Happy September (Recovery Month)! School’s back in session and vacations are over for many. If you’re like most, you’ve been seeing everyone’s summer pics on facebook and Instagram. While you might expect this post, written by a Professional Counselor, to talk about the influence of social media on self-esteem or depression, I want to invite you into a more personal journey- one of compulsive behavior, learning, and communication.
The Back Story
My days started to become more efficient at work; I found creative ways to engage or disengage with people; I was less stressed over the high dose of negative news I was seeing; I let go of the pressure of having to keep up with posting or needing to respond; I focused on the core things that mattered as opposed to the (look, a SQUIRREL!) distractions.
I began to see how compulsive I had become, even a little dependent. I felt fear about missing out on something. I got a “hit” (or high) from that next new message or like or share in my notifications. I had worried if someone didn’t respond soon enough.
The Addiction Framework
Even though a year break taught me about my personal misuse of social media, don’t expect a crusade AGAINST social media from me today. As much as I benefited from my “vacation,” there were a few things I missed out on, too. I overlooked a few announcements (sorry for missing that birthday heads-up). I lost a bit of connection to the world around me. In essence, some communication was actually stunted for me. And I missed out on a little healthy distraction I find encouraging.
The Rest of the Story
The modality of communicating by tech IS effective and helpful for many. We can complain all day about children not learning to communicate well because they “can’t even” (and I do believe that is a concern to be aware of as a parent). However, social media can be helpful.
Social media is a communication platform. Whether we like it or not, things like social media are the new telegram or front porch conversation of years ago. And they don’t appear to be going away any time soon, only adapting and changing.
As with many things in this world, the actual vehicle of social media may be relatively neutral- what makes it egocentric, compulsive, and harmful OR helpful and relational, is likely thepurpose and motivation and heart behind its use. I want to be “linked in” to the latter so I can live free, not compulsively.
You’re surrounded by setpoints every day. They literally keep you alive. One of them is your set body temperature. If your body drops or rises a mere 15% beyond your core temperature, death occurs. Think of a setpoint like a reference point, a sort of boundary. Medically, it’s called homeostasis. The body regulates internal functioning (temperature, blood flow, oxygen) despite external circumstances. The body is always seeking homeostasis. So is the brain. And you can intentionally take charge for your mental, emotional, and relational health.
In our bodies, we break out in a fever when something is wrong- which is one way the body makes conditions unfavorable to viruses and bacteria- because they are temperature sensitive. In addicts, their brains have faced an onslaught of dopamine rushes- and the brain counters it by producing less dopamine to balance out- even sometimes ELIMINATING dopamine receptors. This is the brain naturally seeking to turn down a party that’s gotten too loud.
Balanced functioning (homeostasis), whether biological, technological, or psychological, will involve three interdependent elements that help reach homeostasis- all centered on a setpoint:
- Receptor– A sensing component that observes changes in the environment. The receptor then sends information to the Control Center.
- Control Center– determines an appropriate response, having a set range in place (setpoint). Then the control center sends this information to an effector.
- Effector– Structures that receive signals from the control center and correct deviation by negative feedback, thus putting a system back into its normal range.
Remember from above how dopamine in the brain works with substance abuse? But we can actually gain the upper hand by being active in our decisions- including making setpoints for ourselves.
In order to bring a system back to normal, negative feedback is used to regulate it. So when I say, “get negative,” or course I’m not telling you to have a negative outlook on life. What I AM saying is that a system that is out of control will only be put back in control/order by it being regulated by setpoints, carried out by either an internal or external force- and this is negative feedback.
Okay, have I been sufficiently nerdy? Let’s get practical!!
Samples. Check out how William uses all three processes of homeostasis as a married entrepreneur with children, who is also dealing with some alcohol abuse (#2 in each is the setpoint).
1) Financial accounts are reconciled daily by William (outside help oversees them weekly). 2) The business plan was developed with a setpoint of no greater than $100,000 debt. Crossing $50,000 debt signals a problem and requires meeting with the board. 3) If the setpoints are not honored, the board has full power and autonomy to enact established strategies.
