We live in the age of social media, where the lives of family, friends, and acquaintances are at our fingertips at any given moment. As a college student, social media has helped me keep track of family and friends without the burden of time-consuming phone calls and lengthy emails.
Research by the Pew Research Center has found social media usage to have increased by almost 1000 percent nationally over the past eight years. UCLA found that 27.2 percent of students spent more than six hours on social media a week as of 2014.
I check Facebook and Twitter before I even get out of bed in the morning.
I’m constantly glancing at Instagram posts, Twitter, and Facebook as I walk around campus. Sometimes, what I see does more than inform me on the happenings in the lives of those I care about.
A post of friends hanging out will trigger my anxiety, which can quickly spiral from disappointment from not being invited to feelings of intense loneliness and despair over what appear to be fake friendships. A status update of someone being accepted into a graduate program or celebrated in an article on my school’s web page will trigger feelings of inferiority and an aggressive refrain of ‘not good enough’s. Stunning images of friends on Instagram make me want to hide my ‘hideous body’ and trigger the eating disorder thoughts I’ve fought for so long.
Social media causes me to constantly and implicitly play the comparison game.
A game where there is no winner and the loser is always me and my mental health.
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In social psychology, we talk about impression management and the ways we consciously or subconsciously regulate and control what information we present to others in order to influence others’ perceptions. My social media is filled with friends and family sharing the most impressive, entertaining, and attractive versions of themselves. I see how much happier and more successful others are than I am.
My mind takes over and sees how much I am not doing, how much I am struggling, how much I am failing. Seeing the seemingly perfect lives of others portrayed on social media intensifies the feelings of inadequacy I experience as part of my depression. A lack of likes and comments sends me into a panicked loneliness and thoughts of all the reasons I must be disliked and hated.
I don’t know how to keep myself from these triggers without also keeping myself from the connection they provide. Slowly, I am learning to cope with the triggers social media provides.
I don’t have all the answers, but here’s some of what’s worked for me so far:
1. Avoid social media when your mood is low.
This is the time I am most prone to be triggered by social media posts, so I avoid the ones that are most likely to trigger me, especially Facebook and Instagram. Instead, if I must engage in some form of technological distraction, I play Candy Crush on my phone. Sometimes I’ll scroll through Tumblr or Pinterest, searching posts tagged with ‘inspiration’ or ‘encouragement.’
2. Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.
Sometimes, a post will appear in my Tumblr dashboard or my Facebook feed that is especially triggering and distressing. I immediately unfollow or unfriend whoever posted it, regardless of the relationship we have or what the rest of the person’s posts are like. My mental health is too important to clutter my social media with things that are harmful to me.
3. Think — and see — happy thoughts.
One thing I do on all of my social media accounts is follow positive and encouraging accounts. This is a great way for me to counteract some of the negativity and triggers that exist in general social media. There are great inspirational images on Instagram and encouraging Twitter accounts out there. And you can always count on Libero Network to post non-triggering content!
4. Just say no.
Sometimes, social media can become too much. I was friends with a girl in treatment who didn’t use her Facebook account because she found it too harmful. There is no shame in walking away from social media for a while, whether completely or just in part. I stepped away from Pinterest for about a year during an intense period of eating disorder treatment because I found myself too triggered by fitspo and other such posts. It’s okay to give social media up for a day, a week, or several months. You do what you have to for you.
5. Record your successes.
Log out of your accounts, set down your phone. Get out a piece of paper and list the things you have accomplished that day which deserve to be celebrated. Maybe it’s something as seemingly insignificant as getting out of bed this morning and putting on clean clothes, or maybe you didn’t engage in self-harm or an addiction or an eating disorder behavior. Maybe you looked in the mirror and thought, ‘I look okay today,’ after endless bad body image days. Then take time to validate yourself for all you’ve done to fight for your mental health.
6. Avoid the comparison game.
This is a challenging one, especially since it is an innate human tendency to compare ourselves to others. With social media though, remember you can’t know a person by their social media profiles. Instagram photos are taken dozens of times before the perfect one is captured and even then, it is filtered and edited so flaws are either absent or minimal. Facebook updates and tweets are meticulously crafted to portray the writer in a particular light. Try to remind yourself of this, and when you fail, be gentle with yourself. Ask for help from a trusted friend, family member, or professional if comparison is something you can’t shake.
You definitely aren’t alone if you find yourself triggered by social media.
It’s important to recognize it and begin to figure out how to use (or not use) it in a way that is the most beneficial to you and your mental health.
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