9 Tips for Managing Social Media and Mental Health
By Sofia Bronze
For many of us social media plays a big part in our daily lives – it allows us to stay connected with friends and family globally, network, discover information that enables rapid learning and brings awareness to important issues like never before. It can help us find new friendships, become involved in communities of shared interest, and seek or receive emotional support when times get tough.
Most recently during the pandemic, we learned how helpful social media was to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness when it became harder for us to connect with each other. Many individuals were able to increase social connection and it can certainly help those who struggle with social anxiety, have limited independence or live in a remote area.
While we can appreciate the benefits of social media, we must also be aware that it can negatively impact our mental health. As research continues to study the long term effects of social media and mental health, the literature does indicate it can promote negative experiences.
Feeling like you don’t measure up with your appearance and in life:
We might be aware that the images on social media are filtered or adjusted, it can still make us feel insecure about our physical appearance and what’s going on in our daily lives. For instance, it is common for people to share the positives about their lives or experiences on social media, while leaving out the not so positive aspects. This can lead to feelings of envy and overall discontent as we scroll through a friend’s account reading about their move abroad, exciting job opportunity or viewing filtered photos of their travels down south.
Through the constant comparisons, photoshops, filters, and fitspo and thinspo (terms coined to describe accounts that influence users to be fit and thin), social media can perpetuate a negative body image and impact our self esteem which can lead to unhealthy behaviours, like disordered eating.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO):
The idea of FOMO has been around for years before social media, however platforms such as Facebook appear to heighten the feeling that others are participating in more fun or exciting activities without us or living a lifestyle that is better than ours. The fear of missing out can negatively impact confidence and increase anxiety.
Social media can be addictive:
FOMO can fuel even more social media use, we may feel the need to check for updates throughout the day, or react to every alert received. You might be worried about missing an invitation, or will be left out of a conversation at work/school because you missed news or the latest update on social media. Perhaps you feel the need to like or respond to other peoples posts due to fearing your relationships will suffer.
Research has shown a chemical known as Dopamine is released in our brain when we engage in rewarding experiences – the brain is designed this way to feel pleasure when such experiences occur and one of those includes social connection (whether it is in person or online). Dopamine plays an important role in developing addictive and compulsive habits. Studies have indicated, social media apps and platforms release large amounts of dopamine into the brain’s reward centre at once which are similar to addictive substances such as alcohol. Consequently, when we are no longer on social media and sign off, we enter into a dopamine deficit state and our body attempts to adjust to an unnatural high level of dopamine that was just released. This may explain why we feel better on social media and not so great once offline, which in turn influences more social media use.
Anxiety and Depression:
As humans we are built to need and benefit from in person connection which positively impacts our mental health. There is no denying meeting with a friend or loved one, face to face, can help to improve mood and reduce stress. Prioritising social media instead of face to face interaction has been shown to increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Social media can open the door to cyberbullying for which youth are particularly vulnerable. Cyberbullying has been linked to depression and can even lead to symptoms of post traumatic stress in teenagers.
Social media can act as a band aid solution for underlying issues:
Some people spend time on social media when feeling low, bored or lonely, as a means to distract themselves from unsettling feelings or to even self regulate their mood. Without feeling or connecting to our emotions it can be harder to develop healthier ways to cope and manage our mood.
Can impact how we interact in person:
Excessive social media use with limited face to face interaction can affect our social skills in person. This is particularly true for those who struggle with social anxiety. Without exposure in person we may miss out on opportunities to face our fears.
We outlined a few signs that may indicate social media is affecting you:
- Constantly comparing yourself to others on social media.
- You feel worse after social media use.
- Spending most of your time on social media rather than with friends or loved ones in person.
- Unable to concentrate at work, school or be present in your relationships due to excessive social media use.
- Experiencing sleep issues, particularly if you use social media right before bedtime.
- Symptoms of anxiety and depression worsen.
- Low self esteem or confidence.
- Relying on social media to cope with your problems.
- You are a victim of cyberbullying or you are anxious about what others may say about you online.
9 ways to manage social media use for better mental health:
- Be curious about your behaviour. Begin to explore why you are turning to social media ( i.e., is it for distraction or entertainment?). Ask yourself what role does it serve in your life.
- Being aware of your triggers. Notice what type of posts, pages or content impact your mood and limit your exposure.
- Find a community online that is supportive and can help change your mindset.
- Try to follow posts that uplift or inspire you, rather than those that put you down.
- Moderate social media use and limit time spent online. A few helpful strategies:
- Use an app to track your time online.
- Turn off your phone at certain times of the day ( i.e., while having dinner with someone else).
- Avoid bringing devices to bed.
- Disable social media notifications or set your device to “do not disturb.”
- Mindfully limit how many times you check your phone during the day.
- Remove social media apps from your devices.
- Find a good balance between social media use and life. Set aside time each week to connect with others face to face, find a hobby, creative outlet or join a gym or club. Get involved in the community.
