This post was originally seen on Your Tango
Is your relationship with Facebook keeping you from being healthy?
There’s almost no getting away from Facebook. Even if you’re not much into social media, your friends and family are there and Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with them. But once you’re there, it’s all too easy to “Like” and “Follow” a mind-numbing and time-sucking number of pages. Between posts from your friends and family and status updates from pages you follow, you get an awful lot of input on a daily basis. But what does your relationship with Facebook do for you and your health and your self-esteem?
You are what you feed
Most of us check our Facebook news feed at the beginning of the day and what we find there can set the tone for our day, help us focus — or distract us from our goals. Though it may sound silly and trite, there’s a lot of science to back up the idea. Your health, happiness and habits can be greatly affected by your Facebook feed. What is your Facebook feed doing to you?
If you’re trying to eat a healthier diet, getting daily recipes for cupcakes, posts on the best new pizza places and deals at your local ice cream parlor aren’t going to be much help. Think of Facebook pages the way you do your friends. If you want to be more responsible, you hang out with people who already are and spend less time with the old party crowd from high school. If you want to get and stay fit, you spend time with friends that are committed to a healthy lifestyle.
The same principle is true with Facebook. Your news feed should support and encourage the day you want to have, the person you want to be and the life you want to live.
Research from the fields of science and psychology is starting to show us just the measurable effects that Facebook can have on health and behavior. Here are five of the unexpected ways your Facebook feed may alter your health. Plus, several healthy ways to combat the effects of social media on your mind and body.
1. Facebook can increase your appetite.
Looking at photos of food can activate your brain’s reward center. The release of these chemicals can actually push you to overeat, with one study showing that peeking at pictures of food images after a meal can still trigger hunger (via Women’s Health). Another study from 2009 found that exposure to food advertising during television viewing may also contribute to obesity by triggering automatic snacking of available food. Children consumed 45% more when exposed to food advertising. Adults consumed more of both healthy and unhealthy snack foods following exposure to snack food advertising compared to the other conditions. In both experiments, food advertising increased consumption of products not in the presented advertisements, and these effects were not related to reported hunger or other conscious influences.
Is your feed a constant stream of food photos? Review the pages you’ve liked and turn off notifications from pages that don’t match your most important health goals. Just as you are what you eat, you are also what you feed your brain through your Facebook feed.
2. It increases peer pressure — even for adults.
A recent study by HP Labs invited 600 participants to look at photos of babies and select which one was cuter. Whichever photo they chose was rigged to be less popular, as shown by a Facebook-style “like” system. Participants were then given a chance to change their selection, with nearly 22% altering their initial opinion. If the approval of “cute babies” is up for grabs, can you imagine how flexible your mind is when bombarded with images of unhealthy foods, desserts and habits that are “approved” and “celebrated” by with dozens, hundreds or thousands of likes?
Knowing about this effect can help you combat it. Likewise, following only the people, pages and events that support your most important priorities is a real way to make social media a healthy experience.
3. Social media can change your brain.
I’ve discussed the effects of behavioral priming recently, and Facebook is a great example of how this phenomenon affects the subconscious mind.
Priming is a non-conscious form of human memory concerned with perceptual identification of words and objects. It refers to activating particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. For example, a person who sees the word "yellow" will be slightly faster to recognize the word "banana." This happens because yellow and banana are closely associated in memory. Additionally, priming can also refer to a technique in psychology used to train a person’s memory in both positive and negative ways.
So, if you log onto your Facebook feed and see a stream of unhealthy foods, negative posts or worrisome articles, these are the things that will be at the front of your mind. Your brain will focus on the things it has most recently read and use that information to mold your behavior and your mindset.
I’ve always said “to be successful, find someone who’s doing something you admire and copy them.” Who are the first names, faces and pages to pop up in your Facebook feed? These are literally your “Facebook mentors.” What messages are they sending you? You can be certain your subconscious is picking up on them.
4. Facebook can affect your mood.
Studies have shown that what we see on Facebook does effect our moods, in both positive and negative ways.
One of the most common negative emotions connected to Facebook is envy. Researcher Hanna Krasnova of the Institute of Information Systems at Berlin’s Humboldt University conducted a study recently that found that one on three people felt worse after checking Facebook than they did beforehand. Interestingly, people who browsed Facebook or checked their feed without interacting were affected the most.
“We were surprised by how many people have a negative experience from Facebook with envy leaving them feeling lonely, frustrated or angry,” Krasnova told a reporter for Reuters.
The study found that other people’s vacation photos were the biggest source of envy, while comparing the number of birthday greetings, likes and comments they got to those of others was another big hit to the ego. It also found that people in their mid-30s were most likely to envy family happiness, men were most likely to envy accomplishments and women were most likely to envy physical fitness or beauty.
Have you noticed this trend in your own life? Sitting back and scrolling through other people’s lives is no life at all. The science is real. Now the question is–what are you going to do about it? How are you going to put a stop to unhappy, unhealthy behaviors? Easy solution: unfollow.
5. It affects your happiness.
The things you see and read about in your Facebook feed actually alter your happiness levels.
“…The research appears to confirm what so many of us believe about the infectious nature of happiness. Exposing yourself to negativity begets negativity. Exposing yourself to happiness begets happiness. That’s not just conjecture — it’s science.” (R. Montenegro, Big Think)
Researchers found Facebook users who saw words like “happy” or “excited” in their Facebook feed were significantly more likely to post positive updates.
Let’s talk about this in terms of your health. Are you more likely to feel powerful and in control of your diet, your fitness and your health when you feel depressed and anxious? Not likely. These are the times most people turn to comfort foods, roll up into their cocoon, and try to protect themselves. So a daily feed that focuses on happiness and health is more likely to keep you active, motivated and striving for health.
Your Facebook feed isn’t just a good, daily read. It’s actually a screen for your brain, your thoughts and ultimately your habits. What is your Facebook feed saying about you?
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