Approximately 48 hours ago, I caught an especially virulent strain of Social Media Flu.

Never heard of it? Nope, I hadn’t either. 

I had all the usual flu-like onset symptoms: full-body exhaustion, dense mental fog, feeling both shivery and hot, and even a slight chestiness. In addition, though, I was also experiencing a long list of mental and emotional turmoil, some of which you may recognise for yourself:

  • Increasing self-doubt
  • Feeling under-valued and generally unworthy
  • Questioning my purpose, both personally and professionally
  • Periodic thoughts of “checking out” entirely, from both the online and offline worlds

Should I have Known?

Although I’m not unaware of the issues with social media and technology’s place in our lives in general, I have largely avoided looking at it fully in my own life. Sure, I’ll put my phone down for a few hours at a time, and I’ll even delete the most addictive apps occasionally. But until now, I’ve probed no further – deliberately avoiding those big, scary documentaries like The Social Dilemma and The Great Hack, because I’d rather not know the horrific details of my own incarceration.

Fortunately for me, I have been reading Dave Asprey’s Fast This Way for the past week or so. If you haven’t checked it out yet, go and do so now! It’s not at all what you might think, and even as a fairly avid listener of Bulletproof Radio, I was pleasantly surprised – and engrossed! 

What’s Fasting Got to Do With Social Media?

Fasting, it turns out, is not just about self-flagellation. It’s not even about denying yourself food for a specific length of time. Fasting, in simple terms, is a way of teaching our mind, body and spirit to go without – whether that is food, drink, sex, technology, social media or just chocolate. But the most fascinating aspect of all of this, is that all of these ‘needs’ or addictions are related. In some way, everything we crave is just a click away from our lizard-brain survival response:

  • Chocolate? Food (you need to eat or you’ll die). And also love/connection due to the endorphins and serotonin release.
  • Sex? Reproduction (you need to keep the species going so we don’t die out). Plus those love hormones you also get from a chunk of great chocolate.
  • Social Media? Connection/ Tribalism (if you’re not connected to the tribe you might die). Oh, and those dopamine hits keep you coming back for more.

The kind of galling part is, unfortunately, that the more we reach for something to satisfy that primal urge, the more we hardwire it into something we feel we absolutely NEED for our basic survival:

The body loves consistency because it needs to do less work to survive in a consistent world. The trouble is, when the body does less work, it gets lazy. If you send a signal to your body that the world is not consistent, it will rebuild itself to thrive in that world.”

– Dave Asprey, Fast This Way.

So How Does This Give Us “Flu”?

Well, the fact is 48 hours or so ago, I totally crashed. I hadn’t intended to. I had not planned a fast of any kind (yet). In fact, I had just opened up a notes document to detail my To-Do list for the next day. And then I went to bed and slept for 36 hours with a small hiatus at the 24-hr mark.

There was nothing physically wrong with me. I just didn’t want to get up; I felt too weak and exhausted to even contemplate going to the toilet. If you grew up in the 80s like me, you are also likely to have the highly masculine work ethic drilled into you where you must be visually dying (and have a matching medically-certified diagnosis) to be deemed worthy of any kind of rest period (otherwise you’re just lazy).

But Social Media Flu is real. I’m seeing it more and more, where friends and peers are dropping out for days, weeks or even months at a time, because being online in these highly curated spaces is legitimately making them sick.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on inside us that is clearly just not logical.” says Dave Asprey in Fast This Way. “Consciousness is not logical, and emotions are not logical… We are not just flesh and blood; we are much, much more than that.”

Our Energy Systems Are Being Exhausted

During my 48-hour (and ongoing) social media fast, I felt my whole body and its energy systems go through a complete reset. I actually felt a revulsion towards all technology the way one feels sick at the suggestion of pizza during a physically-induced virus. I didn’t even want to be around others using it, and so I stayed in bed. The only time I briefly touched my phone was to check the time, and I had zero desire to do more beyond that. And just as our body detoxes itself from a physical virus through a raised temperature and a domino of bizarre and unsettling dreams, so it was with this energetic flu. 

