Social Media. Over the last decade has entirely changed how we interact and connect with others. It has given us the ability to connect with strangers, stay connected with people who now live far from us, and given us a chance to keep up with the lives of our friends even when our own get busy. At a certain point, however, it transitioned from being simply a tool that encouraged connection into a leisure activity that has the potential to draw attention from the in-person and even become an addiction. As social media’s role in our lives grows it gives way a number of unhealthy behaviors that can actually have a negative effect on our mental health.
The “Idyllic” Show
Once it had gained popularity, social media became a useful way for children’s school pictures to be shared with grandparents across the country and news articles about happenings in our neighborhoods to be shared with a wider audience of people. While still widely used to do things like this, it’s also become a source of pressure to show off how charmed life is. The endless scroll so many of us do leads to feelings of inadequacy as we see the highlights of those around us. We see photos of relationships with smiling faces captions that read like tributes and begin to question the nature of our own, often forgetting in the moment that we’re seeing simply a snapshot of the entire nature. We see new homes being purchased, announcements about promotions at work, pictures of vacations and then look at our own lives and finding them lacking, failing to realize that we are comparing the best 10% of someone else’s life to the totality of our own. The desire to celebrate the people in our lives is often replaced by a competition to also only present the best of our own. The problem this creates, however, is that in this struggle to show the world the best parts of our journey there can be no vulnerability about our struggles and as social media replaces a larger and larger part of our lives we find that we have little to no outlet to express when we are having a difficult time.
While the pressure to show off our high points is a harmful effect of social media, we also find that the world at large is having a more open discussion about mental health. For those who are able to push past the barrier of only sharing the good via social sites, it can become a tool to reach out to those around us to seek comfort, ask for advice, and reach out for help. While often a general way to reach out to a large audience feels safer than going to the individuals we’re closest to, it leads to the opinions of others, often without basis or full knowledge of what factors might be in play, to be handed out without a second thought. We might be encouraged to “think positively” or to “look on the bright side” by others, which might lead to feeling like we should be capable of dealing with our struggles with positive thinking only. It can lead to bypassing the emotional work we might need to do in order to grow through these struggles or cause feelings of shame for not being capable of bright-sided thinking. Add to that the saturation of “be positive” messages we receive on social media sites in the form of inspirational quotes and it can begin to feel as if it’s not normal to have bad days or mental health challenges. While we should absolutely feel encouraged to think and feel positively, we also want to recognize our emotions as we have them, learn from them, and grow through them.
Use it Well
While these examples are just a small look at some of the ways we can misuse social media, there are other pitfalls to watch out for.
- Silent Judgment – People share details about their lives via social media platforms and we aren’t always going to feel pleased by the content we see. We might sit in silent judgment of the relationships others have, their political opinions, how they choose to spend their money. We don’t have to be honest about these feelings because we’re able to view them and judge privately, it can inspire negativity and gossip.
- Keyboard Warrior – Many of us are guilty about campaigning behind a cause or issue we feel passionate about via social media. On a public forum for opinions, the ease of not having to have these discourses face to face often gives people the courage to say things they wouldn’t say in person, speak to hurt others, or belittle someone for their opinion. This has the power to damage these same relationships in the real world.
- Weapon of Choice – The ability to “block” or “unfriend” someone on social media can be used as a tool to cause harm. We may be uncomfortable confronting someone in person so we use social media actions to deliver the message for us instead of facing a situation head-on.
All of this stands to be cautionary. Social media often enriches our lives and our social interactions. It stands to aid us in being more inclusive, hear a larger variety of experiences, and expand our social circles and perspective. If we avoid comparing our insides to the outside image of others and we seek to have interactions with love and tolerance we limit the ability social media has to create feelings of inadequacy, resentment, and depression.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.