I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my online presence lately.  From a business perspective, I get that I need to have an online presence. After all, how would I talk with you if not for social media?

Thing is, more and more, I’m finding social media is messing with my mental health.  It no coincidence that my depression and anxiety have gotten worse since I got a smart phone.

Slaves to Dopamine

Did you know there’s a direct correlation between constant connectivity and mood swings?  It’s called the dopamine cycle.  Every time we get a message or a text (or a comment on FB), our brains get a little dopamine hit.  Dopamine is the brain chemical associated with pleasure.  So getting a shot of dopamine is like getting a little high.

Problem is, the high wears off and when it does, our mood is actually lower than before.  Pretty soon we’re craving more and more dopamine hits to maintain our happy moods.  We need more comments, more texts, more Likes, and so we post more often or say more outrageous things to get hits. Because guess what? Outrageous opinions and strongly voiced comments get the most response.  Before we know it, we’re tying our validation and worth to those comments and likes as well.  Because what feels better than a whole shit-ton of acknowledgement?  And what feels worse than a whole bunch of posters saying that you suck?

Let’s face it; we’ve become slaves to Dopamine.

Our addiction is so bad that we’ve lost our ability to intensely focus for long periods of time without checking our phone.  Our attention is almost always fractured; whatever we are doing, we’ve got one eye out for a notification.

The dark evil of social media is no secret.  Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and Digital Minimalism has been warning of this for years. His Ted Talk on the subject has been watched over 5 million times.  Harvard University did a study about the dopamine chase and mood.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in people unplugging in the evening or over the weekend. It’s great, but is it enough? Newport makes the great analogy that unplugging for a few days is a little like giving up drugs for the weekend. Despite all good intentions, come Monday morning, we’ll be back chasing the rabbit.

Looking for an Answer?

So what’s a depression-challenged, codependent writer to do? I could quit. But, then how would I stay in contact with my friends and readers?  I like chatting with readers and my out -of-town friends; they’re good people.  Plus, my publisher really likes that online presence.

On the other hand, I’m really, really tired of battling depression and anxiety. I’ve got enough baggage to fuel them without social media so anything that could alleviate the symptoms would be awesome.

The answer, if I’m to believe Cal Newport, is Mindful Digitalism.  In other words, rather than let social connectivity control me, I need to control it. Easier said than done, of course.  I mean – we’re talking addiction here.  I’m not sure anything short of cold turkey will work.

Enter the Attention Diet

But then I read a great post by author Mark Manson called the Attention Diet.  Manson is a favorite writer of mine, and his post helped me shape what I hope will be my new social media strategy.

First though, let me preface this by saying these are my opinions. Different people swear by different platforms.  Go with what works for you.

Twitter and Instagram

First of all, I’m saying goodbye to Instagram and Twitter.  It’s no secret I loathe Twitter.  I thought it to be a cesspool of negativity before the current political cycle turned it into the Toxic Dump of the Internet.

Now I know, some people swear by the platform as a way of staying current with industry news and consider it a fantastic tool for speaking out about social issues.  But there’s a downside to Twitter as well.  Outrage and anger rule the day.  Calling someone a racist or snowflake will get more attention than a nuanced discussion.  And do not get me started on media click bait headlines or certain politicians.  If there are important issues on which I need to be educated – like illegal immigration debate or discrimination in publishing, I’d rather read a long form article.

(Side note: Mark Manson turned me on to http://www.Longform.orgfor detailed articles.  The articles educational and a far better use of my time.)

Plus, there’s no empirical evidence that Twitter sells books.  Why put myself through the stress if there’s no return on investment?

As far as Instagram …. It’s a lovely app but I don’t see where it’s an effective tool for selling books. Maybe if I were a more visually-gifted poster, my opinion would be different, but since most of my posts are limited to pictures of my cats or grand-puppy, I’m going to give it a pass.

Facebook

My personal Facebook page is going on hold as well.  I’ve discovered that my timeline is 75% filled with posts by people I don’t know all that well.  I’ll check in once in a while so I can keep up with close friends, but I’ll be focusing mostly on https://www.facebook.com/BarbaraWallaceAuthor/

Messenger

Lastly, we come to Facebook Messenger.  This is a hard one. I have a love/hate relationship with this app.  I love it because it allows me to stay I touch with my Romance Writing Sister-wives even though we’re flung all over North America. A woman needs her squad.

On the other hand, I hate Facebook Messenger because it exacerbates my codependency and that exacerbates my depression.  (Emotional baggage is fun, isn’t it?)  It also totally kills my productivity because when people are online, we end up chatting the time away.

It’s clear I’m going to have to put some limits on my usage.  I started this week by muting the conversations.  This way I don’t get the little dings of notifications that make me reach for my phone.  I also deleted the quick link from my computer bookmarks so I when I’m working on my computer, I can’t toggle over at the click of a mouse.  I have to go to Facebook first – and guess what! I’ve got a web-blocker program that allows me to block access for hours at a time!

I also put time limits on my phone.  Once I’ve used up my allotted time, the app goes into hibernation.  I can still use it, but I have to override the hibernation, and even then, I can only do so for 15 minutes.  By placing limits, I’m forced to be more intentional about my usage. I can’t mindlessly click on the app when I’m bored.  (Well, I can, but I’m far more aware of what I’m doing.)

Finally, I’m simply going to have to move my phone out of eyesight when I’m working – out of sight, out of mind – and hope that my Fomo doesn’t drive me to break concentration.

Is this the solution?

Will all of these things work?  I don’t know. Part of me says that I’ll be back here in six months complaining about social media addition again.  But I have to try something.  Mark Manson suggests we try this for at least 30 days to see how we feel.  (He also suggests blocking time suck websites and news pages at the same time since they too thrive on outrage.) Is anyone interested in trying this with me?  We can be accountability partners. Diets always work better with a friend.

Hey! You know what’s a great way to get off your phone? Reading a book.  One Night in Provence is out July 1.  You can download an electronic sample of all four Destination Brides titles by visiting Bookhip.com/RACJNG

 

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