- Practice mindfulness by acknowledging what you see online is not necessarily reality. Acknowledge when you are experiencing thoughts of comparison and practice gratitude for the things that exist in your life (it may help to write them down).
- Help youth manage their social media use:
- Teach them that social media is not necessarily based in reality.
- Monitor and limit their use (social media breaks).
- Encourage teens to speak about underlying issues.
- Promote offline activities, in particular physical movement and exercise.
- Seek help and support. If you are struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety or poor self esteem, and can’t seem to manage your social media use, it might be helpful to seek out individual support from a therapist.
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Am I stressed? Anxious? Or something else?
Stressed. Worn. Tired. Strained. Overworked.
Anxious. Uncertain. Nervous. Panicky. Concerned.
Both sets of words are things we are hearing a lot from our clients, our friends, family, and most definitely experiencing ourselves. So why is it important to set them apart? Using the right words and vocabulary to label emotions is the first step to understanding what is going on. When we are able to grab hold of a word that describes how we are feeling, suddenly the picture seems less messy, and we are able to start building a road map to address the issue.
“Name it to Tame it”
The “Name it to Tame it” strategy was created by Dan Siegel as a way to help children through their emotional storms. (Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcDLzppD4Jc)
We are going to take that strategy and look at how we can put it into practice for ourselves.
1. Notice what’s happening in your body.
When we are upset or agitated, we often jump right to the thought. Try pausing and first noticing what’s going on physically, really pay attention to where in your body you are experiencing it, and say it out loud to yourself. As Mitch Albott said “By labelling an emotion, we can create distance between ourselves and our experience that allows us to choose how to respond to challenges.”
For example: “My palms are sweaty, my hands are tight”
“ My stomach feels upset, I’m having a hard time catching my breath”
2. Identify the feeling→ get specific
For example: “I’m feeling angry and frustrated”
“I’m feeling nervous and overwhelmed”
Check out this emotion wheel to boost your vocabulary.
3. What is the emotion telling you? ( think about needs, values, etc.)
This is also a good time to check in with your physical needs. (Have you eaten, drank water, been outside, moved your body, stepped away from a screen, etc.)
For example: “I don’t want to be late for work”
“I don’t want to get in trouble”
4. Take action. Instead of reacting to the emotion or initial physical discomfort.
What is a more thoughtful or helpful action you can take? Does your reaction match the situation, or is it an assumed consequence you are reacting too? Often the act of avoidance makes the situation and our emotional response worse.
For example: “I’m worried about being late for work because I don’t want my boss to be upset. I don’t have control over this traffic or my boss’s reaction, but I can make a call to let them know what’s going on.”
“I’m scared to tell my friend I broke their tennis racquet, and I can’t afford a new one. I don’t have control over how they will react, but I can at least talk to them to see what our options might be.”
Slowing down to connect with our emotions is something that many of us weren’t taught growing up. We are seeing it more in the education system, and in mainstream media, but reading about it and putting it into practice are 2 different things.
Here are a few grounding strategies to try during any of these steps:
- Deep breathing- in through your nose, out through your mouth
- Flex and release different muscle groups as you deep breathe (your feet, then your legs, stomach, arms, and so on.)
- If you have access to it, hold ice cubes in your hands, or your mouth, place an ice pack on your chest or over your eyes.
Take a moment and reflect on the skills listed above. Are they something you are familiar with? Have you tried it? If not, what is the block for you? There are ample times throughout our day where we can practice this- you don’t have to wait for a crisis to hit, and it’s actually better to practice when we aren’t completely overwhelmed.
If you’d like to learn more, connect with one of the therapists on our team.
What is Postpartum Rage?
You’ve made it home with your new babe. You’re adjusting to the lifestyle changes and working through the hormones and the new everyday intensity that come along with postpartum life. You’ve possibly heard of “Postpartum Depression”, “Baby Blues” and “Postpartum Anxiety”. The trouble is, none of these searches online or discussions with your friends and loved ones fit the bill of what you are experiencing.
Maybe you’re feeling tired, a little sad, and worried about your new baby. You are told over and over this is the “average postpartum” experience, but you know there is something more happening for you. You are struggling to feel understood, wrestling with feelings of guilt and are worried about what all of this means for you and your baby.
So What the Heck is Normal Then?
If you are being honest with yourself, the hardest feelings to acknowledge are the intense feelings of frustration, anger and even rage. Sometimes toward your partner. Sometimes toward your family. And sometimes the frustration is toward yourself or little one. Your patience may be shorter. You’re not parenting your other kids like you know you can, or want to. There is a part of you that wants to ask for help, but there is a louder part that feels like no one can look after your baby like you can. You are feeling confused, angry, conflicted and overwhelmed.
