By Leah Bell
Social media has had a bigger impact on our lives today than it ever has in the existence of computers, the internet and cell phones. At no other time in history has the whole world been so engulfed in electronic devices that have become like appendages to not only Millenials but also those who are established middle-aged business people, as well as, parents, teachers, activists and retired individuals that are more likely to be using desktop or laptop computers than smartphones to connect to the never-ending thread of social media.
OK, so we all know this stuff, what we don’t necessarily know is whether social media is having a positive or negative impact on our lives? As a whole, it’s easy to say YES! It is. One of the most powerful influences the many platforms have had is helping to energize generations of people to be informed about what is going on in the world in terms of social and political events. More people are finding their voice and taking a stand for justice, and these very acts are more accessible with the birth of Facebook and Twitter. However, there are aspects of how our interactions with social media affect our neurotransmitters and have quite easily formed an addiction to social media and our electronic gadgets.
When you are living in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction the consensus is that as long as you are living clean and sober than all the other vices out there are way less harmful than the ones that can easily kill you. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE. Living clean and sober is the first and foremost important part of recovery from addiction. However, we are always better off when we can assess ALL our addictive behaviors and question whether or not they are helping or hurting our recovery, our spirituality, supporting our life goals and so on. At Inspire Recovery, our cognitive behavioral therapy groups help individuals become aware of their behaviors and patterns and find action steps to adjust what may not be serving one’s mental health or addiction recovery.
Does Social Media Hurt or Help Your Recovery
Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker and author of the 2009 bestseller “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” delivers a great talk about how exactly our brains become addicted to social media. This may come as a surprise, but we “get a hit of dopamine” when we check our Facebook, Instagram or receive a text message from someone we like. Sinek says, “Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink and when we gamble. In other words: it’s highly, highly addictive.”
As a neurotransmitter, Dopamine plays a big role in our reward-receptors. Dopamine is released when you eat a piece of chocolate, but it also tells your brain that you want more, because of the way the dopamine release is “allowing” you to feel good. If we don’t have the self-control or willpower to not stop eating chocolate we can easily get sick from eating too much of it.
This doesn’t mean that we should stop using social media and our cell phones – that would be crazy. The point is – we do need to be AWARE of our habits and relationship with the social media platforms we’re on and how much we use our phones.
For example, when you are sitting with your friends, family or people from your fellowship – there should be little to no reason to constantly be checking your phone for texts or social media notifications. This very act contradicts what wisdom we gain in our recovery: that being in the present moment is the most important and valuable time in our lives. Through the 12 Steps, we learn how to make peace with our past and not fear or worry about the future. It is the here and now that is precious and purposeful.
When people stand or sit around constantly checking their phones they are often, though subtly, saying, “I’m not really interested in what’s going on right in front me, something more important is going on in my electronic world.” They are creating a distance between themselves and the people they are interacting with. Short of an emergency, there are few times we have to check our phones as often as we do. The next time you are with a group of people, observe these human behaviors. Become aware of the patterns that have been formed and the distance that is being created by our lack of concern for the way people distract themselves from being present by obsessing over their phones.
There is a British journalist named Johann Hari, who shared in his now famous Ted Talk, the research he conducted helped him form the conclusion that the opposite of addiction is human connection. Many people argue the validity of Hari’s poignant debate, check out the response from The Fix – a recovery-based website. In general, though, what Hari is saying is making a case for is incredibly important to consider. The point to appreciate is how crucial it is for us to surround ourselves with people who make us feel safe and supportive, who are reliable, and who are also empathetic or at least attempting to be more vulnerable. In active addiction so much of our connections are clouded by our drugs of choice. Most of us use drugs and alcohol to suppress our feelings and hide our secrets. In recovery, it is through our in-person connections with others that we will be able to create meaningful relationships – which have the potential to release us from the shame, guilt, resentments, anger, sadness. Social media can be meaningful, but a lot of it is superficial.
It is in the Information Age that so many people have become addicted to substances and technology, creating fewer opportunities for healthy ways to connect with other people. Another benefit of social media is how beautifully it can make us feel more connected to family and friends that live in our cities. On the flip side, research shows that one-in-three Millennials spend more time on their smartphones than they interact with people face-to-face. The rise of these statistics also coincides with the rise of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among Millennials. In fact, Millennials, more than any other generation, are diagnosed with some form of mental distress. Similar to drug and alcohol use, when feeling depressed or anxious, we gravitate to something that takes our mind off these feelings. However, the distractions we really need are human connection, physical exercise, reading, journaling, hobbies, time in nature, strengthening our spiritual practice, doing 12 step work, etc.
We all enjoy cookies and candy, but if we ate it as much as we checked our phones for notifications we would rot our teeth out and not be able to enjoy sweets. In recovery from addiction of any kind, finding a healthy balance with all our habits is key.
OK, ok. Hopefully, some of this is starting to resonate with you. In recovery, one of the most important lessons is how to become mindful and aware of our actions and behaviors. Since none of us are about to delete our social media accounts lets continue to talk about what we can do to foster a more balanced relationship with this addiction we have to it.
5 Ways to Adjust Your Social Media Habits
– Take the time to meet and engage with people at your 12 step groups before and after meetings. Not solely because your sponsor told you to, but in pursuit of making genuine connections.
– Do not check your phone during 12 step meetings.
– Try not to check your phone or, in general check it less, while you are hanging out with your friends and family (unless absolutely necessary).
– Unfollow anything that does not support your recovery and start following more people, pages and hashtags that are positive and supportive of a life free from drugs, alcohol and other toxic aspects of your life! There is an endless amount of content available to uplift and motivate you. On Instagram, treatment centers, motivational speakers and other people working recovery programs are an excellent resource to support you on your journey. On Facebook, if you can’t “unfriend” someone like a family member or childhood friend whose posts or lifestyle choices are triggering for you –> you can adjust the way their posts show up in your feed. Use social media to help your recovery, not hurt it.
– Consider what activities you want to do more in your life that can decrease the amount of time you spend on your phone. Activities such as exercise or other physical activities, volunteering and being of service within your fellowship and spending more time in nature. Part of the plague of phone addiction is the fact that more people are spending less time in nature. However, nature is an important part of keeping our mental health and emotions in balance.
While all of this information might be overwhelming to you, there’s much more to consider the topic. This is literally the tip of the iceberg. Today, researchers are suggesting that people stop checking their cell phones while in bed – both at night and in the morning. Some experts say that we need to not check our phones for the first hour we are awake, especially the news. While this might sound extreme to you, there is good cause to believe that checking our phones and social media heavily increases our daily levels of anxiety and furthers any amount of depression that we might live with. Our phones have a negative effect on our sleeping patterns, our productivity and even affect the retina in our eyes if we do not adjust the screens or view our phones with proper lighting.
These are all great things to consider on your path to living a happy and healthy life! Consider what suggestions are included in this article that resonates with you and starts switching up the routine you have established with your phone and social media platforms. Many people claim that they have found themselves to be much happier after cutting back or cutting out social media from their daily lives. Might sound crazy, but at some point recovery probably sounded like a crazy idea, as well.