Thursday, October 8, 2020

Breathe Diaphragmatically When Browsing Social Media

My friend Robert Boyle made an excellent podcast about how he pairs diaphragmatic breathing with social media consumption. You can listen to his show here:

I was inspired by his podcast and asked him to coauthor a blog entry about it with me:

Have you noticed that browsing social media can be stressful? Do you ever feel breathless after reading certain posts, videos, or comments? Much of social media is ripe with provocative content, the kind that encourages anxiety and shallow breathing. In particular, posts that invoke an opposing sociological or political point of view can force us to cut our breath short, or even to hold our breath. This is a part of our body's instinctual, defensive response to an attack or a perceived threat. Before we know it we begin mounting counterattacks in our mind, our heart and breathing rate speed up, and the stress hormones start to surge.

In these moments, when we are drumming up a hypothetical response, we breathe shallowly. The breathing centers of the brain respond as if we were in the same room as the person who created the content we disagree with. Once we move on and resume scrolling, we continue to breathe defensively and become more susceptible to further negative reactions. Whether it is a picture of a friend's gourmet meal, a video of someone else's expensive vacation, or a photo of the body we wish we had, social media posts incite our ego, our dopamine, and our adrenaline. This is why it is both addictive and stressful.

But by breathing long, full breaths as you peruse your feed, you can consume the content without the shock, surprise, or negative emotions. Actually, it’s very easy to do! Before you open Facebook, Instagram, Reddit or whatever you use, simply start breathing with a breath metronome. The metronomone will provide a visual, physical, or auditory cue so that you know when to start breathing in, and when to start breathing out, without having to time it on your own. When you are inhaling for more than 5 seconds, and exhaling for more than 7 seconds at a time, the body's fear, anger, and startle reactions are highly subdued. It’ll make your social media use less stressful, and less addictive.

When Robert uses this technique he sets an intention to continue breathing diaphragmatically no matter what content he comes across. He has noticed a few things. "First, despite paced breathing, a post or comment can still make me uncomfortable. What's different now is that I have developed an awareness of the type of content that has this power over me. This has enabled me to understand what points of view I find repulsive, and to investigate why I have such an instinctual reaction to them. Second, when I am able to continue breathing on long intervals, I notice that I can consume a piece of content that I disagree with, without pausing to develop a retort in my head. It's a liberating experience!"

Give it a shot and you should find that you are much more self-possessed, and even-tempered when using social media.


Here are some of our favorite breathing apps:

1) The app "Breathe 2 Relax" is available for Apple and Android products.

2) The Apple watch has a fantastic breath metronome.

3) The channel for Program Peace has free breath metronomes like the one in the video below.


Robert John Boyle and Jared Reser

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