Protecting Your Mental Wellness On Social Media

I'm Rishma!

Naturopathic Doctor & PhD turned scientific creative, travel adventurer, joy seeker, book lover, mom of two amazing humans, wife to her best friend. 

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Welcome to the XO Conversations Podcast! I’m your curious host Rishma Walji. This podcast is all about personal growth and loving life, usually with a research and science twist.  If you want to live your own extraordinary life, take my free quiz to find out your decision style. And you can get insider access information if you subscribe to my mailing list

Today we’re exploring the topic of social media and wellness. Be sure to check out the other more personal episode on the topic too, if you’re working through your own thoughts and feelings about social media.

Healthy Device Management

Today we’re talking to an expert specifically about how to protect your mental wellness when using your devices. My guest is Dr. Don Grant. He’s funny and he makes some very interesting, controversial and realistic points about social media in general and as users of social media so I thought it would be important to share.

DG: Well, thank you, firstly, so much Rishma, for inviting me to participate in this. As we’ve discussed, and we’ve talked offline, anyone who’s interested in this thing that I thought for years, or was worried for years that no one was interested in? They that people are, it’s important. And so my name is Dr. Don Grant. I’m a media psychologist. I’m also the president of the American Psychological Association, division 46, which is the Society for media psychology and technology. I am the Executive Director of outpatient services for Newport healthcare, and recently opened a PHP IOP treatment program for adolescents and teens in Santa Monica, California.

RW: Let’s get it out there that this is a hard topic, often people feel conflicted about their devices in general and social media in particular. We want to minimize our time with technology and optimize our real world lives but we’re also so dependent on technology and connected to our devices all the time. Why do we have such a hard time disconnecting?

DG: And I want to just tell everyone and let them know, I am not anti technology? I am all about it.

Yeah, it is useful. Yeah.

DG: Yeah. And there’s so many great things. And we can talk about that, you know, if we get into it, I absolutely am about it. But what I teach, and what I work with is healthy device management, and the practice of good digital citizenship. Because this is a really kind of new phenomenon, these devices, even though it feels like they’ve been around forever. They’re really only around whew, Let’s even say 20 years and the idea of the internet. That’s pretty new, too.

DG: Why do I do this work? Sometimes I don’t know. Because what it takes to keep up with it and state of the art in the morning is obsolete by noon. As I told you earlier, there’s so many pieces to this, I’m still trying to figure out who if anyone’s going to buy tick tock, there’s so many things in startups and technologies that we think will happen, and then they don’t. But it’s here to stay. And it’s very useful. 

Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants

RW: Dr. Grant talks about these terms digital immigrant vs digital native. He describes himself (and I’m included there) as the last generation of digital immigrants – people who learned to use computers and technology at some point in their adult lives. As opposed to digital natives who were born into the digital age.

He thinks of our experiences as very different, which of course they are.

Generationally there has been a fundamental shift and the next generation not only is exposed to more information and more access but it’s also happening at a much faster rate. They think and process information differently and interact with others differently.  Even as adults from a non-digital world, our lives too have shifted.

Human Connection IRL

Dr. Don describes the importance, amongst all this change in our lives, is to maintain connection. 

DG: Connection, human connection, the power of human connection. Now the fact that you and I can be in different countries, and different time zones, and be able to connect this way and then you can connect with your audience. This is one of the amazing things however, I will never, ever, and my research proves this my cup, my first research study showed this demonstrated, I will never believe even though this is great for distal connection for people who are geographically or otherwise compromise, the ability to connect, we saw this of course during the pandemic, but you will never convince me that it is better than the virtue, the value and the valence of IRL in real life connection.

So a hybrid a blend, so, but it’s here to stay, but what I’m worried about is that you don’t miss what you don’t know. Oh, whether it’s right or wrong, I feel charged as the last generations of digital immigrants to remind teach the generations who don’t know the value. So some important things and you can call me a geek. You can call me whatever you want and I will qualify things like my goodness

The art, the lost art of the love letter. I’m not trying to do a text and I’m certainly I teach the kids I work with a breakup text. I’ll tell you, if some boy ever tried to do a breakup text to my daughter photo albums, we have a million pictures in our phone. What’s going to happen is we’re going to green screens in our homes. So you’ll be able to digitally project, but I just don’t think people are going to projecting like a rolling photo album. And we don’t curate the pictures, we take 19,000 selfies or 16,000 shots of something. And we never curate them we never go through. I mean, there’s just certain things, the value, you can write lol all you want.

