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  • Writer's pictureDianna Chillo, LCSW-R

Social Media: A Double-Edged Sword

Updated: May 11, 2018

Social media as we know has been around for several years now and is ever growing and evolving. We live in a time where access to people, places, things and information is instant and constantly moving. From social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat and Instagram, to the countless dating sites and apps like, e Harmony, Tumbler, Bumble, there’s honestly too many to name, and let’s not forget the 24 hour a day news reel. It’s all in our faces, literally at our fingertips and it’s constant.

As a woman in her 40’s, married, mother to a pre-teen, practicing psychotherapy, and feeling like I fall somewhere between Generation X and Millennials, I have some knowledge and exposure to aspects of social media, but for the most part, I feel inept. Up until recently, the extent of my social media experience was Facebook, which my teenage clients tell me is for old people, LOL! I used it primarily to connect with friends and family, to share photos, humorous posts and spread awareness on eating disorders and mental health. I was connected to my small group of friends and family and that was it.

Over the years, in my work, I’ve gotten and continue to get quite the education from the experiences of my teens and young adult clients who are connected to these other more recent sites like snap chat and Instagram, and the many dating sites I mentioned. Session after session I’d learn about crazy dating experiences, being ghosted, unopened snap chats, read but unanswered in-box messages, feeling left out because they saw pictures of friends at a party that they weren’t invited to, needing a better body because of fitness accounts they are following, desperate pursuits to find love for fear of ending up alone and the list of occurrences and anxieties go on and on. Although many of these experiences are specific to my teens and twenties population, clients of all ages have found themselves in similar scenarios. I understood many of the emotions, as I at times also felt similar things, but I had figured out a way to manage those thoughts and feeling by re-framing them as I would do in my sessions.

Then recently, this whirlwind happened. Close to a year ago, after working in the field for many years, I decided to start my own private practice. This was a big leap and for the first time, all was on me. Living in a world of social media, and now on my own, exposure and connecting with other professionals became a priority. And, with the easy access social media gives, what a great way to spread my wings. Before I knew it, I wrote a personal blog, was pumping out information and live videos during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I had been invited and joined multiple professional Facebook groups, and connected with several amazing professionals. I also began collaboration on the development of my website. What an amazing way to start this new journey, share information, resources, connect and get better known by other colleagues. I was on my way, thrust into this professional sea of social media. You would think this is all amazing, and in many ways, it is, however, this big sea has lots of fish, and this fish felt like she was totally out of water. I found myself feeling a lot like many of my clients reported feeling in many of our sessions, when they talked about their social media experiences. I remember this one night distinctly. After a long day of sessions, and logging on to Facebook, seeing the latest updates, I was filled with a sense of total inadequacy. I got home and walked in my kitchen tears streaming down my face. I suddenly became the girl whose message was read but not responded to, because I felt rejected after reaching out to another professional and didn’t hear back. I became the girl whose friends didn’t invite them to the party when I saw everyone liking everyone else’s professional posts and not mine, I was the person so afraid to pursue a dating website, whenever I thought about posting anything in any of these professional groups, for fear of them rejecting me. I was in those moments many of my clients. I didn’t need to go through their exact experience; I didn’t need to be on a dating website, or blocked on snap chat, those feelings of insecurity and “not enough,” were all so real and relatable regardless of the specific incident. The reality became clear, how those feelings are such a common thread, and the common denominator…social media. Soon after I calmed down and with some redirection from my husband, I was able to put things in perspective. I am a wife, a mother and for the first time in my entire career, I’m managing a very full-time practice. Balancing all of it is challenging in itself. The added pressures I was putting on myself by self-criticism born out of incessant comparisons to others was doing me no good. So, the answer was simple…Stop! Stop comparing and create a vision that’s realistic to me and my own life, no one else’s.

So, here’s the double-edged sword. Social media is an amazing way to connect, to gain exposure to meet people, to date, to share information. It’s a great way to share resources and collaborate professionally and reach people who truly need help. These sites can be especially helpful for marginalized groups where there are limited resources in one’s physical surrounding, such as eating disorder pro recovery groups, LGTBQ, mental health groups, grief and loss.

However, as connected as social media can make us, it equally, disconnects us from our physical lives and from the people in them. Endless time scrolling through social media can become addictive, toxic and self-destructive and lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Comparing oneself to others can cause feelings of inadequacy. Constant socialization through devices rather than face to face connection significantly limits proper social development, especially for our teens and instills a need for instant gratification. In addition, social media can and does lend itself to cyberbullying. So, for teens and adults, here are some thoughts that I have found helpful in my own journey.

Social media, the 24-hour news reel, dating sites, etc. its not going away. This is the world we live in. It’s almost impossible to abstain or avoid all of this completely. However, there are some ways to help create more balance and not allow social media to become harmful.

  • Be intentional about the time you spend on social media. Carve out time you are going to check your accounts, respond to messages, scroll through your feed and stick to that schedule. For example, one hour in the morning, one hour in the evening. Choose time frames that work for you. Then put your device away. Out of site, out of mind. It does help.

  • Keep perspective. What people show on social media is one snippet of their lives. Endless posts about vacations, outings, activities, friends, etc. are only one piece of someone’s world. It’s not necessarily false, or a lie, but most people are going to share the best version of themselves most of the time. This is not to assume that their life is without struggle or that their lives don’t include the day to day mundane activities that we all have to endure. Most people just don’t post that stuff!

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Always remind yourself, that wherever you are in your life you are doing the best that you can. Using others as an inspiration to make changes in your life can be very helpful but comparing yourself to others can be very harmful. Make a plan that is realistic for your life. Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

  • Increase face to face interaction. When with your friends, put your devices away. Parents, this is a great skill to model for your children.

  • Set boundaries for your children. Being mindful of the time you spend on your devices/social media will help model for your children regulation. However, you need to create structure as to when they can and can’t use their devices. This will further enhance their internal ability to modulate their own use and hopefully create balance. Yes, you’ll get push back, but stay consistent. Encourage being outside, family movies, reading or a game the family can play.

  • Game time...Play games that don’t involve any devices. Whether with friends or family, games are a great way to increase social interaction, laughter and being in the moment.

  • Find a hobby that does not include social media. Think about something you love to do and do it. Think about all the times you spend, mindlessly scrolling through news feeds. What could you be doing instead?

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