I am gonna use an analogy here and the analogy is between cigarettes and social media. I know it sounds like it’s gonna be weird but I think that it’s gonna make sense. Bear with me as I fumble through this one and start with, you guessed it, a quick backstory:
I used to ask my patients,
“are you interested in quitting smoking?”
They almost always responded with a resounding: “Of course I’m interested!”
So then I would jump right in to how we can help make that happen and almost always I saw a look of panic crossing their faces followed by a, “Oh, I’m not ready to quit,” type response. And for the longest time I was confused.
What’s the difference?
Who’s interested but not ready? Aren’t the two synonyms?
How many of us are interested in things but not ready to take the leap? Dare I say all of us? Okay, I won’t use an absolute like “all of us” but I will say (probably) many of us are. Aren’t we interested in advancing our careers or taking a leap into that relationship we’ve been hoping for or pursuing our passions and living out our dreams?
I think so.
But are we ready to take the steps and make the sacrifices to do it?
Ummmm… I think that is a different beast altogether.
So now, when I talk to patients, I ask a different question: “Are you ready to quit smoking?” To be honest, I get so many “no’s” and “not yet” that when someone says “yes” I am almost always taken aback and need a minute to gather my thoughts so that I can make a coherent follow up sentence that would be helpful in their smoking cessation journey.
Now. Here’s where the analogy comes in. I have kind of an unconventional belief that social media is the same as a nicotine (or really any) addiction with one minor but major difference. Nicotine dependence slash addiction are recognized as medical conditions. They are actual diagnoses.
I did a quick Google search to see if social media addiction is a recognized medical condition and surprise, surprise Google says it’s not.
I know it’s not popular to say that social media is an addiction and that we are almost all addicted, but when I look at what an addiction is I can’t help but notice way too many similarities between my nicotine dependent friends and my social media ones. I could launch into a,
“Webster defines addiction as…”
speech here but to be honest, that kind of lingo bores me. So instead I’m gonna launch into what I believe to be facts about addiction so disclaimer time:
These might be opinions and I am not really in a time space to be able to do actual research on the matter so I’m going off of my own knowledge base and experience here.
- We turn to something to help make ourselves feel happier.
- We turn to something to help ourselves alleviate stress.
- We find ourselves turning to it absentmindedly and being under it’s influence without even realizing it.
- We feel lost without it.
- We feel a high when we are under it’s influence and we chase that high like mother fucking champs.
- We explain why we are in control over the thing we turn to and how it doesn’t actually have any power over us.
- We rationalize away the ways in which we know it to be destructive.
- We tell ourselves that we could stop if we really wanted to but we don’t really want to.
- We know the consequences of the thing and how it negatively impacts us but the high is too high for us to let go of.
Even though I’m ending that last sentence slash point in a preposition, my point is that I think we are with social media where we were with smoking in the forties (1940’s that is): It is cool and everyone’s doing it. But 35 years from now, when everyone is riddled with dopamine burnouts, suicidal ideations, and debilitating anxiety disorders, maybe we will realize that we need to quit that which kills us.
That kind of sounds harsh and dramatic but here’s where I’m full circling back to my smoking analogy. I talk to so many people who are interested in getting off social media. But they’re not actually ready to get off social media. When I tell people I’m not on social media (because a lot of people want me to find out a lot of pertinent societal information via social media) and I have to go into the spiel of like “Oh well I’m not on social media” and then they’re all like “Wait, you are not on social media? That’s so good I wish I could do that but I’m not really on it that much” or “I know it really makes me feel shitty slash it’s the downfall of society but I like to see people’s pictures and keep up with my friends.”
Man do I get that.
I rationalized the faux benefits of social media for 15 fucking years. And let me tell you what’s happening inside me right now. I’m coming up on six months of social media sobriety. One might think that makes it easier to be off of all the apps.
I have gotten enough distance where I’m now thinking that I can manage it again. I can just get on and scroll as long as I set up boundaries and follow them. I am wondering what the hell I’m missing and am sure that I’m missing something. The FOMO is running rampant. Especially as my kids are becoming more involved with peers. I need to Facebook stalk.
Like I am withdrawing from a toxic substance and it is beckoning me to return to it.
I am almost actively fighting the urge to not log back in my Instagram and Facebook. It’s just a quick username and password to reactivate and then I can feel a sigh of relief as I scroll and stalk and do all the social media things that make the world go round. I keep thinking that there are some perks to social media and that it didn’t really make me feel as bad as I thought it did and that I can control it from here on out because I just needed a break.
Man, addiction fucks with your head.
Here’s what I know to be true. I wasn’t reading books when I was on social media because I didn’t have time because I spent more time that I realized scrolling. In fact, I thought I hated reading books but turns out they can be pretty exhilarating and seeing words on a page in your mind and then thinking and reflecting on those words and ideas is actually pretty incredible.
I wasn’t journaling and my head was so full of clutter that I couldn’t think straight. I wasn’t writing regularly and my heart ached to do so. I wasn’t working my way through the Bible and working on developing a relationship with God for the first time ever and realizing that is where actual fulfillment and enlightenment lies.
And here’s the kicker: I wasn’t keeping up with friends. At least not in a productive way. I think I was judging them. And feeling envious of them. And ready to move on from them because their posts would be so infuriating to me. I think social media cost me more friends than it kept. I think I forgot how to listen and I forgot how to be compassionate. And I didn’t even know it was happening because I was consumed by self righteous thoughts that were being reinforced by all the pages I followed that had similar beliefs.
Bottom line: I was more distracted and more anxious and more judgmental when I was on social media.
And then there’s the whole setting boundaries with it. Been there done that. I’ve tried the “I’ll only go on for an hour in the morning and then stay off the rest of the day” type thing only to find that my fingers would find their way to my app and I’d open it and scroll real quick just to see if anything had been updated since I last checked because obviously all life altering events are happening on social media and then my brain would be clogged and sleepy and I was crabby and I felt shitty for crossing my own self- made boundaries.
I mean what kind of human can’t even maintain a boundary that they’ve set?
And that’s what makes me feel (even more) like social media is an addiction. When you can’t dabble in it. When you can’t maintain boundaries. When you think you have control but are really being controlled by it. That is something that is happening because brain chemicals are being altered or because minds are being held hostage by an alternate reality.
I think that we really try to escape from our problems and social media is that outlet. But really, I think we need to escape from social media. Or at least be conscientious of how it is impacting us. I think we need to move from denial into awareness.
Back to my cigarette analogy… smokers know what can happen if they keep smoking. It’s not a mystery. Increased risks of cancer and lung disease and heart disease… they know. Not one of my patients has ever been surprised to hear me tell them the consequences of persistent smoking.
They choose smoking anyway.
And I just think that we need to acknowledge how social media is impacting our mental health and our real life relationships and our mood and our ability to enjoy a life outside of screens. How it is stealing our time and eliminating our joy. How it is wasting our present moments and leaving us feeling lonely and alone.
And then we can decide, purposefully, if we are going to choose it anyway.