Is Social Media Affecting Your Mental Health?


08 Oct
08Oct

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I think it began with the right intentions. I also think, when used as a tool, it can offer a lot of value. It is a great way to connect with friends. It's great for businesses to build a brand and promote products. It used to be great as a news source, but that changed when censorship entered. Now, it feels like social media is causing more problems than it's worth and I'm starting to wonder how we can climb out of this negative spiral.

First, let's just say, anything, if not used in moderation, will become harmful. Even water. That applies to all of us. In addition, even the healthiest of us aren't equipped to battle algorithims that know how to push our buttons. The human brain doesn't change. Algorithims do. I'm sorry, but it is simply not a fair fight to put our brains up against them. We aren't going to win, not to mention, we don't even know we are in a battle. It's so slight, so gradual and so imperceptible, that we don't even know we are fighting, let alone losing. Social media is quietly infiltrating your deepest insecurities and holding you back from growth.  

For me, social media is like one big crowd of people. Now, if you love crowds, okay, maybe you can handle tools like Facebook better than I can. However, I'm personally not a fan of crowds. They deplete me. I have a low tolerance for them. I can handle a certain period of time and then I'm done. It's as if my energy stores are just drawn out, or maybe I just draw in the negative energy that circulates through them. I don't know, but I do know I recognize my limitations and I plan accordingly.

So, imagine yourself walking thru a crowd. Now granted, most are perfect strangers, but you are still observing, taking it in, watching facial expressions, catching pieces of conversations. You briefly assess just a snapshot of each person you pass.

Facebook is a crowd. It's just not a crowd of perfect strangers. You may know them well, or you may only have met them once, but generally you have some recognition of who they are, even if it's only surface level. In any case, whether it's in a crowd, or in a post, you aren't seeing the whole story, only a glimpse.

You don't know that before they posted that picture of their child going off to the first day of school, tears were shed. Their child didn't want to put their pants on. They wanted to wear a dirty shirt. They didn't want to eat their cheerios. They cried about not getting chocolate milk for breakfast.

It is possible that their child was an angel and offered up complete cooperation. I'm not saying there aren't people out there who have those kind of children. It happens. I think. Just not to me.

That's the point. You don't know. You are given one image and you complete their story. We "assume" the rest of their story. We "assume" that the picture captured the whole morning and it was perfect. We "assume" that they have a perfect life and they are the perfect parent. We assume that they must be doing better than you at parenting. I didn't see any stains on their kid's shirt. Their kid didn't look like they were just physically forced to wear pants.

And that's how the comparison trap begins. You don't even know you are doing it. You are just admiring cute "first day of school" photos, questioning your parenting skills in the back of your mind. You are just looking at that happy couple married for 40 years and still doing great. You don't even know you just painfully remembered that you will never have that long history with one person, after muddling thru a painful divorce. 

You are just looking at renovation pictures, wishing you had the money to redo your kitchen. You are watching people on vacation, wishing you were there. You are watching people eat yummy food, that suddenly you want. Or they are making cute crafts, that you don't have enough talent to make yourself. And don't even get me started on all the news posts that point us to Armageddon. 

Listen. I'm not saying we should all just end Facebook and stay off of it, though it's not the worst idea. I'm just saying you need to become aware of how it makes you feel when you are on it. It can be a growth tool, or it can stunt your growth. Maybe you've got a healthy grip on it. I applaud you if so! Maybe you aren't as bat crap crazy as I am. Maybe you don't suffer from perfectionism. Maybe you don't ever compare or envy or fight these battles in your head. I'm happy for you! I really am (and, since we are being honest, a little jealous, or a lot jealous).

I'm just suggesting to use social media carefully. Are you on it because you are bored and afraid to sit alone with your thoughts? Has social media basically become your digital pacifier? Are you looking for validation and approval by putting up a post and waiting for all the likes? Do you lose track of time when you get on it? Do you feel better or worse after you spend an hour scrolling thru your feed? Do you have a strong inclination to indulge in it repeatedly throughout the day? If so, that's the definition of addiction and it means social media has a hold on you.

If you use social media as a tool, with intention, then you have found a happy balance. If that tool screams at you from the workbench, and you can't put it down, then the tool owns you. If you have any doubt, ask your family and friends. They know. 

I personally am extremely intentional about my time on any social media, but that wasn't always the case. This too was a learning process. I had to first check-in with myself. Did I feel better after scrolling or worse? Was it helping me stay on task, or depleting me? Was I scrolling to avoid feelings I needed to actually stop and feel?  

I had to learn my balance, what works for me, which is exactly what you have to do. We aren't cut from the same cookie cutter. Now, I limit my time to a few minutes in the morning only, when my energy level is high and I am in a better mental state. I stopped any social media at night. I miss a lot of my friend's posts, but instead it forces me to text them, or catch up with a cup of coffee. I needed crowd control. I needed limits. I needed to stay on purpose or else I found my brain going into a creepy house of comparison and insecurity.

Social media, like everything else, is great, if used in moderation and if used with intention. It has great power to inspire others, while also keeping us connected to each other. It also has great power to absorb hours of your time, deplete your energy and hold you back from living YOUR best life, not the life someone else has posted.

Angela Miller is a Professional Life Coach passionately pursuing her purpose to help others remember who they are and how to become their best self. She is the creator and host of Real Talk About Depression, a podcast devoted to the uncomfortable subjects of depression and suicide. For more information about her coaching services, visit www.soaringforward.com.

For more information about the effects of social media on society, please check out the movie "The Social Dilemma." https://www.thesocialdilemma.com/the-dilemma/

 





 

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