How To Feel Motivated And Blissful After Scrolling Social Media

Polyvagal Theory Diagram of the three nervous system states: ventral vagal, sympathetic, dorsal vagal

Beat Social Media Anxiety Using Polyvagal Theory


Are you ready to dive deep into the world of mindful and balanced social media use? Want to put down your phone after an Instagram or TikTok session feeling inspired, energised and motivated? 

Well, buckle up. We're about to go on a journey that will transform the way you doomscroll or hide from being visible. Start by understanding and befriending your autonomic nervous system. 


Understanding The Way You Interact With Your Environment


Unpleasant interactions, losing clients, or low-vibe comments aren't going to kill us. Still, we react to them like they are. Pressure, loss, rejection can all trigger our survival response.

The nervous system picks up signals from our environment. It transmits these signals between the brain, spinal cord, sensory organs and the rest of the body. It supports the brain control conscious actions and unconscious impulses.


1 - You're Feeling Something


When you sense something around you, like a loud noise or a hot stove, sensors in your body pick up that information.


2 - Your Nerves Are Firing Messages To The Brain


When you sense or feel something (e.g. touch, sound, temperature, pain) your nerves generate electrical signals that travel to the brain. These signals inform the brain about what was sensed.


3 - Your Brain Decides On The ‘Best Course Of Action’


Your brain tells your body to get ready to protect – if it perceives danger. You'll gear up for fighting or fleeing. If your brain senses safety, it'll instruct your body to ease up and relax.

Your body responds according to your brain's orders. It might follow conscious actions, like recalling your password for internet banking and typing it in. Or it might trigger automatic reactions, such as increased heart rate and muscle tension.

Occasionally, these reactions seem irrational. Like when your heart races simply because you're addressing the assembly. Public speaking isn’t dangerous in itself but many people experience resistance to it. The prospect literally sends them into fight and flight mode.


4 - Body And Brain Keep Communicating 


Nervous system, brain and body all work together and react to what's happening around you. They’re hooked up into a back-and-forth communication. This ensures everything's working right. If needed, they make adjustments to keep you safe, healthy and in balance. 


Understanding Polyvagal Theory


The polyvagal theory was developed by Dr. Stephen Porges and made mainstream by Deb Dana. It illustrates how our nervous system influences social behaviour and emotional well-being. 

Dana visualised this experience as a map of three states connected by a ladder (see image). The state we’re in can change. 

When we are stimulated we enter the sympathetic state. When we are overstimulated we can drop into shutdown. And when we feel safe, our relaxed parasympathetic state comes alive.

A ladder of emotional increments connects these three states. Your state rises and falls, climbing up and down the ladder of emotional experience. 

You may move between different states based on various factors and circumstances, and you may have a main area you gravitate towards. This can depend on things like past experiences, personality traits, coping mechanisms, and what’s going on around you.


The Three States Of The Autonomic Nervous System


I Feeling Seen: Social Engagement (Ventral Vagal Complex)


This is your social engagement system. It is responsible for feelings of safety, connection, and relaxation. When it comes alive you navigate the world with confidence and ease.

  • Engaging in meaningful online conversations
  • Honest sharing between coach and client
  • Helping a soul on the internet with your value
  • Receiving support from a follower
  • Participating in an online meditation
  • Having fun online exchanges
  • Etc

Each human experience is unique but these are words my clients have used to describe this state:


Openness, Creativity, Harmony, Gratitude, Relaxation, Empathy, Trust, Presence, Love

'I am limitless', 'We are One'


II Feeling Disrespected: Mobilisation (Sympathetic Nervous System)


Think of this as your body's fight or flight response. It kicks in when you perceive a threat, preparing you to act and tackle challenges head-on.

  • Encountering negative comments online
  • Receiving a critical message
  • Not getting likes
  • Not growing your account
  • Seeing a competitor's success
  • Facing public speaking or live streaming anxiety
  • Feeling FOMO

An activated sympathetic nervous system feels different to everyone. Here are some words my clients use for this state:


Movement, Agitation, Impatience, Alertness, Irritation, Strife, Aggression, Anger, Fear, Shame

'I'm on fire'


III Feeling Unwanted: Freeze (Dorsal Vagal Complex)


This state is like a protective freeze. When it takes hold you might find yourself feeling immobilised, disconnected, or overwhelmed. It's like hitting the pause button on life.

  • Being overwhelmed by online noise
  • Experiencing information overload
  • Encountering online rejection
  • Feeling social media fatigue
  • Experiencing digital burnout
  • Deleting posts
  • Showing up inconsistently, disappearing
  • Etc

Again, here are some keywords to describe the state:


Overdrive, Withdrawal, Hopelessness, Helplessness, Isolation, Loneliness, Depression, Freeze, Despair, Rejected, Outcast

'I am safe when I hide'


Using Polyvagal Theory To Overcome Social Media Anxiety


Feeling paralysed when using social media? Stress, worry, unease? Hiding, lurking, not building that profile you need for your business? Feeling FOMO, comparing? Feeling overwhelmed? Experiencing emotional charge even seeing the instagram icon?

But yet, you want to, *have to* use social media for career or business.

Polyvagal theory can balance your feelings. And get you into a high-vibe mindset where you start reaping all the goodness social media has to offer. You want to stay in the ventral vagal state (feeling seen, social engagement) as much as possible. This will ensure you have a positive experience on social. 


