Facebook, Social Media and Mental Health
By: Glenn Dillon
Facebook, like most social media platforms, are a popular outlet for many to connect with friends, co-workers and old acquaintances. When used properly, Facebook can be a lot of fun! There are, however, ways in which Facebook can cause more harm than good, particularly when it comes to mental health.
As a therapist, I have seen how Facebook and other forms of social media have unintentionally caused some clients to call into a caustic pattern that brings about feelings of confusion, sadness and anger. I’ve also seen it act as a trigger for depression. How we engage in social media in many ways can have a direct impact on what we feel.
What follows are 5 tips for interacting with others on Facebook and other social media platforms that promotes good mental health.
1. Avoid negative feelings from people who mistreat you.
Many people are drawn to looking up the profiles of ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. Though this action may seem unavoidable (or inevitable) at times, especially when you are in the early stages of recovering from the loss of a relationship, you still do have other choices. You can practice discipline by resisting the compulsive urge to look up profiles that lead to a high likelihood of feelings of jealousy, sadness, regret, anger or rage.
You can realize that you are having “a moment of curiosity” and then take a few deep breaths or practice a mindfulness exercise (sensory focus meditation, walking, journaling, etc.) until the moment passes. There is also the choice of unsubscribing from the person’s Facebook profile, so that you do not have to view their updates appearing on your newsfeed.
This can be really helpful in avoiding the negative feelings that come with seeing information about your ex! You can also use this technique to avoid having to read about and see updates about other people in your friend network who bother you but who you don’t feel the need to unfriend, for whatever reason.
2. Don’t use Facebook as a substitution for personal validation.
Though many (if not all) of us are guilty of having done this at one time or another, Facebook is not the best primary source for getting your appropriate needs for validation met. We all have accomplishments that we may feel proud of and want to tell people of but make sure to reach out towards your closest supports for this need, first and foremost. If you use social media as a singular source for boosting your self-esteem, you run the risk of alienating others and causing them to think you are narcissistic.
Go to loved ones, partners, family members, best friends, and those you trust before looking for any validation from the grouping of “friends” in your Facebook social system. This way you avoid the scenario where you proudly post about a recent accomplishment, just to end up feeling sad and angry when an unexpectedly small amount of people “like” your status or take the time to comment on it. Or worse yet, you get snarky or unsatisfying comments from people who you don’t want to hear from.
Also, do not use Facebook to try and garner validation under the guise of something else. I know of a man who posted a picture of himself almost completely naked, showing off a well-sculpted body but standing in a canoe, and his post focused on how he “enjoyed his first canoe trip.” Nobody who saw this post, including all those who commented on the post, believed this guy’s stated intention in his post. The underlying need for validation was obvious, so don’t try and hide it in a ridiculous fashion.
3. Resist the temptation to internalize comments from others.
As is the case in any written form of communication where the other person is not directly present in front of you (texts, emails, tweets, etc.), there is some likelihood that the writer’s intention will not be understood by the reader. This is because the written form of communication being used does not account well for the writer’s tone and other nuanced forms of non-verbal communication.
Thus, much written communication will be misconstrued as negative, critical or even mean-spirited, and then will be internalized by the reader. This is an inherent risk of Facebook and, truly, of all forms of communication outside of in-person discussion and telephone conversations (or FaceTime and Skype conversations).
Due to this trend, it is important to resist the instinct to internalize possibly negative comments too quickly, until you better understand the writer’s intention and the possibility that you may have misread the writer’s tone. If, after some time of exploration (I often recommend waiting 24 hours), you are still unsure about the writer’s intention, then reach out to the writer directly back-channel (through private email or text or phone call that will not be viewed by everyone in Facebook comments).
Hopefully, one way or another, any issues will be smoothed out without you being upset and without all of your friend network seeing a dramatic, unnecessary spat playing out on your Facebook wall.
4. Avoid making Facebook your Blog or E-Journal.
Some people use Facebook as a forum for airing their most personal inner thoughts and feelings. Examples of this include the Facebook user who frequently posts about their inner mood, such as how depressed or angry they feel on difficult day, and who leaves provocative emotional posts, that appear designed to garner attention and sympathy from Facebook friends. This sort of behavior is not appropriate for a semi-public social network site like Facebook.
Even if your Facebook privacy settings are set for private, employers and other agencies may be able to access this information and it may come back to haunt you.
Be careful of what you put out there for the world to see! If you need to process deeply personal emotional content for your own therapeutic reasons, do it with a traditional journal and/or process your feelings with a trained therapist or a highly trusted confidante. But do not post this on your Facebook wall, as you will only risk causing yourself more potential emotional harm.
5 Don’t use Facebook as a substitution for traditional socialization and relational needs.
The value of the relational time spent meeting with friends in person and being heard, validated, and bonding cannot be replicated by social media, no matter how clever the technology behind the social network system is.
Human interaction in the traditional, face to face sense, is important for the promotion and maintenance of good mental health. We are wired to interact with others in a physical way, meaning the use of all five senses. While social media can certainly help to fill in certain gaps, it cannot replace the real thing.
Summing Things Up
Though Facebook is a wonderful tool for checking in with old friends and networking with people across different groups, as well as for making social plans, and remembering important life events like birthdays and anniversaries, Facebook has its limits.
True quality socialization and friendship is outside the scope of Facebook, so do not try to use it as a substitute for such.