It’s barely been 10 years since the iPhone changed, well, everything. Instagram and Snapchat are barely seven years old. And despite the relative newness of these technologies, they’ve become part of our everyday lives in immense ways—for good and bad. When social media begins to feel overwhelming or upsetting, that’s a sign that you could benefit from some self-care. Fortunately, Well+Good Council member Jill Blakeway, DACM, has just the thing to help you do that: a guide to avoiding social media burnout, as inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine.
There is an ancient Chinese philosophy that maintains that everything in nature is made up of five interrelated, but distinct, elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Finding balance between these elements is the key to harmony in everything from interior design to physical health.
The five elements are frequently used to define the energetic relationship between the different (yet related) phenomena that surround us. For example: the relationships between the seasons, how the body’s organ systems interact with each other, or even how different musical notes create harmony or disharmony. Let’s just say it’s a broad concept!
I’ve come up with a set of guidelines that have helped many people, including myself, rise above the social media noise and find balance while engaging online.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, a healthy body, mind, and spirit result from each of these elements being in an ever-changing and dynamic balance with the rest of the elements.
Over the past few years, an increasing number of my patients have confided that using social media sometimes leaves them feeling drained and anxious. Their experiences are echoed in several studies such as this one, published in Computers in Human Behavior, which found that using multiple social media platforms increases depression and anxiety among young adults.
Over the past year I’ve been using Five Element theory to help my patients who were feeling depleted from their social media use. As a result, I’ve come up with a set of guidelines that have helped many people, including myself, rise above the social media noise and find balance while engaging online.
Here’s how to create better harmony with your particular mix of the five elements, so you can start enjoying social media again.
The wood element is known for its flexibility. Like a young sapling bending in the wind, a healthy wood element allows for different opinions and an understanding of nuance. If you find yourself becoming angry or unable to see other points of view when talking online, it may be a sign that your wood element needs attention.
How to bring it back into balance: Step away from the computer and move your body. Take a walk, hit the gym, or simply do some stretches until your flexibility is restored. Foods that support the wood element are sour, so starting the day with some water with lemon may help soothe the wood element.
An imbalanced fire element can lead to excessive emotions. If you find yourself feeling euphoric about a retweet or upset over a Facebook post, it may be that your fire element is being emphasized at the expense of the other elements.
How to bring it back into balance: The way out is to cool down. The fire element is associated with the heart and mind, so a meditation to quiet the mind will help you have perspective and steadiness. Many Buddhists practice a meditation called Metta that focuses on lovingkindness. It’s particularly helpful if your fire element is out of control. Bitter foods help bring the fire element back into balance, so adding bitter greens to your diet will also cool a fire element that’s out of control. Try adding kale, arugula, or even dandelion greens to your diet.
An imbalanced earth element can lead to over-thinking and obsessive behavior. If you find yourself returning again and again to a social media conflict, obsessively Facebook stalking someone, or diving 103 weeks deep into someone’s Instagram, it’s time for some self-nurturing.
A strong metal element is about being principled and having integrity. The anonymity of social media can lead to behavior that would normally be out of character. If you find yourself being devious, underhanded, or less than truthful online, you may need to support your metal element.
How to bring it back into balance: Look no further than your breath. The metal element is associated with the lungs, and breathing exercises will bring you back to your center and remind you who you really are. (Hint: It’s not this crazy version of yourself!) Spicy foods support the metal element, so it may be time to make a curry or add some extra hot sauce to your food.
The water element is what gives us our identity. It’s at the root of who we really are. Social media encourages people to create false or idealized versions of themselves to impress other people. Many of us have scrolled through Instagram and felt inferior while looking at photos of other people’s seemingly perfect lives.
How to bring it back into balance: If you’re feeling Insta-envy on a regular basis, then support your water element by giving extra care to the organ associated with it: the kidney. Try this qi gong exercise: Place your hands on your lower back and rub this area, creating a sense of warmth. This stimulates the kidneys, which in turn supports your sense of self. Salty foods bring the water element back into balance, too. Look for foods that are naturally salty such as celery or seafood.
Here’s how John Legend and Chrissy Teigen make social media a positive force, and here’s what happens when you take a 40-day break from it.
Dr. Jill Blakeway, DACM, is a practitioner and teacher of Chinese Medicine and the founder and clinic director of the YinOva Center in New York City.
Jill is the author of Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility and Sex Again: Recharging Your Libido. She’s currently writing her third book, about energy healing, for Harper Collins.
What should Jill write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to [email protected].