(CNN) — For nearly six hours on Monday, the world experienced a forced disruption of the tools of the social network Facebook.
We live to tell. But how do we feel about the process?
Although relatively brief, the Facebook outage highlighted “our dependence on social media to distract us, evade, connect, and cope with anxiety and stress,” according to Ian Kerner, a marriage and family therapist.
When people can’t scroll and post like they usually do, Kerner said they can get bored and vulnerable to difficult emotions and stressors, sometimes not knowing how to deal with them.
“People are alone with their own thoughts. And in a way they are a bit alien to themselves. Before social media, I think we were much more capable of being alone, of finding ways to get involved, and to remain curious. “adds Kerner.
A feeling of relief
The collective nature of the blackout made some of Kerner’s clients feel liberated, he said.
“People are afraid of missing something,” Kerner explained. Losing or breaking a phone, or having it break, can cause people to panic, he said, as it prevents them from knowing what is happening and being connected with others.
The blackout, by contrast, “provided a great sense of relief, because everyone was experiencing it. So people did not feel so lonely, not so isolated, not so scared,” Kerner told CNN.
Therapist John Duffy said he had similar conversations with his clients on Monday.
“Once people realized, ‘oh, these nets are mostly down,’ there was this strange, but very clear feeling of relief. The feeling was, ‘I have nothing to keep up with. I’m not missing out on nothing, “Duffy told CNN.
During the blackout, “people realized in real time the importance of face-to-face relationships, and the relative emptiness of a connection that happens only through Facebook or Instagram,” he added.
Customers who expressed relief during the outage took concrete steps to connect with others in real life, Duffy said. “One went out with a friend for coffee. Another went out for a walk with a friend,” he said.
Some have come out of the experience realizing that their fear of missing something was unwarranted, and that they can use the apps more sparingly.
“I think some of us realized yesterday that we are too involved in social media in our life,” Duffy said. People realized that “maybe I can check this once or twice a day instead of 20 or 30”.
Social media and the brain
Most of the people are guilty of spending too much time scrolling and posting on the networks.
Seven out of 10 adult Facebook users in the US say they visit the site at least once a day, and 49% say they visit it multiple times a day, according to data from the Pew Research Center 2021. 59% of people visit Instagram at least once a day, and 38% do so several times a day.
But if some of us were relieved when social media apps went quiet for a while, why is it hard to stop checking our feeds so often?
Dr. Anna Lembke, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and Medical Director of Addiction Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, searched the brain for answers.
In his book “Dopamine Nation,” he explored how the overabundance of easily accessible stimuli is affecting our brain chemistry and happiness.
“Smartphones are the modern hypodermic needle delivering 24-hour digital dopamine to a connected generation,” Lembke wrote.
Although “social media addiction” is not currently included in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” Lembke told CNN that he believes social media can be addictive, based on his clinical experience and knowledge. of how human connection and dopamine release are linked.
“We can show that human connections stimulate dopamine release, since that’s how they are reinforced, and anything that stimulates dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway has the potential to be addictive,” Lembke explained.
The Facebook blackout was a kind of “accidental mass experiment that hopefully revealed to people how addicted they have become,” Lembke said.
How to develop healthier digital habits
Therapist John Duffy claims that some of his clients spend four or more hours a day on social media, twice as much in some extreme cases.
“People who spend the longest time on social media are usually the loneliest, because they don’t feel connected. Even if they send messages to people, even if they comment on people’s posts, even if they post themselves, there is something missing in that connection It’s really digital, and it’s not directly interpersonal, “he told CNN.
For clients who could benefit from it, Duffy recommends a month-long “digital detox” to develop a more purposeful relationship with social media. “The people I work with now will simply voluntarily remove social media apps, news apps, and any other unnecessary apps from their phone for a month of detox.”
“I see that when people take a month off, they spend maybe a third of the time that they used to spend on social media as a result. I also see a rise in self-esteem that corresponds to that,” Duffy said.
Marriage and family therapist Ian Kerner often assigns his clients tasks that involve restraining the use of devices during the time they spend with their partners and family.
“The number one complaint I think I hear from couples is that he or she is always on their phone,” Kerner told CNN. Lembke hopes the blackout “will encourage people to intentionally plan to abstain from social media, and perhaps their phones, for a while.”
He recommends quitting social media altogether, either by selecting apps or putting the phone away entirely, for a month, long enough for the brain’s reward pathways to re-establish.
To be successful, according to Lembke, it helps to plan ahead.
“Maybe you could do it with a friend or a family member, it’s easier than doing it alone. You would have some kind of message or alert or automatic response that lets people know that you are offline during that period, so people know you don’t have than wondering where you are or what happened to you, “Lembke advised.
During the month off, you should plan activities that provide you with “an alternative source of dopamine,” such as spending time in nature.
“When people go back to using (social media), often just realizing how addicted they have become is motivation to use it in another way,” Lembke told CNN.
Some of those changes may include removing notifications, changing the screen to grayscale, or setting a time limit or specific days for reviewing apps, he advised.
Encourage meaningful connections online and in person
All the experts CNN spoke with emphasized that social media tools have many positive effects on society, as they allow people to stay connected with their loved ones in distant places and help them to function better emotionally. during a long, exhausting and isolating pandemic.
“It’s important to say that the way these technologies allow us to be social online is very powerful and can do a lot of good,” Lembke told CNN.
Also, not all online connections are negative, just as not all real-life connections are positive, Lembke said.
“There are cases where our online connections can be more intimate, more positive and more powerful in a good way than the connections in real life. If you go to a cocktail party and have nothing but superficial conversations, that is not going to do either. make people feel good, “Lembke explained.
As some struggle with social anxiety and life in person slowly resumes, we have an opportunity to rethink how we relate to others in the real world.
“As a society, we have to establish digital etiquette and technology-free spaces, where we intentionally leave our phones at home and make an effort to be present in the real-life moment with others,” Lembke said.