1) William’s two year old, Thomas, is running a fever- revealed by his behavior, and then it was gauged with a thermometer. 2) If 24 hours pass with a fever over 100 F- or at any point it goes beyond 103 F- the setpoint has been crossed. 3) Visit the doctor immediately.
1) Extra money was left over- discovered in the budget by William’s wife, Katie. 2) They determine no more than $10,000 will be spent on a kitchen remodel. The goal is $8,500; beyond the goal is a warning flag. 3) At the $8,500 mark, a conversation will be held with the contractor to hold to the budget.
1) After running into various troubles with alcohol, William considered his personal/family values and health recommendations. 2) A setpoint was made: only 2 drinks or less daily. 3) If this line is crossed, the commitment is to have an entire month sober. If this cannot be done, it is agreed on with his support team to increase treatment (e.g., go to a group, go to counseling).
Got the hang of it? These steps can be applied to about anything, though I mostly use the Setpoints Exercise (click on the link below to access!) to help increase ownership and boundaries with addictions. It’s a straightforward way to get honest with anything you are facing, the amount of help you need, and what supports can get you there. This concept has helped assist many of my clients to face problems squarely, and in turn, to be more successful and realistic in addressing life challenges. Give it a try!
Get your free SetPoint Worksheet, created for clients in my practice, by clicking here.
If your heart condition were so bad that you had to undergo expensive ($100,000) coronary bypass surgery to improve it, would you change your lifestyle after the surgery? Nope. Not likely, at least according to a surprising study by Dr. Edward Miller at Johns Hopkins. Miller found that 2 years after patients had a coronary bypass surgery, 90% did not change their lifestyle significantly (diet, exercise, stress, substance use). 90%! Wouldn’t such an adverse event motivate change for the better? Not necessarily so.
Being at the end of January as I send this out, many New Year’s resolutions have been made. Fewer have been kept. It is common sense that the resolutions we make mean very little without proper follow-through- whether at the gym, with eating habits, or in even more complicated areas, such as relationships.
When I’m humble enough to admit my own strengths and limitations (my human-ness), there are many things I cannot do on my own, many areas of life I CANNOT control. But for those things I CAN change and affect, I ask myself: Do I need additional support? Help? Growth? Acceptance? Is what I’m doing sufficient enough to bring the change I want? Do I have the “horsepower” to do what I need? In counseling, there are rarely quick fixes. My job is mostly helping clients identify the how of change, not simply the what (i.e., how do I eat healthier versus simply identifying a need to eat healthier). I regularly ask myself the following question that I also pose to clients: “Am I pursuing what is needed to bring about growth and health in my life?”
If you’re having trouble changing something, first of all, that’s okay. Deep breath. You will be less likely to change something if you get overwhelmed and caught up in helplessness. If you ask all of the above questions and determine you need a little bit more than “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” (which is self-contradictory, by the way), passivity will lead to the same result- not even a heart attack can change that. If it’s time for something different, only you can decide. And if you hire me, we’ll get down to business.
Often, it hurts us deeply to see someone struggling, suffering, anguishing- especially if we think we have an answer or solution. But here is a difficult principle to swallow, but a necessary one: If a functioning adult chooses to be unhealthy or ill, we cannot stop them. Not accepting this will lead us to get “sick” ourselves and join in the “crazy-making.”
We can change ourselves, though. And an effective way to motivate change in others is to influence them. Think of a difficult relationship you are in or have had. Then think of it like two gear cogs. As long as you are engaged with the “craziness,” it continues in both people like gears spinning out of control. But if one person steps back and changes, it automatically alters the dynamic. The other person HAS to change if they want to stay engaged with you. In other words, if you approach something differently than normal, the other person has to do something different- it cannot stay the same- even if the change means that they refuse to be different and you don’t allow yourself to be controlled.