1 - Understand How We Sabotage Our Best Intentions To Show Up


Sometimes the nervous system orders the body to retreat when there’s no need to. This can impact our mental health. We don’t mean to hide, so why do we do it? This can bring a sense of shame. Know that you're not wrong, broken, or bad. Your system's responses are always in service of survival.

An action may look irrational, but the autonomic nervous system thinks it's doing you a favour. 

For example we may not share our message on video because being seen scares us. We could be exposed, judged, ridiculed, rejected, right?

That’s where our nervous system comes in. It manages risks and won't allow us to speak on video. It keeps us safe. It might pull you into the freeze state, which has you lurking or shutting down completely.

Understanding this helps us shift self-blame and open the door to empathy with ourselves.

No need to berate yourself if you’re hiding online. It’s a survival mechanism. It’s a way to avoid being anxious. But if you have a message to share with the world you can’t hide, that’s the issue.

Let’s deal with this. Let's become aware and curious about our nervous system’s responses to our social media challenges.


2 - See The Difference Between: Perception vs Neuroception


Perception is conscious awareness of sensory input. Neuroception on the other hand operates at a subconscious level, constantly scanning for cues of safety or threat. It's the nervous system's way of sniffing out danger (and detecting safe spaces) in the environment.

When neuroception detects safety cues, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation, social engagement, and connection. 

Conversely, when it detects danger cues, it prepares the body to respond. It alerts the sympathetic nervous system's fight-flight response or triggers a shutdown.

Neuroception is at the base of our experiences and behaviours. It helps us make friends, regulate our emotions, and can make us feel good. Or bad.

Pay attention to cues and signals you perceive on social media

  • Facial expressions in pictures and emojis
  • Tone of voice in captions, comments, videos
  • Body language, posture or gestures in images and videos
  • Environmental cues such as the background settings or surroundings in photos
  • Social interactions such as likes, shares, comments, and direct messages
  • Intuition about the authenticity or intentions behind content and interactions
  • Sensory cues like visual aesthetics, color schemes, and design elements
  • The overall vibe or atmosphere you pick up
  • Visual cues such as symbols, icons, and graphics used in posts and stories

3 - Recognise Your Triggers (P.S. Don't Forget Glimmers!)


Now get clear on how you react to the cues and signals. Develop an awareness of your sensations, behaviours, thoughts and emotions when engaging online.

Recognising triggers and glimmers is the first step in changing the way you act.

  • Triggers can activate / mobilise you (Sympathetic Nervous System). For example, you get angry at someone sharing a vulnerability online. You think they're doing this 'to get attention'.
  • Triggers can shut you down / send you hiding (Dorsal Vagal Complex). For example you avoid social media because it brings you down to see everyone doing so well.
  • Glimmers cause positive reactions within you and can lift you into social connection (Ventral Vagal Complex). A post seems to have been written just for you. Finally, someone is going through the same thing as you are. You are not alone. 


4 - How Do You Respond To Triggers And Glimmers? 


  • How do you respond to cues?
  • What content (video, audio, pictures, captions, comments, posts, topics), accounts, notifications, interactions trigger emotional responses in you?
  • When do you feel safe?
  • When do you feel threatened?
  • Which platforms do you prefer?
  • How do you feel before, during and after your interaction?
  • How does your body and mind react to these stimuli? 


5 - Listen to Your Body


Tune into the physical sensations you experience when you're scrolling through your feed. Your body will give off physical cues. These will paint the picture of how your system is doing in the digital environment.

  • Notice if you experience increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • if you feel tension in your muscles,
  • or if you experience butterflies or a knot in your stomach.
  • Etc


6 - Take Breaks When Needed


If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stressed while using social media, listen to your body's cues and take breaks as needed. Step away from your devices, do something that relaxes and grounds you, and give yourself time to recharge. Remember: it's okay to disconnect and prioritise your well-being.


7 - Set Boundaries


Establish healthy boundaries around your social media usage. This will hand you back control.

  • You may limit the amount of time on social media each day.
  • Or unfollowing accounts that make you feel bad.
  • Disable notifications to reduce distractions.
  • You could decrease the frequency of checking social media.
  • Etc


8 - Use Social Media As A Self Development Tool


Challenge yourself. Log onto social media in the spirit of collaboration, admiration for others' achievements. Seek inspiration. Lean into having fun, finding friends and forming genuine connections.

Social media can be an effective therapy tool. It can help you work on feelings like shame, envy or scarcity mentality. It can help you develop a higher mindset.

While it's human to feel negative emotions like jealousy when you see others have what you want. But instead of judging or avoiding this content you could ask yourself: how can I make this happen for me?


9 - Practise Mindful Engagement


Be intentional and mindful every time you log on to social media. Be sure to take a breath before responding to a comment or participating in a discussion. On the other hand, if you tend to lurk, try commenting and connecting with the person. Create a positive and supportive online environment for yourself and others.


10 - Seek Support When Needed


Reach out to get support if you find that social media use consistently triggers your negative emotions. Share your worries and find ways to take part in social media in a healthy way.

Yes, you can thrive in digital spaces. Your strategy may just need some fine tuning. Get clear on your concerns and individual needs. That way you can access the connections, joy and personal growth from social media.


Be In Touch

Let me know how this works for you. You can get in touch at [email protected]


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