You may be feeling hopeless and angry that no one is helping you as you need. Overwhelmed by the dozens of decisions you have to make, and defensive, because you are expected to be an “expert” at something that doesn’t feel second nature to you. You may feel scared to tell someone about this. Intrusive thoughts like, “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “this isn’t normal” fuel guilt and send us into a shame cycle that only furthers our silence. This internal dialogue is eating you up. Not to mention the worry about what others would think of you if they knew the truth.
Research has shown over and over again that the sooner we can support mom, the better we can protect and nurture the well-being of baby and the family. Experiencing a shift in your ability to manage your emotions, care for yourself, or recognize a change in your motivation or interests is scary. You are not alone in this, and you are not to blame.
Anger is an emotion just like any other emotion. It is inherently neither good or bad, it just is. It is important to abandon traditional notions of labelling our emotions either positive or negative. This will help you lean into the emotion and really feel it, free of the judgement that comes with labels. How we experience, process and communicate the emotion is where the skill comes in. The key here is in recognizing when the anger is more intense and less controllable than how you would normally experience anger.
Try this quick Anger Self Check to better understand what you are feeling right now.
Anger Self Check:
How often did you feel anger 6 months ago?
How often do you experience it now?
How did you manage your anger 6 months ago?
How do you manage it now?
How would you describe your anger? (ie. explosive, always boiling just under the surface, surprising, etc.)
Do you feel like you are constantly angered by things that might have only annoyed you before?
If there has been a shift in your level of anger from 6 months ago to now, you could most likely benefit from connecting with someone whom you trust for support.
Postpartum anger or rage can be a symptom of depression or anxiety, as well as OCD and trauma (PTSD). For some women, heightened symptoms of anger may be different enough from their norm to be considered a red flag. For others, the experience of postpartum rage can feel abnormal and frightening.
What is Postpartum Rage?
– Reacting quickly and passionately over small things (like a spilled drink)
– Heart races and blood pressure rises when you start to get upset
– You cannot stop thinking bad thoughts about someone who wronged you
– Feeling violent urges or imagining doing something violent to yourself or someone else
– Screaming or swearing
– Punching or throwing things
– Unable to “snap out of it” and needing someone else to intervene
– Inability to remember everything that happened during the outburst of rage
– Immediately feeling regret or a flood of emotions afterwards (Rapisarda, 2018)
Postpartum anger or rage is an emotional reaction that is often overlooked. Culturally, it is easier for women to discuss feeling sad than to talk about anger, which is why few women report it, and why there is limited research on it (Ou, 2018). Normalizing the conversation about postpartum mental health is a step in the right direction. Taking the risk to be vulnerable with those who are close to you will help you put words to these feelings and to receive support. It does get easier, the more you share and simply unload.
A study by Ou (2018), found 3 common themes for women experiencing postnatal depression:
(i) anger accompanying depression,
(ii) powerlessness as a component of depression and anger, and
(iii) anger occurring as a result of expectations being violated.
In other words, postpartum anger can happen when we experience postpartum depression or anxiety, or, it can happen independently. Postpartum anger can have negative effects on our relationships, our ability to parent, and our ability to take care of ourselves. Considering this, it is no wonder that postpartum anger can leave you feeling constantly overwhelmed.
In addition to our own internal dialogue around mothering and the guilt we may feel as a result of our anger, we may also be dealing with outside sources of information that may cause us to feel guilty, judged or alone. The societal pressure to be the idyllic self-sacrificing mother is harmful and not helpful, further isolating and silencing women. We receive these messages through the media, social media and even our family and friends. Challenging these messages is especially difficult when you are not feeling yourself.
Here are some tips for managing anger that you can apply today.
Tips for Managing Anger in the Moment:
1. Walk away. If you are feeling the anger start to rise and are in a position you can safely move yourself to another room, try to do so.
2. Take a deep breath, count to 10 and back down to 1 before responding
3. Ground yourself. Find a square and with your eyes, follow along the top of the square for 4 seconds as you inhale, down the side for 4 seconds as you hold, along the bottom for 4 seconds as you exhale, and repeat.
4. Communicate. It can feel scary to be vulnerable. Find a safe person you can talk too about what’s going on.
It can feel scary or daunting to ask for help. But remind yourself as big a risk as being vulnerable and opening up about feelings appears to be, the payoff is equally big. Sharing and receiving unconditional support is a gamechanger. If this is something you or someone you know has struggled with, talk to your doctor and connect with someone who can walk with you, nonjudgmentally, as you navigate this chapter. Therapists are the perfect fit for mothers who need support. A supportive, non-judgemental environment that focuses on you and your emotions is what you need to feel the support, understanding and tools to manage. You don’t have to do this alone.
Ou, C. H., & Hall, W. A. (2018). Anger in the context of postnatal depression: An integrative review. Birth, 45(4), 336–346. doi: 10.1111/birt.12356
Rapisarda, V. (2018, May 28). A Mother’s Guide to Postpartum Rage. Retrieved from http://runningintriangles.com/postpartum-rage/Learn More