But it is never going to have the psychological, the neurological or the covalent bonding of when you’re sitting with friends, and you’re laughing out loud. And if you think about your memories with your people and your connections, and as Aronson says, and I believe that humans are social animals if you think back to the best times, with your crew, or your people or your family, I don’t think they’re video based right now. Now, someday, maybe they’ll be holographic or virtual reality. But when you think back to the times when you came together for good times, or bad times, they were in person.

If you think about our lives, we’re so dependent on our technology. It’s almost impossible to imagine a way to live without it.   And I’m constantly trying to balance this need to use it, and also to try to stay away from it.   

Recently I was telling someone that my car, is so old that has no technology. I mean nothing. I really would love to have bluetooth, or a GPS. The bar is really low. 

But when it comes to my phone, and social media in particular, people get dependent on it – in a way that honestly scares me. 

DG: “I remember maybe dating myself when the BlackBerry was gonna change the world. Because before that, we had those little like, Yo, those little flip phones. It was like, what’s up? But we used to call it where some of us used to call it kind of joking the Crackberry. Yes, right. Because we thought it was so addictive. We had no idea that a few years later, Apple was going to come up with something called an iPhone in 2007. So people asked me what I think the inflection point was where it tipped and this is an opinion. I believe that the change happened when the Internet became portable. And that happened with the iPhone. But I think that the difference happened when the Internet became portable, and we started being drawn into the vortex that the coders, and even the sides and the people who are Silicon Valley types, they boast about this. And they know, and they tell us, their goal is to keep you in once they draw you into this funhouse. They don’t want you to leave. That’s the goal. And coders actually have contests amongst themselves to see which ones can do the codes that can keep us in longer. But I’m also going to remind your audience, that if it’s free, you’re the product.

Getting ‘addicted’ to Social Media

Their goal is to get you in there so they can keep you in there to show you ads so that we are up against such a force field. We’re up against coders and and platforms that psychologically leverage something called the limbic. It’s the limbic system. It’s the variable rewards.

So the variable reward system is what was leveraged. It’s basically for people to make make it easy. It’s the slot machine. So when you pull a slot machine, you don’t know what’s gonna happen, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. So there’s something called the variable reward system. It’s dopamine and adrenaline and maybe a little cortisol. But it’s very exciting. So people sit there and they pull, pull, pull, pull. Same thing with devices now, stay with me, they could not put a lever on one of these phones things, right? 

The closest thing I could do was what? What is the same action like this? Push, draw, push to refresh. It’s the same, it’s the closest thing could come. So every time we push to refresh, or we scroll or Doom scroll, then we don’t know what’s next. We don’t know what’s next. We don’t know what’s next we don’t. So there’s something as a flaw in the human system in the limbic system that really likes that variable rewards. 

Dr Grant doesn’t go as far as calling it an addiction. I think there are some rules around what can be officially classified as such. But in my mind, it’s similar to the way I would think about sugar. It’s accepted in society, no one wants to give it up but we’re hooked on it in a way that resembles other addictive behaviours or substances. 

So what do we do about it?

We know we can’t go totally off grid. But we also don’t want to get consumed by technology.

Dr Grant argues to pause before you post.

Pause Before You Post

Okay, so my friends know what’s going on in my life. Thank you. So if I’m going to put something on social? I, you have to tell me, but I wonder what is your real motive? So do you contemplate what you’re posting? Do you think about it? Do you edit it? Do you what is your real reason? And what is your real reason for posting, sharing, liking or not? Because a lot of this stuff, I’m going to propose something crazy. That’s not new for me. But when I first first started my devices, 15 years ago, people thought it was nuts. I’m going to propose that a significant portion of what we post, right is really meant for one person.

So how do you know? How do you know if you need a break from your phone, from social media?  From my experience, both clinically and personally, I think if you’re overly stressed, always picking your phone up, almost as a habit – or an automated action; if you’re upset by what you’re looking at, if you feel worse, then it’s something to pay attention to. 

