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.
BE YOU – 5 Ways to Boost Self-Esteem
It can be extremely hard to believe in yourself when you start to compare your life with others, especially when you have access to a virtual world that constantly advertises and promotes how to “live your life”. There are times you may compare the way you look with celebrities online. You may start to develop a new definition of success when you discover another person with similar life experiences. Have you had negative thoughts about your appearance? Have you compared your level of achievements to your coworkers? Do you allow your inner critic to stop you from doing the things you enjoy or trying new things? In times of doubt or self-consciousness your level of confidence and self-esteem are very vulnerable.
Here are 5 Ways to Boost Self-Esteem, these are tips to remind you to BE the best version of YOU there is:
- Stop comparing yourself
Everybody is unique in their own way which makes them who they are. Focus on living your own life and becoming the best version of you.
- Recognize your strengths
You have your own strengths and qualities! Recognize what best qualities you have to offer to the world.
- Rethink which relationships matter
It is important to invest your time in relationships with supportive friends who lift you up and have your back.
- Learn to accept compliments
Quiet the negative self-talk and don’t let that voice put you down. The people around you see certain qualities you possess that you sometimes forget that you have. Practice saying “thank you” when someone pays you a compliment.
- Explore a passion
When you explore a new passion, it brings exciting feelings of curiosity, growth and joy that can sometimes be forgotten when you are focused on a daily routine.
When you are experiencing milestones such as entering post-secondary education or starting a new job, you may have worries about how others view you. It is hard to not be your own worst critic in everything that you do. When you are feeling down or start to think about only the negatives take a PAUSE and REFLECT. Remind yourself of the tips above and replace those negative thoughts and opinions with positive aspects of yourself that you have to offer.
There are many other ways to boost your self-esteem, try one of the activities below during a time of reflection:
- Look at yourself in the mirror and compliment yourself
- Write 5 strengths and talents you have
- Ask a friend or loved one to name 3 strengths that you have
- Write a letter to your past self about the achievement you are proud of, mistakes you learned from and advice on how to do things differently
Finding Hope During the Pandemic
During the pandemic, initial days of isolation turned into weeks, then into months, and now nearly two years later, our lives have become entirely uprooted and far from the reality we once knew. Normal routines and tasks became increasingly stressful, with more demands placed on us, and the lockdowns proved it was not just our routines that became disrupted, but our relationships too.
Facing uncertainty or an upheaval of our routines can wreak havoc on our minds and it is easy to get lost in worry for the future or to play out the worst case scenarios. It’s natural to experience feelings of helplessness during these times or anytime of uncertainty.
Hope is the key trait that allows us to be resilient in the face of uncertainty. A fundamental aspect of being human is having hope, and it is a big part of the reason why we are able to achieve our goals and push through difficulties. History has demonstrated over and over again, even in situations of complete devastation, such as war, genocide, or a global pandemic, people have persevered because they had hope for a brighter future. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh stated, “ Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
So how can we find hope during challenging times? The antidote is to bring awareness to our thoughts and emotions, and to try to be in the present moment. Take a moment now to reflect on how hope has helped you through a difficult time in life or even through the pandemic:
- What were your best hopes?
- What aspects or areas of your life helped you persevere (e.g., family, friendship, faith, an activity, a group, or even a purpose)
These questions will help us when we find ourselves in spaces of panic, helplessness or feelings of despair, where we may believe we lack hope and this tends to cloud our judgment. The challenge is to retrain our minds and begin to shift our perception. To shine light on areas of hope. The moment we make this shift, everything begins to change. You may remember your purpose, look forward to new challenges, and start to face life with a renewed optimism.
As humans we are able to change the way we think and perceive our world. The more you engage in a particular task, way of thinking or perceiving, the stronger the neural pathway gets. Shifting neural pathways or even creating new ones can be done and is a process called Neuroplasticity. The idea of neuroplasticity is profound as it means with conscious and mindful effort we can rewire our brain (Neuroplasticity, www.psychologytoday.com/ca/basics/neuroplasticity).
From reading blogs, self directed tools, books or attending therapy, there are many options for how we can begin to shift our perceptions, to find or identify the places of hope that already exist within our lives.
A useful approach is to use Solution Focused Strategies as it helps people shift their perceptions by identifying their strengths and to further develop their skills and coping mechanisms, even in the middle of chaos. It is a goal-directed model, focused on locating solutions using hope as a guide.
Here are some questions you can begin to ask yourself using a Solution Focused lens:
Desired outcome or goal:
- Define and envision what it would look like once your problem has been solved. How would you know a shift happened?
- Think about what you would rather be feeling or thinking, doing differently, and what others may notice to indicate a change has happened.
- Define the change or outcome with language that is positive, realistic, specific and behavioural.
- Now that you have defined your desired outcome or goal, think about what difference it would make in your life. I invite you to explore multiple aspects of your life, such as your emotional, physical health, social, financial or spiritual.
