Post By: Nastasja Minja | Saturday, May 2, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS social support

Warm hug from your better half OR his/her virtual hug through Messenger?

5 closest friends that you can trust and rely on OR 2785 friends on Facebook that you can't rely on, not even for hitting that like button?

Going out for coffee with your gang to your favorite place OR having a group chat through Zoom?

If you had to choose, which one would it be? The personal or the virtual and remote?

We used to have both options up until recently. Then the world pandemic stroke and social distancing has lead us to leverage virtual social networks more than ever before. The good thing is that once the quarantine ends we will have high appreciation for the physical encounter with our coaches, teachers, friends, coworkers and loved ones. Something we took more or less for granted before COVID-19, haven't we? The bad thing will probably be the arising pandemic of social media addiction, something that was there before, but is now probably at its peak.

Research has shown that personal support from important others can increase your physical and mental health and can turn out to be crucial for your well-being and performance. What about virtual social support? We hear a lot about the negative side effects of staring at the screens all day, but what about the benefits?

*Options and opportunities*

Pros: If you are leading a busy life, the feeling of having to be in five places at the same time will be familiar to you. Now imagine these five places being spread through the five continents. How much money, time, energy and planning would you need to meet with people from five different continents? How would that affect your well-being and performance?

And now ask yourself, how much money, time, energy and planning would you need to get in touch with these people with the help of your Wi-Fi server? Or your neighbor's?

Cons: Despite the opportunity to instantly connect with people from all over the world, communicating online can have similar detrimental effects to when you communicate with someone in person. Ever heard of energy vampires? These are the people that you talk to for 15 minutes and then feel as if you have been carrying a backpack filled with heavy stones for three days without consuming a single drop of water. The interesting fact is that it makes no difference whether you talk to energy vampires in person or remotely – the effect remains the same! So pay attention to who you let into your “social bubble” whether it's in real life or virtually.

You have tons of options online to find people that will offer good emotional support and contribute to your well-being, but there are just as many options to stumble upon those who don't. Choose your friends and online social communities wisely.

P.S.: Don't hate the energy vampires. They just need to work on themselves as do the rest of us. Simply reduce your connection with them as much as possible until they manage to log out of their vampire mode ?

*The “contagion” effect*

Now that we settled and cleared out the options, let's see what benefits they can bring us performance wise.

Pros: Communicating and exchanging ideas with people who have similar interests and goals in online communities can increase your chances for success. Let's say you want to get yourself in shape and provide your brain with oxygen and productive hormones through regular exercise. You set up a daily event within your online community. You encourage each other to show up, perform the exercise plan together through Zoom and give each other constructive positive feedback afterwards. The more people in your community see this, the more of them will want to take part and join the fun. Hence the “contagion” effect.

Cons: Being part of online communities can help you remain disciplined and motivated for reaching your goals and keep you committed to positive behaviors in the process. However, same as motivation, enthusiasm and persistence, there are other emotions and behaviors that are virtually contagious, such as hatred, profanity, intolerance, procrastination etc. You can fuel up with these as well. After all, there are people online who are spreading them around for free. Or they manipulate you into thinking that they are free or even good for you (!).

Negativity can be detrimental to your performance long-term, so build up your immunity against it: be aware of it, click ESC when you stumble upon it without hesitation, and let something better overwhelm you and your touchscreen instead.

*What does your brain have to say about this?*

With the development and rising popularity of social networks neuroscientists became interested in how tweeting, scrolling through the news feeds and posting stories on Instagram affect different regions of the brain.

Pros: Surprisingly, there are some good news! Building your social networks and being engaged in social media can improve your memory, activate your brain's reward center (the reason why we feel so good when we receive those likes) and indicate optimal functioning of the focal brain structures.

Cons: Not surprisingly, there are some bad news as well. Spending too much time on social media and putting too much importance to it can lead to sleep impairment, reduced attention span, herd mentality (“not thinking with your head”), phantom vibration syndrome, addiction (“I NEED those likes!”) and can be detrimental to your mental health.

To sum up, once the bars re-open and you have the chance to meet with our friends and colleagues, make sure to work on your personal-virtual social balance, as:

… there are some great opportunities online…

… that can help you reach your goals and increase your well-being…

… if you don't misuse them.

“Social media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.” – Brian Solis