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October 22, 2020 10 mins

We know that social media can affect mood—and overuse can actually change the way our brains function. Dr. Jacqueline Sperling, a clinical psychologist, reveals why social media has such a pull on us, and how to get it under control without giving it up altogether.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to this episode of Here's Something Good, a production
of the Seneca Women Podcast Network and I Heart Radio.
Each day we aspire to bring you the good news,
the silver lining, the glass half full, because there is
good happening in the world everywhere every day, we just
need to look for and share it. Here's something Good

for Today. It's hard to remember a time before social
media became part of our everyday lives, and with the
pandemic hitting pause on other activities, many are relying on Instagram,
What's App and Facebook more than ever. Now you've probably
heard that too much time on social media can be
bad for your mental health. The good news is you

don't have to give up the habit, you just need
to curtail it. Today we're gonna hear from an expert
who tells exactly what to do to stay social without
the downsides. But first, here's some eye opening numbers. Three
point one Billy and people use social media worldwide. The
average person spends two hours a day on social media,
which adds up to five years and four months during

a lifetime. So how do we get our time back
and control our social media rather than letting it control us.
Today we're getting great advice from Dr Jacqueline Sprawling. She's
a clinical psychologist and an instructor in psychology at Harvard
Medical School. Here's what Dr Sprowling had to say, Thanks
so much for joining us. Thank you so much for

having me. It's a pleasure to be a part of this. Now.
We know that social media is a huge part of
our lives, but how has that changed during COVID People
have become understandably much more dependent on virtual connections now
during the pandemic um with rapid evolving changes in the
pandemic and restrictions and what's open and what's not, that

may lead to an increasing likely that people would check
the news check for updates. And in fact, the New
York Times to research map April comparing changes from before
the pandemic to during the pandemic and found that social
media use went up. For example, accessing Facebook on a
website browser went up by scent. Traffic increase in Washington

Post in New York Times alone by fifty percent. People
are seeking updates and CSNBC the traffic there increase almost
its skyrocketed almost about so people are seeking updates as
things were changing so quickly, whether or not you know,
you could get a haircut, go to a doctor appointment,
go to a certain restaurant where schools open with closed.

Things were changing so quickly and varying by region that
people were seeking updates regularly. What does science tell us
about how social media affects the brain? So when people
are using social media that sometimes it can activate the
reward center of the brain. So for example, when you
receive likes to a post um look in a post

that has a large number of likes, that can release
dopamine in the reward center of the brain. That can
be very reinforcing and make more likely to use for
you to use it. And at the same time that
can create a risk for there to be over use
and over reliance on social media use. And when we
see that happening, we see that their alterations in the brain,
some of them that are similar to how the brain

is affective um with other addictions and their addictions for
substance use and gave me addictions. So what we find
is that there's even a reduction in a part of
the brain called the amygdalone makes it more difficult for
the brain to inhibit impulses. I guess it's not surprising
to hear that social media can be addictive, but are
there some activities that are more habit forming than others. Interestingly,

a study was done in Germany recently and they found
that WhatsApp and Instagram were found to be the most addictive,
not different from each other, next in line with Snapchat
and then Facebook after that. UM, and it seems to
be the ones where you you know, you're sharing hosts
and images and connect with other people and comment that
seems to be very addictive in terms of for psychologically,

the negative effects that we found that meta analysis is
it it's associated with low self esteem, depression, anxiety, and
overall psychological distress. UM. A study outside of University Penn
found that they separated the class and two and they
had half the class, you know, continue to use social
media as you ordinarily would the same amount of time,

and they had the other class reduced their use to
ten minutes per day and found that the group that
reduced to tenminants per day endorsed reductions in depression and loneliness.
And that was particularly for true, particularly true for those
who were experiencing higher levels of depression at the start
of things. So even though it seems like at the outset, oh,
this can be a great way for people to connect

with each other, and are actually finding that reducing the
use of social media network using it that actually can
improve one's mood and experience loneliness. And one aspect of
that could be because also the opportunity for negative social comparisons.
So and so got more likes than I did on
my post. Or look at what information that people choose

