teams.
If you want more information about an exciting, upcoming, LIVE Digital Well-Being session, we’ve got it for you! Just reply to this email with the words “Digital Well-Being,” or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Digital Well-Being.” Let us know if you’re interested in attending for yourself or whether you’ll be bringing along your team!
Until then, stay safe, and stay sane!