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BookFace, TicTacs and the Dopamine Loop

I recently made a joke the other day about quitting my job because I made a TikTok (or a TicTac depending on who you are talking to) that went “viral”. Well, maybe not viral by the Kardashians standards. But for my profile that has a whopping 204 followers (shout out to my fans), I created a video that had been viewed 66.8k times. Not too shabby for an old Millennial from Hector, Arkansas. Anyways, after I made the joke, I had several people strongly encourage me to not quit my day job. I guess they don’t find me as funny as I personally find myself. But it did get me thinking, how have we become a generation that measures our success and value based on social media? How has social media changed the way we think about ourselves? How has it changed the way that we view relationships? Are these changes good or bad?

I can already picture a few of rolling your eyes so far back in your head right now. Don’t worry. I’m not here to bash social media and say it’s evil. I am personally a huge fan of the BookFace and my TicTacs (Instagram is still a little confusing to me and I am getting too old for SnapChat). But as someone who has devoted her career into the mental health and well-being’s of others, I definitely see the correlation between how we connect our own value and the number of “likes” we receive on a post. I have even fallen prey to that myself. I will be the first to admit it.

Somehow, a platform that was created to keep us engaged, has (unconsciously) pitted against each other in a constant state of competition. We tend to compare our behind-the-scenes reality to everyone else’s highlight reel. However, by doing that, we will never be able to measure up to others.

I try to be a transparent person. And as I already mentioned, I am a big fan of using FaceBook. Honestly, it truly brings me a lot of happiness. I created my profile when I was only 14. So, aside from a few cringe posts and pictures with way too much eyeliner, I enjoy the “Memories” tab the most. I enjoy having what is essentially a virtual scrapbook of myself, my family, my friends and my daughter for the past 15+ years. However, none of it is truly real. Not completely. Last year’s pictures of Disney showcased 3 adorable kids wearing Mickey Mouse ears and matching outfits. What it did not show was the tears from a pair of shoes being too tight and causing blisters while walking around the Magic Kingdom, the stress and anxiety from losing a cell phone on day one and the kids being so incredibly exhausted that they basically turned into small Gremlins. That is just one example. I can think of 100+ more from the past 15 years. We want to share the very best version of ourselves with the world.

Yet, we are afraid of ever sharing the bad. We are scared to admit to others that our days are messy and chaotic. That we, as humans, are messy and chaotic. Social media has allowed us to project what we want to on a screen, while hiding our very realistic and relatable flaws to the rest of the world.

All of this can actually be explained by science (cue the Breaking Bad/Aaron Paul meme in this moment). Similar to when someone uses substances and alcohol; the use of social media can trigger a dopamine response in the brain. Dopamine is actually a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between neurons) that is involved in neurological and physiological functioning. Essentially, it’s a chemical in our brain that “makes us feel good”. It’s also known as the “reward” center because it is responsible for allowing us to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. When our brain does not receive enough Dopamine (commonly seen in diagnosis of ADHD, Depression, Substance Abuse Disorders and Schizophrenia*) on its own, we tend to fill that void somewhere else. When a user gets a like, a retweet, a snap or notification; the brain receives a flood of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways. It feels wonderful, but it also acts to reinforce our need to satisfy the feeling next time. This cycle of motivation, reward, and reinforcement is a “dopamine loop” that gets users seeking, looking and craving more of a response.

So, what do we do with all of this knowledge? As I promised, I am not here to discourage anyone from using social media. I think it’s a pivotal tool for both personal and business use. I love having the ability to watch my nieces and nephews grow from across the state and discover events that are happening around my area. I also appreciate a good unhinged Wendy’s tweet and of course the great Cinnamon Toast Crunch Shrimp Saga of 2021. Social media is also how I found out Joe Exotic is running for President in 2024, for those of you who might want to see someone different. What we must remember though is that we are only seeing what people want us to see. When we feel that twinge of guilt, jealousy or insecurity; remind yourself that you are not in competition with anyone else. I promise you, at the end of the day, we are all just people trying our best to survive. We never know someone’s true struggles unless they are shared with us. We very rarely get a glimpse of those dark days, the pictures of temper tantrums and messy houses. It’s okay to be vulnerable, to be raw and to be honest. You do not have to strive for perfection. Just strive for authenticity. You have got this! I am proud of you.






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