to share, their traveling to certain places, or how happy
they look. No one's posting you know something usually off
are miserable for them, usually posting things great things that
happened to them, and other people would think, Wow, their
life is so much better than mine. Also things for socially,
it is right in your face when you are excluded
from things. So someone is posting pictures from certain events

and you weren't invited, you even see evidence of that,
Whereas unless someone explicitly told you about this event that
you weren't inviting, you had no way of knowing. And
so when people are accessing these sites, they're seeing evidence
over and over again of this that often can outweigh
the benefits. So there are serious downsides, But are there
any positive effects of social media there definitely can be

you know, now some of these organizations are creating opportunities
for people to spread awareness of meaningful charitable organizations. Um
even you know, local businesses are able to advertise in
ways that maybe less costly for them, to be able
to get the time chin and to be more supported
in the community. It can also you can also rally

support for meaningful events that are happening as well. So,
given the positives and the negatives, what would you consider
to be a reasonable social media diet. It's a really
good question, and I think it's really going to depend
on the user. And what I often suggest is conductive
behavioral experiment. Seeing is believing were Now what does that

look like? Rate your mood before you access social media,
Rate your mood afterwards. See how it's affecting it. Notice
how many minutes, for how many hours you're using it
per day, and see if you reduce it by a
certain amount, does it affect your mood in one direction
or another until you find sort of a sweet spot

that feels manageable where you feel like it's not making
my mood worse. I mean, doesn't it doesn't make it better.
It's something. If you do find it it's a trouble pastime,
but it's not necessarily making it worse. Here's the amount
that I can use it that feels manageable. All. Can
you suggest some tips for us for how to stay
on that social media diet? Oh sure, you know some
people find that it can be helpful where you have

you know, a friend holds you accountable, like at this time,
so I mean message make sure we stop at this time.
You can also schedule meaningful experiences when you're supposed to
stop social media use. So, for example, if you say
I'm going to stop at seven pm, how are you
going to hold yourself to that. Maybe perhaps you schedule
a phone date with a friend out of state, and
that you know that's going to happen at seven pm,

so you have to get off in order to have
that phone date, if you know. If you find that
it's hard to adhere to when just hearing a time
or go off. With the election right around the corner,
how do we manage our social media to avoid this
impending election anxiety? That's a great question. My suggestion would
be along the same lines of in general social media used,

particularly because the topics that are covering election can be
quite emotionally salient, and so maybe finding a certain amount
or type of news source that allows you to be
informed just enough not to a point where it feels
like it is really negatively affecting your mood. Some people
find that they like to read summaries of the news,

like for each day, and I'm going to read like one,
you know, the top five articles for the day in
the morning, and that's going to be my news outlet
for the day. Uh. Some people find that they prefer
sort like the quick news updates on the radio. Finding
some does that feels manageable for you to help keep
you informed, but doesn't make it feel like it's negatively

impacting your day to day. Thanks so much for joining us,
Dr Sprawling, thank you so much for having me. I
really appreciate you highlighting such an important topic. Dr Sprawling's
advice is so helpful. She really puts things in perspective.
So here's something good for today. Getting control of our
social media starts with awareness. Doctor Sprawling says that just

paying attention to our mood before and after we use
social media can help us make better decisions around when
and how much we use it. And it's great to
know that we don't have to completely delete all of
our apps. We can set schedules, for example, no social
media after seven pm, or we can plan the amount
of time will be on it each day. And if
you find your social media is contributing to your election anxiety,

set limits. Now you can stay up to date without
being overwhelmed. As doctor Sprawling suggests, you can find a
new news source, perhaps a headline service, that gives you
just enough information but not so much that it's having
a negative impact on your day. Thank you for listening,

and please share Today's Something Good with others in your life.
This is Kim Azzarelli, co author of Fast Forward and
co founder of Seneca Women. To learn more about Seneca Women,
go to Seneca Women dot com or download the Seneca
Women app free in the app Store. Here's Something Good
is a production of the Seneca Women podcast network and
I Heart Radio Have a Great Day. For more podcasts

from my heart Radio, check out the i Heart Radio app,
Apple podcast, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.
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