It’s always about awareness. Because it’s easy to deny there’s an issue at all, or to avoid dealing with it.

Spending Too Much Time on Social Media

DG: The first thing is admitting that you might have an issue. You don’t have to tell anyone, but you really might want to think about a few things. And it’s like when you look at any kind of issue in your life. So I go this way, I looked at, okay, if I’m rigorously honest, is this behavior meaning our relationship with devices in any way compromising or negatively impacting first my biological life? Then my psychological state, then my sociological experiences, then my academics slash career, then my environmental and if you look at and you’re rigorously honest, and you see that it is negatively impacting, then you want to look at, okay, what am I willing to consider being open to maybe thinking about blah, blah, blah, data dot ellipses, I might change your behavior. 

RW: This might be a harder question, but how do you separate? Let’s say the benefits and the negatives. So say someone is using their devices for work or something like that. But then it’s interfering on their personal life, of course, how do you recommend people separate those? It takes a lot of awareness, I think, to understand what you’re doing for work and what you’re doing for personal because all of it is on one device often, like I’m not getting distracted by my digital refrigerator, right?

My Kid Is Always Online 

DG: That’s a great question. And I’m going to start by saying I talk to a lot of parents who say my kid is on their phone or their vice all the time, like, okay, we’re not gonna like it. But this is how kids communicate. So if you talk to my parents, they would complain that I was on the phone. That was a real old school phone. And so my parents complained about that. And I finally wore them down. And first they got me first they got this thing called Call Waiting. Sorry if I’m getting myself because I was always on the phone as a teenager. And I was talking to my girlfriend or I was doing it. And so they got called waiting. But the problem would go away anyways, I never clicked over. So if I was having someone I wanted to talk to you, I wouldn’t click over. So I wore my poor parents out. And they got me that my own phone line because they were done. So I tell parents, you have to realize that kids don’t talk on the phone anymore. Their voicemails are full, they text and they DM so for parents, I say I want to say this part. If there’s any parents, so yeah, it looks like your kids on the phone. It’s what you were talking or the device is what you were talking about. You want to separate out what is communication? What is valuable, or useful or necessary use of the device because we use it for everything. And what is the other? So one of the things that i we i mentioned Doom scrolling.

Doomscrolling is where you excessively scroll or surf through bad news on social media and or online.  Dr Grant summarizes it as comparing and despairing. 

DG: So I want everyone to remember. All of our social media is self curated, self created, and self managed. So it’s our store window. It’s our personal shop window, where we can just put anything want there’s no oversight. We have complete control, we can put anything out there that we want. It doesn’t mean it’s real.

RW: And would you agree that then if we’re not good at managing our own emotions, we’re likely managing our emotions in other ways, like using technology or doing scrolling because we feel guilty and want to feel bad and cry or like, if we can’t manage our emotions, we’re using technology to self sabotage.

DG: Rishma I have to own this because I have to. I am supposed to be an expert in this. And I can fall victim to what I already know where I’m looking at your social. And I’m like, Oh, my God, look at Reshma. Like look at her like life. And she’s got this and she’s going on vacation and look at her job and look at all the parties. She goes. And I’m sitting there going like, wow, my life #sucks. Now, what I got to remember, and I fall for it, so I can’t imagine what people who because, again, this is all the game is being gamed against us. I have to remember well, I don’t know if that’s really true. And if her life is so super extra, and awesome, how does she have the time to post all this? And then I go back to those three things I talked about earlier. Why does she feel that she has to tell us all this what does she Alright, well, a lot of studies, most studies who look at this They’ve shown that there is a reverse correlation between a person’s happiness and satisfaction with life. And the amount of content they post on social. So in other words, Oh, yes. So what it means is sorry, not sorry, the more someone posts on social, it is in reverse direct correlation to how dissatisfied and how unhappy they are IRL. So you can look at these studies. So if you see that person who’s just flexing all over social and their life is awesome. Chances are now there are some variants to it, right? But chances are, that it can show you the opposite.

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which people understand their abilities, solve everyday life problems, work well, and make a significant contribution to the lives of their communities. Our social relationships affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. And not just the quantity but also the quality of our relationships.  

