How often do you check social media throughout the day?

Do you feel the need to respond to comments or DMs right away?

Do you procrastinate by scrolling rather than doing something productive or nourishing? 

Do you feel like you might be addicted to tech and are you inseparable from your devices?

If you answered yes to any of these, this episode is for you.

I am sharing the common struggles we all face with social media and tech addiction, what the science says about it, and ways you can begin setting boundaries around tech and social. 

Let’s dive in.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

Note: Whenever I talk about social media here, I am also talking about tech and screen time in general.

Common Issues With Social Media + Tech

You might be wondering, what is wrong with using tech or social media every day?

Nothing, as long as you control it and not the other way around.

How many times have you said, I only want to check this one thing… and then you look at the time and somehow, an hour and a half has passed?

Social is the perfect procrastination tool because it is readily available.

Many of you have also told me you struggle with doomscrolling. This is when the content is depressing, upsetting, traumatic, or dramatic- not something you want to look at, but you can’t seem to look away.

Some of you may be aware you need a more balanced relationship with social media but are hesitant to limit it due to fear of missing out. You want to be aware of what is happening in other people’s lives and social media makes it easy.

Finally, you may feel the need to respond to comments or DMs right away because there is no clear sense of what is a reasonable amount of time for a reply. This can be draining, especially if you are an entrepreneur.

Psychologically Damaging Issues With Social Media

There are also more psychologically damaging experiences on social media, like the compare and despair phenomenon.

Since 2009, my therapy clients have told me they feel like their own lives don’t measure up to what they see on their feeds.

Instead, they see curated accounts on social media showing people doing hard things and making it look easy.

This is completely unrealistic and can be very damaging to our self-esteem.

Speaking of self-esteem, some people also use apps to change the way they look. There is nothing wrong with using a filter to brighten something, but studies have found that facetuning (editing your face) leads to dissatisfaction when looking at your reflection in a mirror.¹

Another study focuses on the increased plastic surgery millennials and Generation Z folks are engaging in earlier and earlier in life.² Intense filters on social have had a real impact on expectations of aging and have warped our ideas of what it looks like.

Social media also removes you from your life because it is like a drug, which we will get into below.

Even if you are on social for your business, it is still incredibly important to have healthy boundaries around use.

Download the guide for questions for an honest assessment of your social media usage.

Your Experiences On Social

For many of you, the pressure you feel around social media is a big concern.

You feel pressure to post and reply. You may be confused about when to step back from your devices and just be, wherever you are.

I know social norms have changed, but you do not have to participate in them just because they are ‘acceptable.’

It depresses the crap out of me to see an entire table of folks at a restaurant on their devices, and I have seen it happen, across all ages.

We cannot have quality relationships if we are all in our own virtual worlds. It is a bummer to be next to people we love, but not with them.

Maybe I am just old, or just a therapist, but here is the truth: it is hard enough to rock present-moment consciousness in life without the allure of tech and social media.

What the Science Says About Tech Use

When we use a device for an extended period, our comprehension and ability to focus become compromised. Our overall executive function may decline, too.

Some studies have even shown an overdependence on tech can result in higher levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impulsivity.³ I have seen all of this in my therapy practice.

What is actually going on in your brain when using tech?

When someone likes your post or if a post goes viral, we get a dopamine hit in the same part of the brain other addictions hit. We want to feel good, and when we get positive feedback on what we post, it makes us feel good.

As a result, our brains continue to seek out what will make us feel good, but it comes at a cost.

People with addictive personalities (hello!) need to be extra aware of this because they are already predisposed to this cycle.

Having the thing you are addicted to nearby all the time requires a certain amount of self-discipline.

Let’s talk about the boundaries you can set with tech and social.

How to Start Setting Tech Boundaries

Not all tech use is bad. It allows many of us to run businesses and offers workplace flexibility. But from a psychological point of view, we have to have healthy boundaries to reap the benefits of what the tech world offers without it damaging our lives.

My first idea for you is to turn off notifications. Having them turned on evokes a Pavlovian experience. If you’re not familiar with the story of Pavlov’s dogs, you can read about it here. Essentially, Pavlov paired the sound of a bell with their food, and the dogs became conditioned to salivate just from the bell being rung because they anticipated the food.

This is similar to what happens when you get a notification and cannot wait to check it. Do not underestimate the power of turning your notifications off or putting your phone on silent.

My second suggestion is to keep your phone out of reach when you are home. Make yourself physically get up to get it. This creates actual distance between you and the device.

(I am saying phone, but substitute it with whatever device you use most often, whether it is a tablet or a laptop.)

I also believe your phone should not be in your bedroom. Alarm clocks still exist.

From a psychological view, it is helpful to keep the bedroom as a sacred space to get better sleep. Charge your phone elsewhere.

Maybe you’re good with tech boundaries, but other people in your life are not. Create tech use agreements with people in your life. If you are with a group of people or in a family system where it is acceptable to use phones during dinner, you do not have to participate.

Here is some boundary language for when you find yourself with a friend who is constantly on their phone: “Hey, I am trying to detox a little from using tech. Would it be okay to put our phones away when we are together?”

If you are trying to talk to someone who is glued to their phone, you can also say (with kindness), “Hey, if that is important, I can wait.”

If they say they are listening to you, try saying, “I would really appreciate it if you would listen with your ears and your eyes. Can we please put our phones away when we are together? I really want all of me to be with all of you in this moment.”

It might feel weird to make this suggestion at first, but by doing so, you start a boundary revolution where you are valuing the real life connections you have. It also enriches your relationships and gives your brain a break.

Exercises to Try

For the next 48 hours, track how much time you spend on social media.

You do not have to make any changes to your use, but writing it down raises your awareness and makes it easier to change your behavior in the future.

Inside the guide, which you can download here, you will also find questions to help you figure out how you relate to time, tech, and social media to gain a deeper understanding of its impact on you.

In the guide, there are also ideas for how to shift from spending time online to spending more time in the real world. Try one of these activities each day for the next week and see how you feel.

I hope this episode was valuable for you. Let me know your thoughts over on Instagram (@terricole) or in the comments. How are your tech and social media boundaries? Have you ever found yourself addicted to your devices or scrolling? How did you stop?

I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.

¹https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-023-01143-0

²https://academic.oup.com/asj/article/41/3/NP101/5802785?login=false

³https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-60819-4

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