“D” is for Depression and Social Media

Welcome to my 2016 A to Z series on how to establish a meaningful minimum for social media as part of a balanced life. Over the next 26 days, I’ll take a quick look at  some of the pluses and minuses of social media and how to adapt it to your own needs and plans.

IMG_6885.JPGSocial media and depression have a complex relationship.

On the plus side, social media can relieve isolation and provide opportunities for mutual support.

On the other hand, depression has been linked to social media, and the number of hours a person spends on social media is strongly correlated with depression, though it remains unclear if people with depression seek more social media time or if too much social media makes people depressed.

As someone successfully managing depression without medication or therapy (don’t get me wrong, I’ve done those things before and would again as needed), I’m always on the lookout for signs I’ve strayed into a habit which undermines my overall attempts to main good mental health. As I’ve learned more about the way depression and social media interact, I find myself taking steps to move away from social media and for longer periods of time. Just like alcohol, isolation, and negative self-talk, social media is on my watch-list of things which can trip me up.

Here are two key things to consider if you are depressed or have a history of depression and use social media on a regular basis:

  1. Should you decide to reduce your use of social media, take it slowly. Once in place as a means of social support, it can be harmful to quit social media cold turkey. Even moderate reductions (such as one-day social media fasts) are associated with withdrawal symptoms.
  2. Be careful where you engage, opting for places where you know people or where the group norms are polite and supportive. Leave groups and interactions which contribute to a sense of isolation or worthlessness or negativity.

For more information on how depression and social media are linked, check out this short article.

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“C” is for Commit to Community

Welcome to my 2016 A to Z series on how to establish a meaningful minimum for social media as part of a balanced life. Over the next 26 days, I’ll take a quick look at  some of the pluses and minuses of social media and how to adapt it to your own needs and plans.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve been a member–active or otherwise–of close to one hundred Facebook groups.

About ten minutes ago, I deleted myself from all but twenty of these groups as part of a massive first pruning because, after a weekend of reading and reflection, one thing was clear to me:

I am a person who commits.

…who was not committing

…who was in fact drifting and dissipating from overcommitment, the happiness killer.

“You mean like in Fellowship of the Ring? The butter on the bread?” my friend Roslynn asked in response to my complaints.

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

It was more like I’d scraped the butter dish and smeared a snail’s trace over my toast.

No, today I quit as commitment. It was a commitment to spend “more time with my remaining parts” i.e. the secret sisterhoods of writers which are much better haunts and light the way and raise the spirits with wonder, awe, and laughter.

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“B” is for Burnt and for Breaks

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 6.17.58 PMWelcome to my 2016 A to Z series on how to establish a meaningful minimum for social media as part of a balanced life. Over the next 26 days, I’ll take a quick look at  some of the pluses and minuses of social media and how to adapt it to your own needs and plans.

Yesterday’s post was a near perfect example of the blahs which follow burnout. Yes, I was burnt. It wasn’t just social media that had me in this crisped, ashen state, but factors in my regular life—a surprise birthday visit to a friend, a husband recovering from a broken leg, college acceptances for Kid #3 balanced by testing and promotion to sergeant for Kid #2. Everybody had something going on, and there I sat in the middle of the swirling vortex of family life, happy, stressed out, tired, overwhelmed, and in need of quality hours of solitude, and so I escaped to social media.

Or so I thought…

I am not sure how it works for everyone else, but social media has a unique relationship to burnout. At times, it can be the perfect escape from whatever ails us in the real world and a chance to catch up and laugh with friends. At other times, it can exacerbate the negative feelings we had hoped to eliminate. Checking quickly from one place to another, I flared and burnt out just as fast, got off the computer, and tried to sort through a morass of papers scatterformed on my desk, a cloud gathering around me as I started to write my “blah” post of yesterday, feeling defeated before the start. Grinding to a slow and passionless conclusion, I realized I needed a break, not just from social media, but from everything.