Social Media and Mental Health

One theory to explain the connection between social media and mental health is The Displaced Behavior Theory. According to the theory, people who spend more time in sedentary behaviors such as social media use have less time for face-to-face social interaction, which has been proven to be protective against mental disorders. In this theory, it’s less about the use of social media and more about the reduction of participation in other activities.

Another theory is related to Rapid task switching (also known as multitasking), that is encouraged by social media. The constant switching from one task to another, may be another root cause of depression.

There are several other explanations including reduction in sleep quality and quantity due to blue light or night time scrolling and the tendency to create superficial connections that aren’t really friendships. 

Whatever the cause, the prolonged use of social media platforms has been related to negative signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. No to mention that social media can create a lot of pressure to create the stereotype that others want to see and also being as popular as others.

So the main things to keep in mind, from the research and this interview, are to

  • foster deeper relationships, in person;
  • get out and do stuff activities, movement, social events; think about what you’re posting and why; and
  • put time limits – not just for how long you’re on your device but also when you’re on your device (for example, it’s probably not great to be on it at night before bed because it negatively impacts your sleep).

It’s a process and a balance, try to recognize where you’re at and be honest about your next steps while being compassionate with yourself if you need to try again. 

DG: And I’m going to give you one more thing I want to. So here’s, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this. Now. My mother tried to raise me, right. She she wrote. And she taught me that when I leave a party, or I leave an event that I should thank the host. And or the hostess, my poor children from birthday parties each day, eat of it. Go thank Mrs. or Mr. Whoever, Mr. And Mrs. Mr. and Mr. Whoever, I would make them go. They hated it. So when I go to an event, or a dinner, or whatever, I think, and I bet the dinners you know, where, where am I going with this reason

RW: that our kids are losing their skill, their social interaction skills?

DG: Well, what I see is that I don’t know if anyone’s ever seen this. I’ll be in a dinner. I’ll be in an event, I’ll be at something. I will watch someone go up and thank the house because of course, right? And that’s all before they’re in their car. They’ve already posted on social media. Thank you reasonably for the beautiful dinner the amazing of as unknown, like, I just saw you thank her. So I’m looking at perhaps a nefarious or insecure motive. How about this? So you posted I saw you thank that person. And then before you’re at your car, you’re already posting thank you so much in showing everyone who was there. Okay, so I wasn’t invited. And I’m looking at, it’s going like, wow, and what does that make me feel like? Like, I’m gonna be like, Rishma, why didn’t you invite me to your spot? But why is the person posting? So our motivation for posting anything? And that’s why I say before you post, you contemplate why you’re posting it. What’s your what’s your motivation? What do you need, and some kids and some adults say, I just need I need Valley validation. I need affirmation. Well, be very careful, because you might not get what you want. And there’s so saturated, that your posts might be at the wrong time. And maybe people didn’t see it, or maybe. And then I also tell people, be careful, because we’re so busy trying to see and harvest and look at how many likes shares hearts. Oh my god, excellent. You’re awesome. We forget about the people who are sitting out there. And they’re seeing it. And they’re making decisions too.

I don’t know if anyone really thinks that much about what they’re posting or why, and sometimes we may think that we’re just sharing our lives or keeping up with friends. But he makes some really interesting points about our deeper thoughts, or motivations or insecurities. This is why this is such a complex topic with so many variables. Things that I’ll admit, I don’t know how my kids or future generations will navigate.

He also brought up a really important component, which is safety.

Safety on Social Media With Video

DG: I also while we’re here, I just want to make sure I don’t forget this one of the things when you’re the guidelines we had to add in because it’s always changing what we’re doing right now. Video, you need to be there, all of us, especially professionals, you know, doctors used to cut out the their addresses on magazines, in waiting rooms of people whose babies they deliver. And we have to be very careful about our privacy and safety online. Because now we are just showing everything not just by content, but now there’s a video aspect and we have to be very careful about what is revealed behind us and what people can see because they will make judgments tick tock actually the what was the thing they were doing on the the metrics? Oh gosh, the they were showing that they’re now collecting voiceprints they’re looking at objects that are behind us. They’re looking at where we are and they’re collecting this data so it with video platforming people, it’s new. Just remember what and yes, I have read all these books in this is not fake. 

These are some important but scary points, safety especially with video and understanding that once something is posted online, it’s there forever. 

