Being a yogi and living a mindful life does not make me unsusceptible to social media addiction. I noticed I was spending much longer than I’d like on social media platforms. Mindlessly scrolling … with no benefits like growth, fulfilment or connection. And I realised I wanted to distance myself from it. I removed Facebook, Instagram and email from my phone. This definitely helped but I still found social media too invasive.
I also came to the conclusion that, for better or worse, social media is an ingrained and necessary part of life – especially as an online yoga teacher! So it made sense that it too should become part of my spiritual practice and growth.
Mindfulness and social media
Spiritual teachings tell us to not suppress our thoughts and feelings. But instead, to be mindful and acknowledge what is arising within us with an attitude of friendliness. This way, we can use our thoughts, sensations and emotions to notice and explore how we are stuck in old beliefs. We can learn to recognise survival mechanisms that are no longer needed and/or useful.
Practicing this allows us to find more freedom from the distractions that keep us from being present, without judgment. We can learn to be with life with a relaxed openness and genuine warmth towards ourselves, others and the world in general. In other words – with life as it is right now. Being present this way is both fulfilling and helps us to grow.
Spending time on social media mindfully, with a willingness to genuinely become aware of how it distracts us from being present, can be a spiritual practice in itself. It shares the same mechanisms as the practice described above.
Observe your emotions
The next time you’re on Facebook, for example, see if you can take a step back and observe your reactions with friendliness. Notice the craving for attention or approval. Notice when you get angry about someone’s opinion, or how you feel when someone overreacts to something you’ve posted. Become aware if you’re simply scrolling to fill a ‘hole’ – i.e. seeking stimulation.
What does that tell you about yourself, the “persona” you try to maintain? Or about the things you do not want people to see?
We suffer because we get caught up in, and falsely believe, that our ever- changing sensations, emotions and beliefs and needs are true. That they are actual representations of reality. In fact, they are no more an accurate depiction of reality than our Facebook profiles are an accurate representation of our lives.
The three main cravings
Mindfulness helps us to recognize when something that we do is unhelpful or even harmful. It helps us explore the possibility to move away from it – perhaps even replacing it with a more helpful activity.
There seem to be three common forms of unskillful habits we fall into while on social media.
- the craving of stimulation
- the craving of attention
- becoming angry
Let’s look at them one by one and consider what we could try instead:
1. Craving stimulation
Craving stimulation could, for example, feel like a longing that something is missing; a feeling of restlessness. If you notice this, you can practice the art of mindful pausing instead. Stop for a moment and notice the physical and mental sensations in your body. Look around you, see the colours in the room, feel the texture of the table. Become aware of the sensory reality of your surroundings.
Notice that the mindful pause provides you with access to the richness of the moment, which is much more satisfying. It helps you to switch from mindless stimulation to mindful appreciation of the reality of the moment. You can say to yourself “This moment is enough” .
Realise that online stimulation never really satisfies you, or you would have been pretty happy by now :-).
2. Craving attention
When you notice you’re craving attention, or you notice a desire for recognition and approval (which could express itself in you obsessively checking likes, comments, etc) this might mean that you aren’t feeling good about yourself right at that moment. That there is an underlying sense that you don’t matter enough as you are; thus seeking reassurance and appreciation.
When you notice this need in yourself, see what happens if you give yourself some love and appreciation through offering yourself self-compassion. You can do this by placing a hand on your heart while inwardly saying some kind words to yourself, like “it’s ok, I’m here for you”, “You matter”. What seems to work really well for me are the words “I see you and I love you”.
3. Becoming angry
When you notice you become angry, notice your reaction. Do you react only inwardly, or do you want to write back and respond?
The trick is to recognise when you are angry or outraged, that YOU are the one that is suffering, not the person to whom the anger is directed. From a Buddhist perspective this may point to not having enough kindness and empathy towards others in your heart right at that moment.
See what happens if you place a hand on your heart and say inwardly directed to the person you are angry with “May you be well, happy and at peace”. And know and realise the person you are angry with is a feeling human being, just like you. And they too feel pain, and insecurity and just want to be loved.
Bringing it together
So to bring it all together, when you crave stimulation, focus on the here and now and learn to trust the present moment. Know that this moment right here can be deeply fulfilling, if you simply accept it.
When you crave attention, work on trusting you are enough, that you matter, that you can support yourself.
When you get angry, find your capacity to connect empathetically with yourself and others. By realising your shared humanity, you remind yourself that deep down we are all the same, just wanting to be loved, safe and happy. And that we all suffer at times.
The importance of friendliness
Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of being friendly and kind towards ourselves when we notice we are getting lost in social media. Addiction feeds on misery, so when we blame ourselves and are unkind and judgemental towards our actions, we only make it worse. Blaming and judging ourselves brings us into a state of distress, which does not allow us to learn and change.
To be able to learn and grow, we need to be in an autonomic nervous system state of rest and digest and feel safe and connected. This is why an attitude of friendliness and self compassion is crucial in changing unhelpful habits.
I hope this will help you to learn and grow from your time on social media, and eventually minimize your time spent there.