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Mental Health Expert Explains how to Combat social media Overwhelm & How to Practice Mindful Living

The proliferation of social media in modern society has significantly altered how we interact, communicate, and perceive the world around us. While these platforms have undeniably fostered connections and provided unparalleled access to information, they have also raised concerns regarding their impact on mental health.


The interplay between social media use and mental health is complex, involving various psychological and physiological mechanisms, including the role of dopamine, the quest for constant dopamine release, and the pursuit of a more balanced lifestyle that supports mental well-being.


Mindful

Mental Health Expert Sarah Jeffries, from Mental Health First Aid Course, offers valuable insights into coping with social media and news overload. She shares some insightful tips for adopting a healthier lifestyle that supports mental well-being.


The role of dopamine in social media use 

Dopamine, the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, is central to the brain's reward system and is released during pleasurable activities. Social media platforms capitalise on this by using likes, comments, and shares to trigger dopamine releases, offering immediate gratification and making their use more compelling.


This can lead to addictive behaviours, with users constantly seeking the next dopamine hit, often at the expense of meaningful activities or connections. The unpredictable nature of social media rewards, like a slot machine, enhances its addictive potential.


Moreover, the endless pursuit of dopamine through social media can result in compulsive behaviours and negative mental health outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy, due to constant comparisons with the idealized lives portrayed online.


What happens to our brains when we consume too much social media? 

The modern digital era, with its constant flow of news and social media notifications, poses challenges to the brain's adaptability and resilience. This relentless digital connectivity can lead to information overload, stress, and diminished focus due to the difficulty in processing the huge amount of data.


Frequent digital interruptions fragment attention spans, making it harder to maintain concentration and encouraging shorter attention spans as the brain adapts to rapid focus shifts. Digital notifications, acting as mini rewards, can alter the brain's reward systems, making immediate digital interactions more appealing and diminishing the fulfilment from long-term achievements.


Exposure to often negative online content can also increase anxiety and depression. Recognising these effects is vital for creating strategies to reduce digital overexposure's negative impact and foster healthier technology interactions. 

What have we really lost?


Regaining lost habits in the digital age requires deliberate effort and strategy. Here are tips to rediscover some of the habits and qualities that we’ve lost as humans with the advent of the digital age.


1. Deep Thinking and Concentration 

Before the advent of digital technology to this extent, people often had more uninterrupted time, allowing for deeper concentration and engagement with tasks. This deep thinking is crucial for complex problem-solving and creativity but is harder to achieve with constant interruptions. 


  • Set Aside Unplugged Time: Schedule regular breaks where you disconnect from all digital devices. Use this time for reading, writing, or any other activity that requires deep focus. 

  • Create a Distraction-Free Environment: Identify a space where you can work or engage in activities without interruptions. This might involve using noise-cancelling headphones or having a designated "focus zone." 

  • Practice Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can improve your ability to concentrate and maintain focus over longer periods. 

2. Real-Life Social Connections 

While technology has made it easier to stay in touch with a wide network of acquaintances, it can sometimes come at the expense of deeper, real-life social connections. Face-to-face interactions involve nuanced communication cues such as body language and tone of voice, which are essential for building strong relationships. The reduction in real-life socializing can affect our ability to maintain strong emotional bonds and empathize with others. 


  • Prioritize Face-to-Face Interactions: Make a conscious effort to meet friends and family in person. Plan regular gatherings, meals, or coffee dates that allow for undistracted conversation. 

  • Join Community Groups or Clubs: Engage in activities or hobbies that bring people together in person, such as sports teams, book clubs, or volunteering. 

  • Limit Social Media Use: While social media keeps us connected to distant acquaintances, it can detract from deeper relationships. Set limits on your social media time to encourage more in-person interactions. 

3. Patience and Delayed Gratification 

The instant access to information and communication has led to reduced patience and a lower tolerance for delayed gratification. Before the era of smartphones and constant connectivity, waiting was a more common part of daily life, whether it was for a letter in the mail or the next episode of a television show. Learning to wait is crucial for developing self-control and long-term planning skills. 


  • Practice Mindful Waiting: Instead of reaching for your phone during downtime, take a moment to observe your surroundings or simply reflect. This can help rebuild your tolerance for waiting. 

  • Set Long-Term Goals: Working towards a goal with incremental steps can teach patience and the value of delayed gratification. Celebrate small achievements along the way to stay motivated. 

  • Limit Instant Gratifications: Try to reduce the frequency of instant responses to cravings or desires, whether it's for food, entertainment, or information. This could mean setting specific times when you check your email or social media. 

4. Engagement with Nature and the Physical World 

With screens taking up so much of our attention, there's less time spent outdoors or engaged in physical activities. This loss affects not just our physical health but also our mental well-being, as nature and physical engagement are known to have calming and restorative effects on the brain. 


  • Schedule Regular Outdoor Activities: Make it a habit to spend time outside every day, even if it's just a short walk in the park. Plan weekend hikes, bike rides, or camping trips to deepen your connection with nature. 

  • Take Up a Physical Hobby: Engaging in physical activities such as gardening, painting, or playing a musical instrument can provide a satisfying break from screen time. 

  • Digital Detox Retreats: Consider participating in a digital detox retreat or challenge that encourages spending time outdoors and engaging in physical activities without digital distractions. 

"In today's rapidly evolving digital world, finding balance is not just a luxury, it's a necessity for our mental health," states Sarah Jeffries, experienced mental health expert from Mental Health First Aid Reactive. "The constant influx of notifications and the pressure to be perpetually connected can overwhelm even the most resilient among us. However, by consciously choosing to engage in activities that ground us in the physical world and foster real human connections, we can reclaim our mental space and well-being. It's about creating a life where technology serves us, not the other way around. Remember, every small step towards mindful living is a victory in the quest for a more balanced, fulfilling life." 

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