DG: Every single thing we post every piece of content, every artifact, every collateral is now forever archived. Now, even if you delete it, you don’t know someone screenshotted it and it’s being beamed out into space. So even though you think you deleted it, and I tell the kids I work with from the time you start with social, especially, you are creating your autobiography, you are creating it, curating it, editing it and presenting it. But we need to remember that every single thing that we put out there is forever. 

We talked about another thing that as a parent, and a parent of teens I struggle with a lot. So I hate feeling like I’m doing a bad job but it’s a good reminder for me. And if you’re a parent, hopefully you’ll see this not as a judgement but as a reminder too. 

Absent Presence vs Present Presence

DG: So one of my big banner billboard, things is absent presence versus present presence. So we know what President presence is. And we’re even doing it through digital mediated communication right now. Right? So we’re still we’re present. Because we’re looking at each other, we’re connecting. And when we’re in real life, you know, we know when we’re present with someone, right? So what would be absent presence in terms of devices?

RW: You’re on your phone while you’re at dinner with your family?

DG: Well, first of all, I think if a device is on the table, it’s on the table. And I always encourage, you know what, because here’s that what I get from that is, if I sit with you, and we’re making, I’m making this up, we’re having a lunch date, and we haven’t seen each other and we sit down and you put your device on the table. What is the message to me even if you didn’t mean it? What’s the message to

RW: Yeah, if the phone rings, I’m gonna get it and it’s more important than me being with you.

DG: Yes, I’m important to you. But if there’s an organic bid, that’s better. It’s the equivalent of when you’re And I’m sure this has never happened to you. It’s happened to me. I’m at a party in real life, and someone comes up to me and they’re talking to me, and they’re looking over my shoulder for a better bid. It feels awful. So even if you didn’t mean it, if the phone is there, it means I’m important you but you’ll accept a better bid.

So I don’t think anybody should ever have phones on the table families, when you’re with someone put it away, turn it off, I’m telling you, the zombie apocalypse will probably not happen during that hour. If it does, we’ve all seen the Walking Dead series, we know just take your device and slam it through the head through the head don’t so be present. But for parents, I think it’s really important because absent presence means for any of us that were there corporate, corporate and corporate presence, but we’re on our device. Now, when we’re doing that we absolutely could miss organic bids for connection, we could miss our best friend that we would have had walking by the love of our life. We’re so busy bids for connection. I was like how do I meet someone well get off your device. But not being aware and not being willing. You could miss out because online, everything like I said is archived. And if you feel like you missed something you were talking about taking a digital detox maybe or break. Oh, the good news is if it’s on a device, it is digitally archived forever being beamed out to space.

So if you decide to go off of any social or anything, oh, good news, you’ll miss nothing, you can always go back in. It’s like the never ending jump rope game, you can always go back in and see what you missed, you probably didn’t miss a lot.. A lot of caregivers during the developmental stage, when kids learn attachment, secure attachment, insecurity, attachment.

If you are on your device, the kid doesn’t know all they know is they’re trying to get your attention. And I really, really want parents to do my research right now, I really want parents to be mindful about being on their device around their kids. Because the message to the kid is, you’re not as important. What you have to tell me is not important. And the kids trying to get mommy daddy caregivers attention. And you could really imprint them with us form of insecure attachment or a rupture of attachment that you never intended because you’re on your device. So that’s something with apps and presence with parents, I really am talking about and researching and studying right now. But even with brands, being in absolute presence, meaning you’re there, but you’re on your device,

RW: you’re not really there. And I just want to clarify to you because you mentioned attachment, which we always talk about in toddler years. But kids brains don’t really form until they’re in their 20s, like early 20s. So this could actually be I mean, especially with teenagers who are going through so much. They only talk in this like one moment, if you miss it, it’s done. And they just leave like you have to be there all the time.

DG: Okay, so yeah, so the team so the human brain doesn’t form fully until it’s prunes and learns until about 25 or 26. Yes, so the developmental stage of attachment important. But what I because I work with teens, I tell parents, and I’ve had teens, you know, it’s like I have my own. So there might be that one moment where they feel vulnerable. Or maybe they couldn’t get any of their friends on social and no one was hitting them back. So like, okay, and they want to talk to you, they want to ask you something, and they come downstairs or they come into the other room and they want to ask you,. You’ll miss it. I love that you said that. Because it’s so true. And you will have missed an opportunity.   

