The Blessings Of The Social Blackout For Our Brain
Where were you when the lights went out? Facebook, Instagram AND Whatsapp were all down yesterday. For hours and hours on end. Was The Social Media Blackout Peaceful For You? Of felt it like horrendous detox? I thought it was incredibly fascinating to witness the crowds of people who fed their addiction by turning (back?) to Twitter. To share their grief and frustration. And funny memes. When I went offline for a month in 2016, this provided me with a massive sense of peace and focus. So when the blackout happened yesterday, I actually felt some relief. You?
Don’t get me wrong, social media are essential for my business in terms of connecting with awesome people and for getting my thoughts out. But when we can’t express ourselves in the socials, we’re being invited to double check our own messages and thought processes. That’s a beautiful thing. We may be connected in ongoing online conversations, but sometimes we tend to overlook our own internal mental tapes. It’s wise to review those and check our perspective on things we usually chat about online. That space and time due to the blackout provides us with the opportunity to gain more reflective insight. For some, this moment of online silence means an increased feeling of peace. For others, it’s torturous. It depends on how you’re wired emotionally and mentally, I guess.
Facing the addiction
The effect the continous exposure to social media impulses causes, plus the dopamine rush the checking of likes and comment, is intense. This actually triggers the core of our sense of connection and belonging. This roots in our basic social survival system. Specifically, as Billi Gordon, Ph.D, states in his article ‘Social Media Is Harmful to Your Brain and Relationships - Twitter and Facebook: Where cigarettes went to not die’:
“The physiological cues that the VTA uses to determine social status from negative social media experiences are the same as those occurring in our ancestor's brains when the tribe banished them.”
Also, the constant surges of stress hormones causes us to get stuck in fight, flight, freeze or fawn mode for far too long. This is detrimental for our ablity to make wise decisions.
I think this insight invites us to take charge and lead ourselves from within. Does your sense of self and worthiness depend on anyone else’s validation of you or your accomplishments in social media? I hope not. If you’re having second thoughts about your own answer to this question, it may be a good idea to take a bit more offline quality time for yourself, and to focus on your instrinsic motivations and your in real life friendships. Don’t do it because I say so. Do it because it regulates your brain and nervous system.
In times of stress impulses, your hypothalamus (located at the brain stem), sets off an alarm system in your body. This system prompts your adrenal glands (near your kidneys) to release a surge of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. You know the feeling. The feeling courses through our body fast, it’s an uncomfortable feeling and it’s unavoidable. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear. Fortunately, this surge regulates itself after - give or take - ninety seconds.
Things tend to go haywire when we’re continuously exposed to stress. And that’s where things become detrimental to our health. This can disrupt many of your body's processes. We become unintentionally addicted to the rush, even if it feels uncomfortable. This phenomenon is also known as ‘trauma bond’, and is associated with a whole different kind of problematic social interactions. But I digress. Refocus, Jo. ;-)
The effects include but are not limited to ailments such as: anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, sleep disruption, weight issues, memory and concentration impairment. In short: no bueno.
Solution: anything that is associated with mindfulness. Focus. Especially when it feels uncomfortable to do these things. When you’re feeling the urge to tap on that social media icon on your phone.
When we take charge over our mind, focus and body (it’s all the same thing, really), things start to change. We get less agitated when someone gives us a like or a thumbs down for our thoughs expressed in social media. We feel more in charge of our emotions.
We’re not slaves to the surge.
The healthy brain climate that we get from refocusing and taking back our power over our brain, helps us take more wise decisions. Helps us in noticing our thoughts and emotions, but not have knee jerk reactions (that we usually regret after a minute or two).
This gives us the opportunity to prioritize more savvily. It’s easier and more natural to choose the right projects and tasks to work on, for example. Not just putting out fires, but working on the big strategic goals. Getting a bigger feeling of fulfillment at the end of the day.
It’s so worth it.
So, how did you feel when the socials went down? I’m not judging. I’m just curious.
Perhaps you found other ways to get your message across (yay for your creativity!), for instance via a podcast, or on Vimeo, or via good old email.
Perhaps you chose to leave your phone at home and go for a walk.
Perhaps you decided to take pictures outside, in your mind’s eye, instead of your camera roll.
Perhaps you binged a series on Netflix.
Perhaps you stressed out like a mofo and wanted that offline hell to be over.
Whatever you did, it’s okay. It’s all okay.
Preparing for hardship, or for dealing when things go differently than expected, is a useful skill. In most cases, this skill can be developed and trained. Every time a similar situation occurs, you’ll be able to deal with it more effectively, and with less effort. This is the case for dealing with moments without online connection, and with more pressing matters.
You get to choose which scenario works for you, for the next time such a blackout occurs.
Because there will undoubtedly be a next time.