Fasting to Achieve and Maintain Mental Health in the Age of Social Media Saturation
How much have you thought about what it means for us to constantly be connected to other people via social media? To consistently be bombarded with not so positive information and news daily? I think about it often. Especially in more recent times.
The negative stories that we see across our timelines grab our attention and elicit reaction. Whether we like it or not, this effects us tremendously over time. In fact, I won’t be surprised if in the future we have mental health diagnoses directly related to the effects of social media. We certainly have built a culture primed for it.
With a cultural shift (I know, easier said than done) we may be able to prevent that from happening. So, let’s take some time to examine the potential effects of social media saturation. Then let’s talk about what we can actually do to reverse and mitigate these negative effects.
The Science of Social Media & The Mind Body Connection
First, let me just say that I don’t think Social Media is inherently bad. I obviously have social media accounts and I see the value in them. However, I do think that it is important for us to be mindful and aware of its potential impact. Negative social media interactions effect our minds, our general well-being, and our overall health.
Research shows that negative thought processes lead to negative emotions which can also lead to problematic behaviors. In addition, our physical health can be impacted by our less than positive thought patterns.
Research also proves that our brains are highly plastic. Meaning that new pathways can form as we introduce stimuli consistently over time. Whether or not this is good or bad depends on the nature of the stimuli. As a result, the themes of the information that enter into our brains via social media are likely making a lasting impact. Especially considering how much we as a society are accessing these social media outlets. As negative information flows in, pathways associated with negative thought patterns such as anger, helplessness, and hopelessness are strengthened. As a result, these emotions and the consequences associated with them have more impact on how we experience our lives.
Specifically, negative thought patterns as well as feelings of helplessness, and hopelessness can create chronic stress.
Chronic stress disrupts many systems within our bodies including our hormonal balance . Also, the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for keeping us happy may be depleted over time. Immune system damage is also linked to this condition which in turn has the potential to decrease the lifespan.
Nausea, headaches, and other symptoms often are the physical manifestations of negative thought patterns and chronic stress.
If you are still on the fence about it consider this. We all know that we pass on genetic material to our children. We are also learning that our genetic material is altered during our lifetime based on our experiences. So, that begs the question: what are we passing down to our future children mental health wise based on our feelings and behaviors today?
What is really striking to me about social media is just how seamlessly it is incorporated into our lives.
You really can’t get away from it. It is so embedded into multiple layers that coincide with how we function as a society. Given the fact that we are so tied to social media how do we make sure that we are not causing permanent damage to our own sense of well-being as well as to our future generations?
The Answer lies in Awareness.
Examining how you feel when you scroll through your timeline is a great way to begin the work involved in ensuring mental and physical health while using these various platforms.
Social media fasts are extremely effective in the journey of mindfulness related to social media saturation. A fast in practice involves completely disengaging with social media for a period of time. People who have gone through this process have come back and said that they felt rejuvenated and much more energetic. They also report increased productivity and optimism. What I take away from these reports is that on some level being on social media had negative consequences for these individuals.
My Fasting Story:
I recently completed a social media fast . It lasted about two months and it was actually at the prompting of my husband. He had noticed that I spent a lot of time on social media in the evenings. It was my way of shutting down and taking a break from the emotional overload I felt on a daily basis. (I get this way as a result of my arduous work as a therapist in a trauma ridden neighborhood.) However, what I was failing to realize was that I was depleting even more emotional energy by logging into social media. Essentially, I was being emotionally overstimulated.
So, on a whim, my husband said “I bet you can’t go a whole month without social media.” I love a good challenge so right then and there I deleted all social media apps from my phone. And thus, my fast began.
The simple act of deleting these apps on my phone was seriously cathartic. I instantly felt better. Like an emotional weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
I spent the next two months being the most productive I had been in a long time. I was able to complete a long task list and get my Private Practice up and running. It was truly amazing to me how often I picked up my phone as a result of compulsion. Only to find myself staring at the menu with nowhere to go without social media at my literal fingertips.
Nevertheless, I was less tired both mentally and emotionally. Because I wasn’t being bombarded with excess filtered emotional energy.
Think of the social media fast as a reset button of sorts. A chance to start over and take control.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Delete all Social Media from your smart phone, and resist logging in on the computer. Decide how long you want to do the fast for. I’d say minimum is one month.
Step 2: Make a list. Before you reintroduce social media take some time to understand the positive (and negative) aspects of your social media fast. This is very important. Ask yourself: What sorts of things did I notice about myself that I liked? Disliked? What things would I like to continue to see happen after I reintroduce social media into my life?
When you do this you will have a solid foundation of where you want to be mentally. You’ll also have a reliable emotional compass. This will help guide and keep you within the range of where you’d like to be emotionally and physically.
Step 3: Mindful reintroduction of social media also involves setting clear intentions. This means explicitly stating what the purpose of social media is to you. Write this down too. Are you using it to stay connected to friends and family? As a way to market your business? As a therapeutic outlet?
Step 4: Clean up your feeds and timelines. Now that you know what mental space you want to be in, you can tailor your social media to ensure you protect your mental well being. Delete things that you know are not going to contribute to your ability to remain in a positive space. Perhaps you are deleting people, news entities, or pages. It is also helpful to remove yourself from certain groups that don’t align with your vision.
Step 5: Stay mindful! For the next few months it may be necessary for you to check in with yourself periodically to understand if you are being true to your intentions.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is social media working for me?
- Am I still within the range of my ideal emotional space?
- Am I using Social Media to do the things that I want?
- How is my timeline effecting me?
- How Do I feel when I scroll through?
- Is there anything I can eliminate to help this process?-The answer to this question may prompt you to start your fast over. Perhaps for a longer period of time.
The ART: Enjoy the Process. Be Creative.
The art of achieving mental health requires a creative process. People who go through a social media fast often remark on how difficult it is at times. Change of any kind is hard since we humans love to feel comfortable. So, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel your feelings and do not repress them. Accept where you are at in the process at all times. Most of all, be open. Your creative process, mental health, and future generations depend on it.