Maggie is a comically sarcastic and sometimes self-aware 29-year-old Ph.D. student struggling with a divorce from her long-term partner, who left with their cat and financial stability, and is ghosting her. Her friends and family are supportive sounding boards who suggest creative coping skills like free introductory exercise classes all over town and online dating.
Maggie half-heartedly tries many coping skills, perhaps more to fill her time than with hopes that anything will make her feel better. But also, and more vividly, she falls into a deep well of depression, self-doubt, and cynicism as she tries to envision her new life path and wonders if she will ever recover from the (perceived) personal failure of divorce.
Unfortunately, the tornado of feelings from the divorce and some questionable decisions and behaviors leave Maggie isolated from her friends. Like many, when she feels lonely and needs human interaction, Maggie turns to social media. At first, she posts things like “Men.” And feels somewhat gratified when strangers respond with equally vague comments like “I know.” It’s not super fulfilling, but she feels seen-ish– which she lacked once she stopped interacting with people in real life. Over time, the posts become increasingly personal, mean, and frequent. Maggie becomes obsessed with checking her phone, hoping that social media interactions will help her feel the slight sense of relief they once semi-provided. But social media is only making things worse.
I feel mean writing this, but I’m not surprised that social media becomes a problem rather than the much hoped-for solution.
Let’s talk about social media. Social media use SOMETIMES / INFREQUENTLY activates a release of dopamine, which is a feel-good chemical that acts as intermittent reinforcement – the most tantalizing and habit-forming type of reinforcement.
Maybe that was a little academic, so here’s an example. Let’s say Maggie posts 100 times. Most of those posts get little or no attention (which makes her feel bad). But, every once in a while, her posts get some or lots of attention, which makes her feel good. Maggie wants to feel good, so she keeps posting despite the experience being mostly very negative and only sometimes positive.
TLDR? Social media platforms are designed to be addictive and are linked to comparison, depression, and fear of missing out.
This is a huge topic, and I promise we’ll return to it repeatedly. But, for today, let’s we’re going to focus on reduction of harm, which we can accomplish by minimizing use. (I’m admitting defeat and acknowledging that a utopian society where everyone deletes social media is not happening).
Here are a few ideas:
Find out how much time you are spending each day on social media. Then take deep breaths because it might be a lot…
Tell friends that you are taking a step back and your reasoning. This helps manage their response to your lack of posting and might even convince others to step back from social media with you.
Plan what you want to do with your extra time and ensure it doesn’t involve screens, so you aren’t tempted. Ideas – read a (print) book, walk, listen to music, hang out with friends, family, or pets IRL…
If Maggie had taken a step back from social media, she may have used that time and energy to repair friendships with her friends before they were so profoundly broken. Also, she may have saved herself much despair and embarrassment related to the content of the posts. At the very least, she would have spared herself from a daily dose of “compare and despair”– something we would all benefit from skipping.