As pointed out by researchers in this paper titled, Effects of Social Media on Mental Health: A Review, "the imbalance created by the excessive usage of social media is a significant concern for parents, researchers and, society regarding the mental health of individuals".
My problem is the problem of millions. We know that 70% of the population in America has social media accounts. Addiction to Social Media and Attachment Styles was discussed in a systematic literature review published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.
Unfortunately, I suffered from the side effects of social media a lot. As a matter of fact, my mental health was at stake due to addiction. But fortunately, I discovered the problem early and made quick decisions. So I stopped it before being a more significant problem.
It was terrible to be ruled by assumptions and false beliefs. It was worse to be consumed by the troubles of strangers in virtual settings.
In my case, I needed to break a non-serving habit. However, as confirmed by scientists, it is difficult to give up a habit of giving dopamine to our brain, even if we know it is terrible for us. So instead, it is much easier to replace it with another dopamine-producing habit that is valuable and healthy.
This is a personal story with hard-learned lessons reflecting facts from my professional journey.
Before going into details of my exciting story, I support the use of social media and technology tools for business. I am a technologist by profession. Social media tools have their places and many great use cases for business. They work for various people differently. However, the problem happens when these tools start ruling our lives. I had to make tough decisions to stop trading off my health, fitness, and valuable time.
Almost every disease under the sun is associated with chronic stress. It is an undeniable truth. A recent study, by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health, suggests that "even small daily stress factors can lead to health problems later in life. Like any business professional, I suffered a lot from chronic stress".
My main problem was not understanding the real meaning of mental and emotional stress. I thought stress occurred only when we felt physical pain and when we were tired of work. It was my mistake. I never thought good things like hard work, dedication, consistency, friendliness, and even excitement would cause stress. I did not know the hormonal effects of stress. For example, I did not realise excessive cortisol was toxic for the brain until undesirable symptoms had started manifesting.
The biggest time-waster for me was social media. Stopping the use of social media made the most significant difference. Admittedly, engagement in social media gave me a lot of excitement when I discovered my childhood friends from college, secondary school, and even primary school years.
In the beginning, I was elated when I had the initial conversations with my childhood friends. However, after accumulating hundreds of friends and followers, things changed dramatically. Two hidden problems started emerging. Initially, I did not notice the issues. I was like the frog in the water warming slowly and burning myself.
The first problem was spending more and more time chatting with those friends. Most of them were asking for my email address. Many of them shared their life stories covering decades in long emails. I was reading them with excitement. Then, one day I noticed that I spent at least two hours replying to messages, reacting to their posts, and clearing emails from those friends.
Losing time was not the only problem. The real problem was the stress caused by these two points:
The first one is overloading myself with two hours of excessive interactions with friends.
The second one was sacrificing my rest time with excitement. After eight hours of intensive work, I dealt with two hours of social media analysis and response when I came home. Even though it did not seem to be formal work, after a while, it turned to be work. So I ended up working ten hours a day.
I found myself solving the problems of my old friends with whom I have no real-life connection. Since they were friends, their concerns were hurting me subconsciously.
Interestingly, rather than joy, most of them were bringing problems, such as break up with their boyfriends or girlfriends, how their parent acted so unfair to them, how they lost their business, the accidents that caused them lifetime suffering, the debilitating diseases they have and many more. You get the picture.
I felt like a pseudo shrink without qualifications. As a worst case, I was taking their problems to heart. It was causing me substantial stress. I only discovered this stress when my family doctor informed me that my cortisol levels are beyond the acceptable level. We had a conversation to assess the stressors in my life.
After touching each point, the culprit became evident. It was social media. What could I do to remove this culprit from my life? I didn't cut it cold turkey.
The best solution was quickly analysing my friends. Out of 1,000 plus, only around ten of them really resonated with me. They were the ones I wanted to hang out with. The rest were noise producers and causing unintentional toxicity to my life. So I approached those ten friends and added them to my email and phone directory. I only approach them occasionally, pointing out to them that I was taking a social media fast. They understood.
I stopped using social media for a few months. Then, I noticed that most of those noisemakers disappeared. I love communicating with my excellent friends at our convenience. We help each other whenever we need help. They are the ones who understand and practice reciprocity. They are the ones who take personal responsibility and who do not bother me with daily whining.
As a result of disconnecting from social media, a tremendous load disappeared from my shoulders. As a matter of fact, my sleep started improving.
Initially, I craved the dopamine boosting effect of social media. This phenomenon is widely researched as pointed out in a research paper on social media addiction and dopamine-driven feedback. However, I replaced my craving with favourite activities such as reading my favourite books, listening to classical music, having a spa bath, jumping on a trampoline, writing an article, calling a real friend and having ten minutes of meaningful chat. This helped me to beat the craving.
Gaining two hours of extra time to do quality activities enriched my daily living and substantially reduced my stress. Stress was ruing my life. But after disconnecting from social media, my mental health and fitness have improved. Truthfully, I did not lose anything by giving up social media. I still use several social media tools for business activities, but it is entirely a different story for another time.
You may perceive social media messaging to be exciting fun. But it doesn’t relax you as much as doing more meaningful things that you really enjoy.
Thank you for reading my perspectives.
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