But why – or rather how – is social media having such a profound physical effect upon us? The key, as Dave Asprey asserts in his book, is our energy systems:

“Everything you think and everything you do is made possible by moving electrons from molecule to molecule. Fear and other negative emotions use up electrons. They direct your energy toward unproductive feelings and actions.”

Social media is, in short, a monolithic energy vampire. And it’s all the more insidious because it’s disguised as an essential tool for connection, collaboration and personal growth – especially so during the crippling isolation of a global pandemic. We are now so utterly dependent upon social media that it is taking a chunk of 3+ hours out of our day on average (Globalwebindex, 2019). That’s 6 1/2 weeks per year.

But I Don’t Want To Fast From Social Media!

Wait. There’s good news here. Asprey continues,

“Once you train the urges of the body to be more obedient, they ask for less energy. You waste less energy on fear and insecurity, and then you need to invest less energy in willpower. Those changes will make you more powerful in general.” 

So you absolutely don’t need to cut yourself off from the online world entirely. You just need to train your body (or lizard brain) to mix things up. Instead of mindlessly scrolling or automatically picking your phone up during a lull moment, you can create intentional fasting periods which give your mental, emotional, spiritual and yes – even physical – systems a complete break from the unending, addictive energy drain.

How to Make Social Media Fasting Work For You

Just like skipping breakfast occasionally (otherwise known as Intermittent Fasting), you can skip social media until lunchtime, or later. I’ve personally been doing this for a few months already, and can attest to how incredibly liberating and empowering it feels – you get to start your day tuning into you, not everyone else’s agendas and noise!

Here are some other options to add into the mix:

  • The equivalent of One-Meal-A-Day, putting all your highly focussed social media needs into an hour or so and then deleting the app for the rest of the day. Imagine!
  • Experiment with Alternate Day Fasts – just as you might already keep certain days for clients and other days for writing and creating.
  • Add in a 5:2 fast (take the weekend off SM entirely).
  • Mix it up and see what works for you, without being rigid (remember consistency makes the body lazy!).

The simple fact is, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking and feeling that we might die – being excommunicated from the tribe – if we stop using social media even just for a short period of time. And the dopamine habit is strong: those cravings will keep you picking up your phone without any conscious thought whatsoever. 

There’s No Vaccine For This Flu

I hope that Social Media Flu isn’t going to become another pandemic, albeit a silent and largely unreported one.

My feeling is that it may already be one however, and the only way we will overcome this is to take radical self-responsibility and control over our own habits, regardless of what others may think. “Insecure people tend to act without a lot of generosity,” Dave Asprey warns: “They may subconsciously or even overtly attempt to sabotage your efforts.” Surrounding yourself with supportive peers (or learning to be 100% confident in stepping away into your own bubble) during your fasting efforts is one of the biggest pillars to success.

Before this week, I will admit that intentional fasting from anything slightly terrified me – and that’s after around 2 years of fairly regular intermittent fasting, building myself gradually up to 16+ hours a day. Even so, the idea of a 24-hr food fast felt huge, and the thought of 2-3 entire days away from social media (without the excuse of Christmas festivities or school holidays) felt insurmountable.

But I am here. I didn’t die. And I feel stronger in myself, more confident in my resilience and abilities to go without, and incredibly empowered as a result. Like all the most transformational experiences, I surrendered to and fully experienced the darkness of Social Media Flu in order to learn and embody what I needed from it going forwards. I know that, for myself, watching a documentary wouldn’t have given me the same outcome. I believe we transmute what we feel, not what we know. It changes our very cells. 

It is human nature to wait until we get sick before we allow ourselves to work on getting healthier. And I think that 2021 may just be the year we experience this shift en-masse. 

Tell me your thoughts on this! Have you experienced Social Media Flu? Have you tried (or would you consider) fasting from social media? What are your experiences?