So if it isn’t obvious, I decided to take a week off from blogging over Thanksgiving break. Because it’s a holiday, darn it.
I did grade papers four out of my nine days off. Oops.
On the other hand, I learned a lot from the papers I read. That’s one thing I love about being a teacher: all that I learn from my students.
Perhaps it’s ironic, considering my week-long blogging sabbatical, that a number of my students wrote about or at least mentioned Social Media Anxiety in their research papers. I guess it actually is a diagnosable condition with an official name: SMA.
One student who wrote about this topic discovered in his research that the average teenager spends 9 hours a day on social media. 9 hours! That’s the average–the mean! And that’s not even 9 hours of screen time; 9 hours of social media specifically.
In some ways, this statistic doesn’t surprise me. When I teach, students are constantly on their phones. Even if they put their phones away during class–which many of them don’t–then they’re on their phones before class starts. If they finish a group activity early, a few of them chat with their groupmates, but most of them get out their phones.
The bus is another place I see it. I’d estimate about 80% or more of the people on the bus I take to work every day spend the duration of the commute on their phones.
For many of my friends, I know that checking Facebook, Instagram, or another social media platform is the first thing they do when they get up in the morning and the last thing they do before they fall asleep.
I think it’s a sign that I’m “old” that a lot of my friends use Facebook as their primary social media platform. My students tell me Facebook isn’t cool anymore. But I digress.
Another thing students discovered in their research is that social media is literally addictive. It literally changes your brain chemistry in a way that makes the addiction very, very difficult to control.
I spend a fair amount of time on social media. Sometimes too much time. But I can easily go two days without looking at Instagram. I can sit on the bus and watch the buildings go by and not feel that I’m missing out. I can open my Facebook page and ignore all the notifications.
I wonder if I have this more relaxed relationship with social media in part because I really didn’t get into it until I started college. I didn’t even have a smartphone until last year. I guess I’ve always been a few years behind the times.
That being said, I try not to judge or act superior. I’ve struggled with addictive behaviors too.
Almost all my life, I’ve struggled with trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling) and other BFRBs (body-focused repetitive behaviors) like nail biting. I don’t mention this much on the blog–and I’ve made a choice not to go into much detail about it here on the Hungry Caterpillar. Sorry. I just don’t feel that comfortable sharing.
I do feel comfortable saying that trich and my other BFRBs are truly addictions, if relatively harmless addictions. I’m astonished by the extent to which I feel they control me and how unsuccessful I’ve been trying to manage them.
Reading these students’ papers and reflecting on my own experience with social media, I can see how social media works in the same way. We can feel that it can control us.
And of course, since this blog is about eating disorder recovery, I’m going to circle back around and make note of just how dangerous Social Media Anxiety and addiction is for people at risk for eating disorders.
I knew that media and social media influence eating disorders, but this week I’ve been starting to wrap my brain about just how much influence they can have. Social media has become as big a part of many peoples’ lives as their education, or careers, or even their closest relationships. I mean, 9 hours a day?! No wonder so-called “health” Instagrammers who post every workout and every meal and publicly track every calorie and meal plan cause people to develop life-threatening anorexia, bulimia, BED, or EDNOS.
Of course, there are also wonderful non-diet, pro-recovery, and body-positive folks with wonderful social media accounts. Don’t hesitate to check out some of the awesome folks I’m following!
But I honestly think that, as powerfully as social media can help someone develop a normal relationship to food and exercise, the real hard work of recovery doesn’t happen on social media. On social media, surrounded by such a positive community that I’ve sought out for myself, I can feel so super-confident and 100% recovered. Which is great; don’t get me wrong.
Still, it’s when I go about my life in real time and real space, eat lots of pie over the holiday, go to the grocery store, or go on a walk, alone with my own thoughts: those are the moments when recovery gets tough. And honestly, I’ve needed those tough moments to get me where I am in recovery.
Forgive my digressive post. Just sharing some thoughts that have been on my mind recently. I don’t even have that many photos because my laptop is having issues!
If you’ve gotten through this far, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this.
Do you ever feel that your relationship to social media has become addictive?
What are some of the benefits and downsides, in your opinion, of using social media as a recovery tool?