As a content marketing manager, I get bombarded with social media notifications all day long. And it’s not just my own accounts – it’s client accounts, too.
Comments. Likes. Shares. Messages.
They’re all important. They all need to be acknowledged.
So, you might be surprised to hear that I’m turning off notifications on my phone.
Why? Because they’re distracting. Responding to every message or comment the moment it pops up takes away from my other work. And, frankly, the constant onslaught is just straight-up stressful.
Our brains WERE NOT meant to function this way.
Your Brain on Social Media
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Check your phone.
What’s the last thing you do before bed at night? Check your phone.
What do you do when you’re bored? Check your phone.
What do you do when you’re on your lunch break? Check your phone.
What do you do when you’re out with your friends (and should be socializing)? Check your phone.
Face it: You’re ADDICTED.
And this isn’t some made-up hooey to get you to give up your phone. Science says it’s real.
Constant access to social media is taking a toll on your brain.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its good points – but anything in excess is bad for your health. Bacon, ice cream, margaritas. Even sunshine. Life is all about moderation.
Here are five ways social media is screwing up your mental health:
1. Obsessive Pleasure-Seeking Behavior
Studies have shown that receiving mobile notifications triggers the release of dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with reward-seeking behaviors. It’s the same feeling you get when you see your favorite band in concert or when your crush asks you out on a date.
The instant rush of feel-good hormones leaves you wanting more . . . and more and more and MORE.
The end result? You’re constantly checking your phone for something new, even when you haven’t received a notification. Your real-life relationships, your home life, and your work all suffer. And even when you do receive a “like” or a comment on your latest post, you’re not satisfied – because it’s never enough.
2. Addiction to Instant Gratification
Open Facebook Messenger, send a quick note to a friend, and they’ll respond IMMEDIATELY. Post a photo of yourself on vacation, and dozens of people will like it within minutes. It doesn’t matter what you share to social media: Someone will like it, share it, or comment on it right off the bat.
The problem is, you begin to expect that in other areas of your life. When you don’t get an instant response to something, you get angry or frustrated. And it’s even worse when you don’t get a response at all: Send a text message and don't get an answer? That could lead to a funk that lasts for days.
3. Information Fatigue
Can you remember what you saw last time you opened Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat? Probably not. There is just way too much stuff for you to recall any one bit of information. On Facebook alone, there are over 350 million photos uploaded every single day. And that’s just the pictures!
Psychologist David Lewis warns that this constant exposure to excessive information can lead to shortened attention span, lack of concentration, irritability, anger, lethargy, listlessness, ennui, sleeplessness, and more. In addition, it can cause “analysis paralysis” – or the inability to make decisions, because you never feel like you have enough information.
4. Shorter Attention Spans
In an interview with The Telegraph, Dr. Joseph Firth, Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University said, "The limitless stream of prompts and notifications from the internet encourages us towards constantly holding a divided attention -- which then in turn may decrease our capacity for maintaining concentration on a single task.” He went on to note that people who spend their time constantly flipping between short activities online (videos, photos, memes, etc.) “require greater cognitive effort to maintain concentration.”
The endless stream of digital content is actually changing the brain, with those affected showing less grey matter in the cerebral areas associated with maintaining focus!
5. Difficulty Completing Tasks
I have to wonder – did people have such a hard time remaining productive before the internet was a thing? These days, online applications make it easy to feel like you’re getting stuff done even though you’re actually not doing anything at all.
Send an email here. Respond to a Facebook comment there. Each little mini-task allows you to check something off of your to-do list. But you’re not getting anything of value completed.
Our brains are only designed to focus on one thing at a time and constantly switching it up means you can’t pay attention to the things that matter.
Limit the Damage
You can’t ignore social media and email completely. But you can limit the damage to your mental health. Here are a few quick tips:
Turn off notifications and only check social media/email at a few designated times each day
Customize notifications so you know exactly what is coming through and if you need to check it (for example, you can set one tone for text messages and a different one for emails)
Change the home screen on your mobile device so unimportant (but distracting!) apps appear on the second page
Delete apps you don’t use or that take up too much of your time
Let your friends/family/clients know of your new policy, so they don’t expect instant replies
A lot of people are afraid to limit their time on social media. They think they’ll miss out on too much. They won’t know what’s happening with their friends. Or – worse – their friends won’t know what’s happening with them.
I’m here to tell you, that’s not true. Even if you only check Facebook or Instagram once a day, that’s plenty. And with all of that free time, you can go out and actually talk to your friends . . . in person.