Social Media & BP

by Susan Schachter, MSRDN August 03, 2022 3 min read

Social Media & BP

In October 2021, many of us experienced Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp going down for hours. This came on the heels of reporting from numerous sources addressing the negative impact that Facebook and Instagram can have on young people/children.

What hasn’t gotten as much attention is the negative impact of social media on adults. Especially their potentially negative impact on our heart rate and our blood pressure.

Why?

Facebook (which owns Instagram as well) cherry-picks posts that would maximize engagement due to the post’s conflict-promoting nature. We’re all human. We react as humans. And this conflict can trigger the “fight or flight” instinct.

This is how it works: when we see/experience the conflict in front of us, we feel stressed. Stress signals our body to rev up some of its hormone production. One of the most important stress hormones the body makes is cortisol.

Cortisol plays a role in numerous important functions in our body.  It’s the body’s way of trying to protect us from a threat to our survival (kind of like a home security system for our body). If it detects a threat trying to break into our body-home, it sets off sirens to alert your body to the perceived danger. In this siren-induced situation—and with the help of some other “buddy” stress hormones—cortisol narrows our blood vessels and increases our heart rate. And if you’ve been reading the 120/Life blog and/or our eBook, you know that those conditions make our hearts pump harder and faster and increase our blood pressure.

Cortisol is important to us. Its role in “fight or flight” can save us from a dangerous situation. Obviously, seeing a post on Facebook or Instagram isn’t an issue of danger or survival, but our stress response assumes it’s in the same bucket. Aside from the immediate discomfort we feel in our bodies when we experience this, prolonged exposure to this stress response over time can (as noted above) give us high blood pressure.

Our recommendation, as you might imagine, is to opt for flight instead of fight! Fly away from your phone/social media for deliberate periods of time each day. Fly over and kiss someone you love or pet a dog, hug a family member, stream an episode of one of your favorite comedies, read a chapter in a fun or uplifting book, take a walk outside in nature!

When you are engaging with a device with social media, try to find some things that make you smile. Personally, I follow about twenty animal sites on Instagram (@thedodo, @boopmynose, @napsaprimates, @savethechimps, @birdsonearth, @bio_sapiens, and @cuteanimals to name a few). It’s a much more relaxing way of inducing a smile!

Of course, there are many things we can do to address high blood pressure, which you can find in previous installments of The Circulatory and in our eBook. But for now, I’d like to leave you with something that has been a foundational “go-to” in our home and our children’s upbringing. It’s a Native American legend that I believe says it all:

TWO WOLVES

One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “my son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all."

"One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is honesty, joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The Old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Engaging with social media, especially when it comes to the conflict-induced engagement (external or internal!) and its impact on our blood pressure, can be an act of feeding the evil wolf. Perhaps the few hours' lapse in its availability earlier this week was a fortunate mishap and a way for us to learn how brief social media breaks can positively impact our health!

Feed The Good Wolf! Here’s to Your Health!


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