If you’re still with me this far, you know I need to get into the really scary stuff. Dr Grant wouldn’t end without mentioning the stuff that as parents, we stay up at night worrying about, but we need to know about. 

DG: Right. So the online disinhibition effect is a phenomenon that means that we are more likely to say things do things behave in ways protected by the veil of, of device or technology, mediated communication that we would never, ever say or do or behave like, IRL in real life? Now, there are some great pieces of this if they’re done carefully for people who are you know, questioning, gender, sexuality, political beliefs, addiction things. There’s a lot of great if you if you wouldn’t do any real life, whatever, I encourage you to do it, but if you want, there’s a lot of learning things. There’s a lot of things, but there’s also a very dark side to it. Because the trolling the cyber bullying, the tricky behavior, the subtle, subtle, here are some subtle ways that especially social media can be wielded amongst friends. And as a teaser, a whole reason all those years ago I got into this was because I was trying to be a good dad. And in 2007, my little princesses have you wrapped, I’m not gonna lie, I own it. They do. They’re amazing. The most of my life. They’re amazing. They can have anything. They’re great kids, amazing kids. I think their mother for that. But they’re great kids, but I gave them and I gave my daughter an iPhone. And something happened that we now know is a very, very subtle form of cyberbullying. All it was was she was left out of the picture. But it destroyed her. And I realized I had handed my daughter a potential weapon, I didn’t understand it. So I also encouraged parents when you give them these phones, when you give them Xboxes Playstations allow them to be you are allowing them to go play wherever they want. So the way that social media is among friend and fake friends, it’s very subtle.

RW: It’s almost worse though, because you trust these people.

DG: Okay, we have to say this because it’s true. So depression, anxiety, self harm, and suicide. And one, of course, is too many, was stabilized for decades, decades amongst teens. And then in 2012, we started seeing this crazy increase in it that we can understand and as researchers and people who do what I do, we want to know why. So we’re trying to figure out why now, full transparency, absolute disclaimer, my hypothesis, not yet proven. And I’m sure there’s many variables of why, and we’ve identified some potentials. But you cannot tell me of saying it, you cannot tell me that we started seeing depression, anxiety, and the rest with kids really starting to come out of nowhere and spike in 2012. And Instagram, and Snapchat, were launched in 2011. Comparing disappearing, we’re just trying to prove it. So I can’t really say it’s just again, hypothesis. But we’re looking at social media. 

Look, as scary as social media is, it’s the way our kids communicate. They need to be on to stay connected and our generation probably doesn’t understand that. At least, I don’t. I’m an old school, meet for lunch or call on the phone person. I don’t even text much. Seriously, I still call people to wish them happy birthday! 

But I too have given my kids a phone, they need to have some independence and I’m trying to stay on top of any issues that arise. I don’t have all the answers – in fact as I work on this episode I’m super aware that my kids are currently on their devices – but we do the best we can, we learn and we grow and we do our best. 

I’m trying to communicate with my kids about why I’m concerned, allowing them to have some freedom while giving them some boundaries.  And trying to model myself, what I want them to learn. 

DG: Oh, yes. Thank everyone for if you listen to this, and please support Reshma. She’s the real deal. She’s legit, please support her podcast if you have any questions. She knows where to find me, but you can probably find me too. My name is Dr. Don grant. Thank you very much.

RW: Oh, thank you so much.

Thank you so much for joining me.  I’d love to know your thoughts on the subject. Feel free to reach out and message me at I’m interested in your challenges, things that help you related to social media or life in general. I try to respond to all the messages so please do send me a note anytime.

If you are enjoying the podcast, please leave a review on itunes. It’s personally really nice to know that you’re out there and enjoying the podcast, and it also helps other people find the podcast so that they can listen too. You can also forward this episode to someone who might be interested in the topic.


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Travel adventurer, joy seeker, book lover

Hi, I'm Rishma.
Your BFF + New
Life Strategist.

I ran a thriving healthcare practice as a Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncturist for over 20 years. I also earned my PhD and spent time in academic research and teaching positions. Now, I read scientific studies because I'm passionate about personal growth. I use the insights to help me, and our community, live our own XO life.

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