Well-Being//

The NBA Is Addicted to Social Media

Here’s why it’s such a big problem, and what they’re doing about it.

Image by Barks_japan/ Getty Images

Do you ever feel like you need a social media cleanse? We’ve all experienced the effect of these platforms on our health and well-being — whether they act as a distraction from our work, a pull away from our inner monologue, or even a reason to feel worse about our lives in comparison to others.

Now imagine being an professional basketball player in the NBA, where many players use social media to connect to fans, hone their public images, and even bring in an extra source of income.

When Bleacher Report published a deep-dive report into the NBA’s relationship with social media this week, we were captivated by the effects of social media on players. Here are five of the most fascinating things from the report.

1. It’s not only an NBA problem, but many teams are really struggling.

NBA executives are consulting startups to get players off of their phones in team meetings, which gives you a sense of the intense levels of screen time many of them put in. But research continues to tell us that social media addiction transcends this one sport. “These apps are designed to be addicting,” says Matthew Mayberry of Boundless Mind, the AI start-up that one coach approached to fix his team’s phone addiction problem. “Anybody, whether you’re LeBron James or a guy with 10 followers, when somebody likes your photo, that little Like releases dopamine in your brain and it makes you feel good. It makes you want to come back and do that action again because you want to chase that high. You get stuck in this habit loop.”

2. The nature of the sport puts players at risk.

You might be asking, “Why the NBA? Is this as big of an issue in the NFL or MLB?” According to Bleacher Report, basketball is the most “social media-friendly” of all major sports. “[There are] no masks to hide behind. Sharable highlights. A fluid game paired with an equally spontaneous news cycle,” reporter Tom Haberstroh explains. The nature of modern basketball allows fans to watch and share game highlights online, which begs for more social media usage on the players’ side. Plus, as Haberstroh points out, many team owners have ties to tech, so attention to one’s phone and to the technological possibilities of engagement with fans may stem from the top, Haberstroh notes.

3. It’s not only personal. It’s professional.

If you’re wondering why NBA players are so invested in their screen time, it’s often because, for many of them, their online presence has become a secondary source of profit. “Players have hired agents, social media and business managers to help navigate and, in some cases, profit from their social media usage,” Haberstroh reports. But even with assistance, Haberstroh notes that maintaining robust digital versions of oneself can be “stressful” and “difficult.” “It’s overwhelming,” adds Dr. William D. Parham, the NBPA’s recently-hired mental health and wellness director. “It’s a system that’s here to stay. It’s a whole new beast. People get caught up in identities and all sorts of stuff, and they have an investment in maintaining that identity.”

4. Some players have tried to change things.

Haberstroh points out that some teams have quietly tried to change their behavior, partnering with Boundless Mind’s app, which encourages users to take two deep breaths before their social media app opens up, and even with Headspace, which provides guided meditations to players who need a few minutes of mindfulness before a game.

Plus, some of the players themselves have made changes. For example, JJ Redick, of the Philadelphia 76ers, deleted all his social media accounts this August, and players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry habitually go “dark” on their social media accounts during playoff season.

5. Despite these efforts, the problem has taken over the game.

Although a few players have made efforts in their own lives to detach from their screens, the problem spans beyond a few individual changes — and coaches are unsure how to navigate the progressing dilemma. “You’re banging your head against the wall if you’re going to try to get them to put their phones down,” Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told the Washington Post. “They’re not on their phones when we’re in meetings, they’re not on their phones when they’re out there playing. But every other time, [they’re on them] as soon as I walk out of the postgame meeting.”

If social media is compromising your well-being or distracting you from being fully present, here are a few microsteps to take to better manage your relationship with your phone:

1. Make an unplugging appointment with yourself before bedtime

An hour before you go to sleep, put away all devices, and instead take the time to read a book or reflect on your day. By making a deliberate appointment to put your phone away for the night, you’ll sleep better, relax, and go to bed with a clear head, instead of feeling consumed with the noise of social media. Your feed will still be there in the morning!

2. Put away your phone and be aware of your surroundings during your commute or while you’re running errands
Consciously unplugging while on the move will help you connect with the people, sights and scenes around you. You can even take the time to talk to a friend, or just take a few much-needed deep breaths. Instead of seeing transportation as the time to check your feed, see it as the perfect opportunity to take stock of what you’re grateful for.

3. Adjust your phone’s settings

Whether you’re implementing Apple’s new Screen Time features or turning off email notifications on your phone, there are several steps you can take that will give you fewer interruptions and notifications. You’ll find that by setting boundaries on using specific apps, you’ll be less likely to grab for your phone every five minutes.

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More from Thrive Global:

8 Things You Should do After 8 p.m. if You Want to Be Happy and Successful

The One Relationship You’re Probably Ignoring

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