A problem with social media is that—like email—it contributes to the feeling that the job is never done and is a factor in creating overwhelm and depression. A place we turn for entertainment and comfort, it can snare us unwittingly, forestalling awareness for hours on end. Furthermore, social media programs such as Facebook trigger searching behaviors, flooding the brain with dopamine and hooking us still deeper.

I saw a microcosm of this just this morning in a biweekly writer’s group where one member reported a crisis on his corporate Facebook page which required tending, communication, and tamping down and resulted in lost sleep and extra work. A second member had fallen down a YouTube rabbit hole, emerging at 5 a.m. this morning from a nighttime of unexpected video watching, a surprising and rare indulgence which she couldn’t quite explain. A third friend was too busy at the AWP Writers Conference to spend much time on social media yesterday. She reports she had great day, that the sessions were really awesome, that she only used social media when she was alone. “When you and I are together, I hardly use social media,” she said, “I’m just much less conscious of a need to go out there when I’m in the company of friends.”

Stories such as this are commonplace. Social media usage has increased tenfold among adults in the past decade, with 65% experiencing new ways of social interaction (SOURCE: Pew Research Center). And yet, in the same time period, approximately 61% of those joiners have expressed concerns about their social media use to the point where they have opted for one form or another of a Facebook vacation.

Social media use and depression among college freshmen is rising. In a panic, I call Kid#3 who’s heading off to college next year to ask what he is doing, suppressing the urge to warn him to get off of social media NOW before it’s too late, but when he answers, I discover he’s taking a break from it all.  Out on his paddleboard in the quiet backwaters of the San Francisco Bay estuary, he’s soaking up nature and sunshine. What could be more wholesome?  I applaud myself for my excellent parenting as he tells me, “I was just texting a friend about going on an adventure.”

I stop to imagine the scene as my fantasy image evaporates: teenage guy on paddleboard in the bay using social media…the results are NOT good. I suppress an urge to ask why, as I think about the 98% of people who really can’t multi-task.

“Do you have on your life vest?” I ask, avoiding the sunscreen question and the inevitable complaints that he couldn’t find any (despite my efforts to litter his path with it).

“I couldn’t find it,” he answers. He’s unconcerned. I can hear the smile in his voice, his joy at being out on the water. I swear I hear a bluebird of happiness singing in the background.

But, I’m twisted into a paradoxical pretzel:

On the one hand…he’s outdoors. Great!

On the other, he’s on a paddleboard without a life vest, has no sunscreen, and social media—aka the Sword of Damocles—sways gently in the breeze over head. Does he know the water temperature? How fast would he succumb to hypothermia anyway? Could he text someone his location should a giant wave swamp his board?

I am a divided heart as I say goodbye, hoping the bay is a puddle of calm this morning.

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Ya, I’ve started to downspiral. The YouTube rabbit hole my friend escaped from this morning is searching for fresh victims, and cat videos meow their siren song. For some reason, the song “The Wild Rover” is going through my head, specifically, the words “no, nay, never, no, nay, never, no more…” I’d been reading about it and its connection to the Temperance Movement and wondered what Carrie Nation would think if she could see us now, a society addicted to devices where more than 59% of children below the age of ten use social media.

Horrified, I shut down my computer and I go outside to hot tub bare: I’ve shed my electronics. No computer. No music. No audiobook. No Facebook.

The wind is picking up here a little bit and at the end of the meadow, a turkey vulture and a hawk rise from the top of a redwood tree, the latter with the panicky flight of young winged things, hard flapping, legs disarrayed in the air, a beak full of cries as it careens in flight like a kid tipping his tricycle on two wheels as he screeches around a corner, a brightness of voice, a sheen of plumage beaconing high above me.

And I wish it would be quiet. It broadcasts its tender years and I wonder was the turkey vulture a murderer? Have I witnessed a greater tragedy than Kim Kardashian’s latest antic? I wish I had a drone to fly up to meet the hawk where it cries out, but its calls fade as it resolves to something and to silence.

