Most of you reading this will be within a metre of your smartphone and a minute or two from checking one of the omnipotent social media platforms enveloping our lives. While we know that chronic use of these platforms can have a negative health impact, is it really time to hit the ‘Delete Account’ button? Dr Nick Knight delivers ten rescue tips to making sure your health remains bolstered, and not battered, by social media.
The (online) elephant in the room: social media can be bad
To know the right steps to take with social media, you need to know where the wrong steps can take you. With that in mind, let us briefly summarise some of the main physical and mental health concerns generated from excessive social media use. These include:
- Generating lower self-esteem when you compare your real life to others’ virtual lives
- Being a source of significant distraction from your much more important offline life
- Triggering physical health issues such as posture-related muscular strain and eye fatigue
- Interfering with quality sleep by disturbing your circadian rhythm (your body clock)
- Encouraging addictive tendencies that compound all of the above
The science of reward
Social media use is all about triggering your reward centre in your brain. This reward system comprises complex neural structures and pathways in the cortico-basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop. I know. Basically, like any addictive drug, your Likes, Retweets, Comments and Followers act like a giant neuroendocrine shovel pouring dopamine (your neuroendocrine neurotransmitter that feeds on pleasure and reward) into your brain’s reward centre. Quite simply, you are left wanting more and more. Just think about when you’ve finished exercising, had amazing sex or achieved a goal, and you get that rush – that’s your dopamine.
That’s what these ten tips are about, supporting a healthier structure in your life, allowing you to control the cascade of dopamine and ultimately remain in control. To achieve this, we are going to look at three different elements to your social media use: how much you use it (Part 1), what you look at on it (Part 2), and finally, how you process what you look at (Part 3).
Part 1: How much you use social media
With its origins in Shakespeare, “too much of a good thing” still has powerful meaning in modern life. Like alcohol, sex or a beloved sports team, your social media use is no different, existing on a spectrum of zero interest to pathological obsession. The goal is to find that sweet spot of usage where you reap the benefits yet mitigate the harm. Here are the first five tips to help you achieve this.
Tip 1: Buy an alarm clock
Lying in bed with your phone and scrolling through social media wipes out your sleep-inducing melatonin. Instead, turn your phone off, and to kill any impulse checks, put it out of sight.
Tip 2: Schedule your social media use
Applying boundaries and structure instead of an unchecked tsunami of random scrolling throughout the day will make you more productive, focussed and ultimately in control.
Tip 3: Make sure you are present with others
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” said philosopher Simone Weil. You have a real life, so embrace it and the people you are with. Save a quick scroll for the loo.
Tip 4: Develop a focussed approach
Understanding why you use social media reinforces your overall control. If it’s for work, then develop a marketing strategy. If it’s just chatting shit and arguing online, then good luck.
Tip 5: Ensure your art imitates your life
Develop a social media platform that truly reflects who you are in real life. Say what you would say in real life; comment how you would in real life – especially to the person’s face. Be real.
Part 2: What you look at on social media
Social media is awash with both great and terrible advice in equal measure. One of the key issues is that anyone can be an expert on it – whether they actually are is another question entirely. So, whether you are discovering health information opportunistically or deliberately seeking it, here are two tips to get reliable information.
Tip 6: Seek unpolished and genuine inspiration
While motivational content is dripping all over social media, choose the positive, realistic and unedited representations of health. The celeb Photoshopped to an inch of their life isn’t that.
Tip 7: Listen to the experts
Personal trainers, dieticians and healthcare professionals permeate social media. When you find them, just ask yourself if they are reliable, experienced voices for the topics they raise.
Part 3: How to process what you view
So now that you have viewed the health information on social media, you need to decide if it has simply provided a transient pleasure or whether it serves as an offline stepping stone to help you lead a healthier life. Here are three final tips to help make this a reality.
Tip 8: A stepping stone from online to offline
Reading about a health condition is a really good start: it helps you understand and contextualise it. Now use that as a trigger to see your GP and discuss the bothersome issue.
Tip 9: Triggering your personal cycle of change
This is about realising how you feel about a specific health issue, such as losing weight. Your social media view may nudge you into a new phase, giving momentum to your health journey.
Tip 10: Consolidation through your support network
Sharing and discussing your health interests and journey with online (or offline) groups of like-minded people is a cathartic and powerful way to consolidate your evolving health choices.
The impact of social media can rest anywhere between the devil and the deep blue sea. With the power of a swipe or a click, it can alter not only how you feel about your own health but also directly affect it. These ten tips are certainly not rocket science but rather intended as simple reminders to help make sure social media and your health continue to have a positive and amicable relationship. If not, divorce her.