Social media, for all of its benefits, has its share of perils when it comes to mental health. First off, even those who spend every other status message complaining usually aren't sharing their real troubles. "Stuck in traffic again" or "the dog got up on the counter and ate my dinner" generally isn't the worst thing people are going through (and if it is, bravo! Now please stop complaining!). If everyone's lives were as good as they made them sound on social media, a lot of therapists would probably be out of a job. Now, I'm not blaming people. Even with how much I share, I am aware that nobody wants to hear every time I'm in a depression or have a panic attack or didn't make a phone call that I needed to because of my phone anxiety. I run a Facebook support group for that. I don't put it on my status message. That's not why people are on there. They're there to see the 2,000 pictures of my dog. Ok, maybe not all 2,000, but I'm willing to bet those are probably way more appealing than the negative alternative.
But it's tough to reason with our brains when we're seeing others' status messages. As happy as I am for my friends having children, I'll admit that when I see five statuses in a row about pregnancies and new babies, I get a little "woah is me, I'll not experience that" and click off for a bit (if you're unfamiliar with the backstory, you can read about that here.) I'm sure the same that goes for the person who just went through a breakup and sees all of their friends getting engaged and married. To sum it up, social media makes it easy to compare others' triumphs with our struggles and see our lives as unfulfilling or ourselves as less adequate. When you're prone to depression, anxiety, panic, or mood cycling genetically, the effect is magnified further.
Social media also allows us to know "everything" that everyone else is doing. I've personally had the experience of being left out of plans and finding out on social media. We can see when people have read our messages, and know when they aren't replying, leaving us to wonder why. The flip side is, social media makes us feel all-knowing, even when we aren't. Maybe someone didn't reply because they were waiting for a doctor's appointment and got called back to the exam room right after they read our message, and then forgot all about it through the course of a busy day. Maybe I wasn't included in the plans because two of my friends had had a disagreement and were trying to talk it out over a drink, and it wasn't the big night out I thought it was when I saw the picture. But for those of us with anxiety or depression, those who battle self esteem and confidence issues (they don't always go hand-in-hand, but it's not uncommon), any reason for us to feel anxious, upset, less important, or unworthy, sets us in motion, regardless of how accurate it is. The brain can have a difficult time sorting out real from imaginary - it's why techniques such as mental imagery can be so powerful for improving performance, and why nightmares can be so terrifying even after we wake up and know that they weren't real.
In addition to the way it affects our emotions, social media can take away personal connection. Regardless of how many "friends" or "followers" I have, when I'm really feeling bad, I need to feel a real connection with someone I'm close with. And no, a like or retweet doesn't fulfill this need. I'm not saying this connection has to be in person. If you live far away and give me a text or email or call (ok please don't call me, I really do have phone anxiety) that's fine, because you've personally reached out to me and we're having a one on one conversation. Social media makes it easy to forget this. It's easy to invite friends out and then they spend half their time looking at their phone. It's easy for people to forget to contact to you to see how you really are because they've seen your status updates and figure they know all there is to know. It's easy for friends to share as much with virtual strangers as they do with you. For people who need that personal connection in a time of struggle, social media makes it easy to feel forgotten.
So use your social media. Enjoy it, have fun with it, connect with old friends and new ones. But know your limits. Understand when you need to take a break, when you must stop comparing, when you're literally letting it get to your head. Then, go outside and get some fresh air, or snuggle your dog (that would make a cute profile picture for later!), grab a drink with a friend and make a rule to not look at your phones during that time, or partake in a favorite non-electronic activity. Like everything else in life, it's about balance.
|Just for good measure, here's a cute picture of my dog.|