I want to reach for my phone, but I don’t.

Doesn’t this beauty deserve a selfie? I think.

I look out into the meadow at the dog rolling in horse manure amidst the verdure and the buttercups and reassure myself “I am here now, now how much more here can I be?”

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“A” is for Accountability

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 7.30.55 PM.pngWelcome to my 2016 A to Z series on how to establish a meaningful minimum for social media as part of a balanced life. Over the next 26 days, I’ll take a quick look at  some of the pluses and minuses of social media and how to adapt it to your own needs and plans.

The first topic I want to discuss is accountability.

I had never belonged to any sort of accountability group until a friend invited me to join an online writing group to practice daily writing. Meetings were held 24/7 in the form of a closed Facebook group.

Despite my belief that such approaches were usually a washout with me, I suspended disbelief and wrote every day, ignoring the voices which said, “This is stupid” and “it’ll never work.”

Months later, when I was on a trip to England, I realized that the accountability of the writing group (we posted our word count daily) had actually made a difference in my life. Finally, I’d developed a daily writing habit.

Now, more than two years of daily writing later, I have a much clearer understanding of how accountability worked for me. I loathed having to post a word count, and felt it was only fair if I read others’ posts and showed an interest in them since they had bothered to read my post and encourage me. It turned out this was a key difference in keeping me engaged, that this little bit of social interaction and the chance to encourage someone else was something I enjoyed immensely. Today, most of my closest writing friends were among the first people I met on that journey. Together, we encouraged each other, demonstrating a principle true to social media, that the human factor is what makes the difference. It seems those of us who engaged with each other most are still close to this day and still maintain our writing discipline.

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As much as accountability is good for starting a new habit, it’s also great for breaking a bad one. In a 2015 joint study between University of California, Irvine, and Stanford University, Twitter messages were used between a group of smokers intent on kicking their habit. The premise was simple: members of the study groups retweeted anti-smoking messages twice daily resulting in a 42% cessation rate for one group and a whopping 75% for a second group. One thing noted in the study was that a party-like atmosphere emerged as did group leaders and encouragers who helped everyone in the attempt to go 100 days without smoking. For more on this study, read here.

For a quick list of other positive ways to use social media for accountability in your life, check out this list from Livestrong.

To visit other blogs in the A to Z Challenge, click here:

 

Ready, Set, Go

A2Z-BADGE [2016]Well, tomorrow is the start of the A to Z Blog Challenge.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been blogging topics about nutrition on Tuesdays, birds on Fridays, and science on Saturdays and will suspend those topics over the next few weeks to focus on balancing social media for writers.

I thought I’d give you some insight into how I chose this topic.

I had been complaining to a friend that the recommendations from writers seemed to rely on testimonials instead of study evidence. Everywhere I turned, the good opinions seemed to be mostly based on hearsay. As I used social media myself, I couldn’t help but wonder why it felt like something illicit. Later, I learned how social media impacts dopamine in much the same way as food, drugs or gambling, making it as something to which we could become addicted.

The final thing which pushed me to choose this topic happened two days ago. While researching the study data on the impact of social media and internet use, I found this piece. When I first read it, I thought it was a joke, but as I continued I realized that it was meant to be serious. The first panel left me a little confused…

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The second panel was the one that caught my attention and made me wonder where exactly this piece was going:

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The final segment made me wonder had the person who shared this data become completely inured to compassion? Did he/she care so little about the impact others that they would sell anything just to make money? Was this type of marketing typical of how businesses were being taught to approach social media? I read on…

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I have no idea how prevalent than attitudes expressed above really are, though I found the same data shared in several different places. So, when you think about why it is hard to get off of Facebook or how glued you are to your Twitter feed, just remember that there are companies out there whose objective is to pander to your every desire. This is just one of the interesting things I’ve learned in preparing for the upcoming month of blogging.

My hope is to uncover more about social media–the pluses and the minuses–and share that in my blog over the course of the next thirty days. I hope you’ll find this interesting.