*The examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular*
- Social media and all of the technology is a tool – therapy can help you figure out how to use it to improve or enhance your life
- A thoughtful therapist can help you think about why you are drawn to specific aspects of social media and what your social media accounts can tell us about how you’re doing
- Being cognizant of what choices you make day to day can help you make changes that lead to more well-being (this includes how you use technology)
“I was scrolling through my feed before our session and saw this post that made me feel really depressed. I hate seeing posts like that. I feel like they are everywhere.”
It wasn’t until I was meeting with John for a few sessions that he made this statement. Although he thought very little of it, to me there was a noticeable effect that his phone had a strain on his emotional well-being.
“What do you think about that?” I asked, “How often do you see posts that make you feel depressed?” (I also wondered, how does he choose what he looks at in his social media accounts).
“I think it’s a normal part of my day. I see them daily. I never really noticed but they almost always make me feel more upset with myself.”
Over time, without fully realizing his actions, John had filled his following lists with accounts full of sad quotes and depressing messages. It was important for us to discuss how this had been impacting his self-image and mental health. We worked together to identify why he was drawn to those types of accounts in order to link that to his thoughts and interests. After discussing this, John recognized that the posts that he had been absorbing through his phone were acting against his self-interest, instead of with it.
John began to question how his phone was impacting his overall well-being, and how he could improve that. He began to transform his negative feed into a more productive and positive one by following accounts full of realism, positivity, and encouragement to improve himself. He gradually felt his mood improve and found a new source of support through social media. One of the things he realized – he was finding stories online that confirmed his negative view of the world. It was like saying, “I’m already feeling pessimistic and powerless, and this just confirms that my feelings are accurate.” The question is: why was he feeling powerless in the first place about his own life?
There are a few important things to note about the effectiveness of our phones. In a blanket statement, we have the world at our fingertips. So how can people like John make the most out of it?
- First, it’s important to realize that our phones are not always damaging to our mental health – in fact, for most people, they can be a source of unity, positivity, and value. Take for instance Isabella’s experience. Isabella recently moved to California, away from her quiet town in rural Kansas. This was a new experience for her, and although she felt intimidated being on her own, she was able to seek and develop healthy new friendships through social media while learning how to be independent. She maintained healthy relations with her family and friends from Kansas while establishing great connections with the new friends she made in California.
- Second, in the same way, John internalized the posts on his feed, you can utilize the virtual space your phone offers as a means of growth. Follow accounts and blogs that make you feel empowered to pursue your goals.
- Third, sometimes disconnecting from our phones and social media altogether can be an even bigger benefit. It’s important to note that phone exhaustion is real. Make sure to set aside time out of your day for your physical wellness by taking a step back from your phone and exercising.
How A Therapist Can Help
Overall, our actions can be a source of information about our wants, needs, and emotional states. For example, John was intentionally selecting negative information, even if he was unaware of it. A thoughtful therapist can help him think about why he is drawn to that and what we can learn from it. For example, I have a patient that often complained about how “all the news is bad” – but what we learned by thinking about her actions together was that talking about the “bad news” is a way to talk about her own helplessness.
She would focus on areas where she had low control, while simultaneously ignoring things she could impact in her daily life. Essentially, she didn’t feel she could be active in her own life; understanding this pattern helped her focus her attention on what is achievable and alternatively, identifying why she felt powerless.
Ultimately, it is undeniable that our phones affect the way we think of ourselves, others, and the world around us. Therefore, you can choose to let it become a negative force in your life – or you can make the conscious decision to find the advantages of social media to empower yourself from the world right in your hands.
Author: Sadfah Shohatee, MSW, LLMSW
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