Can social media help us on the path to better wellbeing?

Social Media and wellbeing
Emma Saunders
Written by Emma Saunders

With social media displaying a constant stream of health fads, yo-yo diets, and healthy zen people into our everyday lives, it´s no surprise that we feel more pressured to become an improved version of ourselves.

But is there a way of using social media to our advantage? Can it help encourage us in a positive way to incorporate some healthy habits into our lifestyle? I think that may just be possible!

I recently changed jobs, and like anyone who has gone through this process, I was instantly greeted by anxiety and fear. I was taking on a position that I wasn’t sure I was ready for, and to top it off I was moving countries for it, so my usual support network of friends and loved ones were going to be further away.

As people, any time we feel under threat, be it in the form of high stress situations, a change of job, or meeting deadlines, it can lead to a state of physical and physiological hyper arousal. You may recognise this within yourself as muscle tension, strong emotions, such as fear and anxiety, or a release of stress hormones such as adrenaline. This activity is regulated by a branch of our autonomic nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system, often referred to as our ‘fight or flight mode’, and unless we make the conscious effort to break free from reacting to situations habitually, the accumulated effects of this can lead us to a breakdown of one form or another: burn out, exhaustion, recurrent depression, or physical illness.

As someone who can get very overwhelmed with change, I decided that it was a great time to incorporate a more disciplined regime of healthy habits into my lifestyle. I am a yoga teacher by trade, but my self-practice can sometimes go a bit by the wayside, so this is where I wanted to focus my attention. Cue #yogaeverydamnday.

#yogaeverydamnday is a hashtag created by Rachel Brathen, who you may know better as Yoga Girl.  She encourages people to practice yoga each and every day during the month of September, and then post about their experiences on the social media platform Instagram using the hashtag #yogaeverydamnday. Let me stress, you don’t necessarily have to complete a daily hour-long asana practice; in fact, some days it may just be sitting and connecting with your breath, meditating for 5 minutes, or even working to incorporate the Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances) into your daily routine. The importance of it is to just do something. After all, yoga is made up of 8 limbs and only one of these is actually the asana (physical postures) practice.

I am sure we have all heard of the many benefits of yoga: improved strength and flexibility, a sense of calm and clarity, and becoming more in tune with our own bodies. This is because certain elements of practicing yoga help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system; the branch of our autonomic nervous system that is responsible for the ‘rest and digest’ mode. The pineal and the pituitary glands are also stimulated and through forward bends we are able to stretch the muscles and fascia supporting the spine, which creates space between the vertebra, and thus improves the flow of nerve impulses through the spinal column to the brain.

By tapping into our parasympathetic nervous system, we create new patterns of behavior to encourage us to act, as opposed to react, when we find ourselves in challenging situations.

However, I am sure we are also aware of the possible negative effects social media is having on our lives and within today’s culture. The ability to constantly compare everything in our lives allows us to judge ourselves unfairly and without all the facts. This competitive behavior can lead to jealousy or reduced actual social interaction, which in turn can lead to loneliness.