Explore your current coping skills and resources:
- What is currently working to help you manage or cope with the problem?
- Who are the significant people in your life that have helped you along the way?
- Remember: If it works, keep doing more of it!
Its about the small shifts that lead to bigger or sustainable change:
- Ask yourself first, what needs to change?
- The idea of making big changes and shifts can feel overwhelming, unattainable and scary. It might be helpful to think about a small change that you can do in the next 2-3 weeks that helps you move closer to your desired outcome.
Where are the exceptions?
- Think about past situations in which the problem was minimized or not prevalent. Explore in detail what was different. What worked before and what would be useful to keep doing?
Bringing awareness to the small changes:
- For the next 2-4 weeks, be mindful and acknowledge moments in which you are moving closer to your desired outcome. It may help to keep a journal or log. Remember, even the smallest of shifts are worth celebrating!
If you are looking for a deeper dive and 1 on 1 support in your journey, book a session with a therapist who is trained in Solution Focused Brief Therapy at Maratos Counselling and Consulting Services.
Bannink, F. (2010). 1001 solution focused questions. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
Warner, R.E. (2013). Solution-Focused Interviewing. Applying Positive Psychology. A Manual for Practitioners. University of Toronto Press.Learn More
Brushing Up on Personal Boundaries
It’s hard to believe we are already nearing the end of 2021. The holiday season is right around the corner and this can lead to many mixed emotions and overwhelm. That said, this is a great time to improve or brush up on boundary setting in your personal relationships with your partner, family, friends, and in the workplace.
What are “boundaries” and why do healthy boundaries matter?
Adopting healthy boundaries protects your emotional well-being to prevent emotional and physical burnout, and social isolation. Boundaries, like a fence with a gate, are the limits and expectations you set for yourself and others and are enforced using effective communication. Think of the gate as the communication gateway and the fence as your limits and expectations.
Here are some key take-aways from boundary work:
It can feel messy at times
- If saying “no” rarely exists in your conversations or you’re feeling enmeshed in your personal relationships, introducing this assertive communication style may feel unnatural at first (and that’s ok)
What are your values?
- Ask yourself: “Am I respecting my own values?” If your boundaries do not align with your values you may feel stressed, anxious, or hold resentment toward others
- What limits and expectations do you need to set for yourself in family relationships, at your job, in your friendships, and within your community?
- Check out this values exploration exercise
When boundaries become inconsistent or inflexible
- Boundaries can be soft or porous, and you may find that you are not putting your needs first
- On the other hand, certain boundaries may be rigid, and you may find yourself guarded in relationships
- Healthy boundaries align with your values, and you will be comfortable saying “no” when you need to, and hearing “no” from others
- Boundary types look different for everyone and can be soft in some areas of your life and rigid in others.
- Saying “no” asserts your needs while valuing your relationships.
- Being assertive involves communicating needs with kindness and respect for others, vulnerability, and self-worth and self-respect
Poor boundaries can be a result of insecure attachment in childhood, complex trauma, low self-esteem or self-worth, amongst other reasons. And they may have served a purpose for you at one point in your life to provide a sense of safety and security. If you’re noticing that your boundaries are no longer serving you, we can help.
As always, if you need support in navigating interpersonal relationships and boundary setting, please reach out. Remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect on your relationships.
Click here for a free worksheet and handout through Therapist Aid.
References and Additional Reading:
Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day – Anne Kathrine, MABoundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine, MA
“Boundaries 101”. The Calm Mama Method. thecalmmamamethod.com
Attached – Amir Levine, MD, & Rachel S.F. Heller, MA
“Boundaries and the Self”. Dr. Arielle Schwart. https://drarielleschwartz.com/boundaries-and-the-self-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.YYrkEBrMJnI
“Setting Boundaries and Setting Limits”. R. Skip Johnson https://bpdfamily.com/content/setting-boundariesLearn More
Back to School. Back to Normal?
We’re currently three months into the new school year and it is evident that this has been yet another different year for parents, caregivers, educators and of course, children. The COVID pandemic is still going strong and there are many new protocols within schools that have been put in place to attempt to keep children and families safe. Although they are there to ensure safety, these changes and protocols can be scary and overwhelming for all involved. Let’s talk about some of these stressors and what parents, caregivers and educators can do to help.
Families had to make an often difficult choice between virtual learning and in person learning. Both have many pros and cons and can bring up anxiety for children and teens. These worries might be larger and more intense than past years because of the complexities of the current global pandemic.
