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Hooked On Social Media

Social media has become an integral part of our daily life, providing some instant gratification to help us wind down after a busy day when our heads go in way too many directions. Work over for the day, dinner complete, a few house and garden chores done, and we head for the sofa… phone in hand.

But, what exactly is going on inside our brain when we click open Instagram or Facebook?

What IS Social Media?

For many of us, clicking that blue Facebook bubble, or the rainbow ombre of Instagram comes with a flutter of anticipation? Will there be funny cats (a fan favorite), or some reels from favorite comedians, or best ever, some Friends reels. Thumbs scrolling, anticipation building, tension mounting, along with our dopamine levels. Ah yes – a Joey and Chandler skit, the one where the girls take the apartment back - So funny, even when we know the script by heart. That little burst of dopamine floods the brain, so does serotonin, because we KNOW these characters, they are familiar, they are my friends too. Scrolling on – a reel of a fox doing the zoomies on a pink flowered hillside all cleverly packaged with familiar music, and then beautiful scenery shots from around the world, reminding us we could travel, paint, garden... and on and on... should we find the time!

And there we are, before we know it, 30 minutes have passed. We may have a laughed a lot, but we will also have looked at a bunch of nothing in our search for the next laugh, smile, or warm fuzzy feeling (shall we say dopamine boost again!).

Or maybe you're in a line at the grocery store and (oh no) it's a trainee cashier. Instead of taking the five minutes to do a short mindful meditation, we whip out the phone and bam... instant gratification in the form of memes and posts in your Instagram feed.

It can be calming and settle the brain down, but if we're not careful it can be an hour or more of a constant influx of novel and engaging content, tailored pretty close to our interests and preferences. The immediate feedback in the form of likes, comments, and shares triggers a sense of validation and reward, leading to a repetitive release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation, and its release creates a sense of pleasure and satisfaction - which is why Social Media can be so hard to kick!

If Nothing is Being Sold... You are the Product!

While the initial dopamine rush from social media can be pleasurable, prolonged exposure can lead to a state of hyperstimulation. Social media platforms are engineered to keep users engaged for as long as possible, employing algorithms that continuously serve personalized content, including targeted advertisements. The endless scrolling, notifications, and constant stimulation can create a compulsive need to remain connected, often leading to addictive behaviors.

Social media platforms thrive on engagement, and the dopamine burst feedback loop plays a crucial role in sustaining this engagement. Every like, comment, or share triggers a release of dopamine, reinforcing the behavior and encouraging users to seek more validation. The intermittent nature of this reward system, similar to a slot machine, keeps users coming back for more, hoping for another surge of dopamine. This is why it is such a popular advertising platform (Instagram pulled in $37.9 billion in ad revenue!)... because we are the product, and we are addicted to it!

Dopamine Blues

Dopamine is the anticipatory neurotransmitter often associated with arousal and desire. During sex, dopamine surges AND the physical contact of love making promotes oxytocin production - the bonding hormone. However, constantly checking social media and phones etc., will gradually elevate levels of dopamine but it doesn't promote the balancing oxytocin. This leads to elevated dopamine which means there is a higher and higher threshold needed for arousal and stimulation - like a cocaine user starts to need more and more of the drug to get the same hit. If this is you, it might be time to back away from your cell phone, stop getting your happiness there, and instead, cuddle with your sweetie and watch a movie together.

Hyperstimulation & The Bliss of Boredom

Hyperstimulation induced by social media can have several negative consequences. It can disrupt sleep patterns, as people (especially young people) often find themselves staying up late, engrossed in online activities. The constant exposure to a curated world of seemingly perfect lives can foster feelings of inadequacy, leading to low self-esteem and even depression. With everyone sharing all the highlights of their lives, it can create a false sense of “everyone else’s life is perfect, mine is not”. Furthermore, social media does not discriminate between what we like, and what enrages us, in order to get our interaction - this means we are often pushed things that can actively aggravate our brains, leading to a spike in cortisol.

We, and even more so, younger generations, have become allergic to boredom, but in fact, boredom can push us to connect with friends or loved ones, to work hard on hobbies, learn new things, or simply let our brains wander naturally. When we remove all boredom and replace it with artificial stimulation, our brains lose their ability to think creatively and develop ideas on their own.

Top Tips to Kick the Habit

  1. Self-Awareness: Understanding the psychological mechanisms behind social media's allure can helps us be more conscious of their usage and its potential consequences. There is nothing wrong with using, or sharing the funny highlights, but it shouldn't be the go-to entertainment.
  2. Digital Detox: Make a list of all the other things you could be doing. Art, reading, writing, knitting, working out, cooking, gardening, etc., and take a week (or a month) off social media. It can help us moderate better when we detox completely.
  3. Mindful Consumption: Being mindful of the content consumed on social media is crucial. It can be helpful to actively follow and unfollow to be in control of what appears in your feed. If something makes me feel uncomfortable – I immediately unfollow.
  4. Time Management: Setting limits on social media usage and establishing designated screen-free time can help break the cycle of hyperstimulation. Give yourself an allotted amount of time (i.e., 15-20 minutes a day) and then be done.

Now I know Parlor Games uses social media to connect with our ladies – our goal is to provide helpful, informative, and uplifting material as well as create a space for women to share and ask questions. We have been delighted to engage with so many wonderful women and we hope you feel the same. Our last thoughts on this – enjoy, and as with our products, use wisely.