Social media affects us positively, negatively and indifferently all at once. You probably wouldn’t be seeing this message without it. The trick is to learn how to identify what triggers a negative experience for you.
Social Media Use and Mental Health
We all know social media is an invention that changed the world, even if you grew up with it in your life. Remember, the Internet itself only began to become popular a little less than 30 years ago. Since then, it has revolutionized communication, the economy and human culture.
The pace and scope of the world our parents grew up in were much different than the world today. Still, few of us can imagine a world without the internet, whether we grew up with it or not. As we know it, social media began in the late 1990s, but the first widely popular site was MySpace which started in 2003. Less than a couple of decades later, Western society seems inextricably bound to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest.
How did we get here, and what is the connection between social media use and mental health? The allure of social media is easy to understand. In a world where we are increasingly busy and more likely to travel or live far away from family and friends, it keeps us connected.
It allows us a window into the lives of the people we care about. It gives us a glimpse of the lives of people who we might never have known otherwise. Social media helps us feel closer to celebrities and people we admire.
One of the most significant things social media does is that it gives us a way to show the world who we are, or at least, who we would like the world to see. Deliberately linking our sense of self to this medium is one of the riskier connections between social media use and mental health.
All that interaction and exposure to each other’s ideas can serve to educate and enlighten. It can foster understanding between people and cultures. But like any powerful medium, it’s a double-edged sword.
The power of social media also allows people to cyberbully and humiliate others. It makes it possible to destroy someone’s reputation in a matter of 24 hours.
So much responsibility comes with access to this medium that allows you to potentially communicate with almost 60% of the 7.7 billion people on the planet. Yet, most of us don’t take social media very seriously. At least not until someone uses it to hurt us or it becomes so important to us that it throws our lives out of balance.
How Social Media Affects Us Negatively
As of the last 10 years, the majority of Americans say they use social media. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, humans are social creatures. Most of us crave connection and interaction with others. But how often do we ask how social media affects us negatively?
This technology encourages its use by artificially fulfilling some of our needs to connect with others. However, it’s important to understand that social media is a poor substitute for real, live in-person human contact.
Most people will admit this, but do they act as if they believe it? Real-world human contact has a biological effect; it causes our bodies to release hormones that relieve stress and make us happy. Tapping and swiping away at a screen can never replace this.
The irony of all the supposed connections social media enables is that it often makes people feel more isolated and alone. Spending too much time on social media can exacerbate issues like anxiety and depression. Even if you don’t have a formal diagnosis of mental illness, you should be aware of how social media affects us negatively.
Few of us use social media to completely bare our souls and show the world the most mundane details of our lives. People share victories and defeats, sure. But most social media users are painting a picture of their life they want the world to see.
When most of your human interaction is on social media, it’s easy to begin comparing your own life to the rosy, fictionalized version of everyone else’s. It’s no wonder you feel depressed when your high school friends seem happier and more successful than you.
More often than not, real life will come up short when compared to the two-dimensional fantasy lives people portray on social media. But this is only part of the story. Sadly, bitter and unhappy people also use social media to try and make themselves feel better by berating and ridiculing others. While there have been attempts to clamp down on cyberbullying and hate speech online, there seems no way to police it all.
The Effect of Social Media on Your Sobriety
People in recovery have some additional challenges when it comes to social media. For all the remarkable things about social media, there are more than a few risks to our mental health and self-esteem. It’s important to remain aware of these risks; social media is designed to hook us. It takes conscious effort to limit your time on it and limit its importance in your life.
If you are in recovery, you more than likely remember times when a blow to your ego or self-esteem led directly to you picking up a drug or drink. We also know that isolation, depression and anxiety are powerful triggers that can push us to act out and use.
Seeing an ex’s honeymoon photos on Facebook or getting ghosted by someone you met on Tinder can have a very real effect on how you feel about yourself, and anything that impacts your ego has the potential to threaten your sobriety.
Instances like these do not mean that everyone in recovery needs to delete all their social media accounts and go live in a cave. Relax. But it is something you need to be aware of and take seriously. Part of successful recovery is being aware of potential triggers and not setting yourself up for anger, resentment or hurt feelings.
So, remember the importance of real-world human connections and meaningful relationships. Always prioritize them over social media. Beware of becoming isolated. Social media can be especially dangerous in that it allows us to become isolated without even realizing it.
Social media communication fools our brains into believing we are connecting with people. But social media is more like the junk food version of human interaction. It’s not going to enrich your life or meet your soul’s need for nourishment the way genuine, in-person human contact with people you care about can. Never forget that.
How to Combat Triggers and the Negative Influence of Social Media
Now that you’re aware of the dangers of social media to your mental health and sobriety, what can you do about it? No one expects you to walk away from social media. It’s a part of modern life, and we all know it.
What you can do, though: stay aware and be pickier about what you consume and where you spend your time. Use social media to enhance your calm and boost your recovery rather than getting caught up in drama and nonsense.
Here are just a few examples of places you can go for a positive recovery vibe:
- Promises Rooted Alumni Community
- The Temper
- Recovery Rock Stars
- r/recovery on Reddit
- Dr. B. Addiction Recovery TikTok
You know as well as anyone that social media is a vast universe, so get out there and explore. If you’re not doing it already, plug into social media sources that will support your recovery and mental health. Make them a part of your routine.
While it can help, social media isn’t the answer to living your best life in recovery. A large part of successful recovery, especially early on, is real in-person relationships and learning to protect yourself from triggers and negative energy. Here are a few tips that can help you in that area.
Make in-person socialization with positive people a priority.
Now that the threat of COVID-19 is beginning to subside, there’s no excuse not to get out there and safely spend time with the people you care about. Even if you don’t always feel like it, get it done. It matters.
Limit your social media exposure and be selective.
Are you still following that ex? Still, connected to old “friends” who use and post-party pics? Interacting with people who drip negativity and gossip? Time to rethink all that mess.
Get your social media house in order. Spend less time with it and when you do, increase the quality of the content and the people you connect with.
Stick with positive people on social media and in your real life, and it will be easier for you to put positive energy back into the universe. You’ll feel better, and so will the people around you.
It sounds simple, but it takes awareness and some discipline. Make it a priority. It matters, and your recovery depends on it.
What Does It All Mean?
Social media plays a huge role in our relationships and interactions with people and the world. We know this.
Anything we spend as much time on as we do with social media is bound to have an outsized influence on how we feel, how we live and how we treat others. An old saying says, “Garbage in, garbage out.” That’s true for not only what we eat but the information and media we consume.
You can’t expect to soak in a pit of empty gossip and acidic sarcasm on Twitter and then feel like the world is a wonderful place and you love humanity. Make a commitment to avoid the “junk food” social media and when you do interact online, try to find things that will support your personal growth and recovery.
If you are looking for support or information about recovery, Promises Brazos Valley can help. (844) 667-8240