Here are some common worries for children and teens returning to school that we have been seeing in our therapy sessions:
- The thought of sitting in a classroom can feel overwhelming after not being around many others for the past school year
- Having to wear masks all day
- The fear of COVID and/or getting sick
- Worrying that they don’t know enough because of the gaps in learning that happened during the lockdown
- Feeling worried about reconnecting to friends that they haven’t spoken to in a while due to being out of school and out of touch with others
- Communication can be overwhelming in general as we have been isolated during the past school year
- For those folks doing virtual learning, there’s worries about turning on their camera and gaining the confidence to participate virtually
- Worries about how to feel connection with teachers and fellow students in the virtual learning space
What can parents and caregivers do to help?
It’s really important, perhaps now more than ever, that parents and caregivers are listening to their children and teens and validating their emotions/worries. Here is a quote that may put things into perspective:
“Validating involves putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and conveying understanding of their experience as they are experiencing it. This involves imagining what the situation must be like for them. It is important to accept, allow, and validate emotions that are different from what you expected or that are hard for you to understand.” Steps of Emotion Coaching – Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (emotionfocusedfamilytherapy.org)
To create connections and an open environment for sharing both the positive and the negative, Parents and caregivers can ask questions to their children and teens like:
- How is school going?
- What’s going well?
- What’s been hard for you?
You may also ask questions about what your child is worried about. It’s useful to explore worries in a curious way. Ask lots of questions and really try to understand what’s going on from your child or teens perspective. Here are some examples:
If you child or teen is having difficulty being around other people or connecting to others sometimes the best thing can be to help them gain exposure to being around others in a gentle way:
- Take them out for a hot chocolate and help them practice ordering
- Include them in grocery shopping and checking out with the cashier
- Set up a time to go for a walk outside with another family or friend
Providing education about COVID and mask wearing can sometimes be enough for an anxious mind that is worried about getting sick.
- Talk about what happens in your child or teen’s body when anxiety shows up- name and label those thoughts, emotions and body sensations
- Teach your child or teen about ways to breath to slow down their body (box breathing, paced breathing), or ways to ground when in class (drop anchor, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 game)- lots of short videos are available on Youtube of these strategies and then practice them together
Equally important is for parents and caregivers to recognize and validate their own worries and stressors about this school year, as the effects from this pandemic impact everyone. Do your own wellness check:
- Check in with your own stress level and notice if you’re feeling able to coach and support your child through their own worries.
- Reach out to your own support systems and have open discussions about the things you’re struggling with and that your child or teen is struggling with. Likely other people in your social circle are experiencing similar things. Giving and receiving support is invaluable. It helps us feel less alone and gives us a place to share our feelings.
Our clinicians are skilled and are happy to help if anything you have read here sounds familiar to you. Remember that we have ALL been struggling over the past 18 months. Asking for help is the first step in making positive changes and recovering from the stress of this difficult time.
By Paige Sparrow MSW,RSWLearn More
Day Ten – Pressing The Re-Set Button on Your Family Life During Social Isolation
Nobody Is Perfect. End. Of. Story.
So while you’re at it, abandon perfectionism. Be kind to yourself and your family. The house will be messy, people will have to be convinced to bathe, you will eat junk, those long-standing house jobs will not get completed as quickly as you envisioned, if not at all. That’s alright. Go back to the values. I can safely guess that NOBODY came up with “Do All The Things” as their top family value.
Start with today. Look at these tips and take one hour at a time. Take it slow. Be forgiving. You can have do-overs. Each day is it’s own. Motivation will go up and down, moods will set in, energy levels will fluctuate. Find what works and do more of it when you can. Do less of what doesn’t. Know that what works one day will not work on another.
Alternate between doing what works and pushing the comfort zone to try new things, ways of coping and communicating… and then give a high five, regardless of the outcome.
Remember: your family WILL come out of this stronger, more connected and victorious. Surviving will mean thriving.
Day Nine – Pressing the Re-Set Button on Your Family Life During Social Isolation
Recognize that this is hard. These days may seem long. Making all the lists in the world does not help the work get done, the structure implemented and the values applied. Some days will just suck.
Moods, loneliness even when amongst the family, loss or reduction of connections with peers, sports, teachers, co-workers will take its toll. Recognize this and take a break. Pyjama days, Netflix marathons or extra screen time will be necessary. And that is ok. Fatigue will set in. Neither parents nor kids are required to be perfect. Just stop doing for a while.
These days are a gift (even though some days that feels like a stretch). Never before have we collectively had such a large chunk of time where we are ALL at home, without the normal day-to-day pressures being applied. It takes a while to get out of the achievement headspace (I MUST do something, I NEED to do this, I HAVE to get this done). Relax. Forgive yourself. We have NEVER BEEN THROUGH A PANDEMIC BEFORE! This is a choose your own adventure kind of thing!
Keep an eye out for emotions and talk about them. It will not be uncommon for many people (adults and kids alike) to feel sad, lonely, depressed and hopeless. This will happen, even in a house full of people who love us. Encourage connections with friends, co-workers and extended family. Ride the waves of emotions, and remember, that professional help is still out there, offered virtually.Learn More