Don’t Panic - Plan
I wonder how your second week of online practice has been? NCS Registrant Suzie Mosson, a director of Online Training for Counsellors, has some expert advice for practitioners making this move. Whethe...
SOCIAL MEDIA AND MODERN MENTAL HEALTH
Social media can be a strange, high-pressure environment. Many people struggle to deal with the pitfalls of life online. A good counsellor can help with social media-related issues, enabling their clients to gain the kind of self-acceptance and sense of perspective which social media can sometimes skew.
Social media has opened up a whole new world of communication for us. It’s connected people all over the planet, broken cultural barriers, launched movements, and given millions of people a much-needed voice.
But there’s a dark side to social media. Trolling and ‘fake news’ have been implicated in a lot of global unrest, while on an individual level, many people are suffering from problems which can in part be traced back to their social media use. Anxiety, cyberbullying, compulsive scrolling and pressure to portray yourself in a certain way can hit hard when people develop a bad relationship with social media.
Social media need not be a problem for people – but it is important to use it in the right way. A counsellor for social media problems can help you to develop a realistic attitude towards social media, help you to deal with any anxieties, and support you in building a healthy relationship with the social media you use.
SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION
Everybody knows what it’s like to have your hand twitch towards your pocket when your phone buzzes. We all know that itchy temptation to click the red bubble and check the notifications. Certainly, a lot of us check our phones and social networks more often than we should. But can you really be ‘addicted’ to social media?
Compulsions and addictions hack into systems which reward us for ‘good’ things. For example, we love sugar, fats, and salt because these things are essential (in small doses) for our survival, and we used to have to work extra-hard to get them. As an incentive to brave bees for honey and wild animals for meat, our bodies and brains made these things feel fantastic for us to eat. These foods are everywhere now, but we still consume as much as we can because that reward mechanism hasn’t gone away. This is one reason why dietary issues are such a problem in the modern world.
The same kind of thing is at work with social media. We are hardwired for social connection and social validation. Strong social connections make for a stronger ‘tribe’ – something that has always been essential for humans to thrive. We’re also hardwired to seek out and consume information. The potent combination of interaction, validation, and information provided by social media makes for compulsive scrolling and checking.
We judge the strength of our connections with others by the validation they give us. For example, when someone laughs at a joke you have made, you are reassured that this person finds your humour funny. On social media, all those small social signals we give to affirm one another – smiling, chuckling, eye-contact, hugs, patting shoulders – get boiled down to a simple click. In much the same way that we gobble up junk food even though it’s artificial and bad for us, we gorge ourselves on the artificial validation we receive from strangers on the internet.
The thing is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using social media to forge and deepen connections with others. Plenty of people find that social media is a great tool for staying in touch with old friends, organising events, promoting businesses and so on. The problems arise when we start to use social media compulsively, and in a way which negatively affects our real lives. When we spend so long soaking up online validation that real life commitments and relationships start to slip, that’s a problem.
A counsellor for issues with social media can help you to develop a better relationship with your online networks. They’ll work with you to discover the reasons behind any compulsive social media behaviours, and help you to establish a healthy balance between your online and offline activities.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND ANXIETY
Many people – especially young people - experience intense anxiety about the way in which they’re presenting themselves on social media. They worry that they will be judged, teased, or ‘trolled’. The presence of online (or ‘cyber’) bullies does not help. This anxiety is reinforced when other people post about seemingly perfect lives. All of us have felt a twinge of envy or inadequacy at a friend’s post about their holiday, wedding, perfect children, or whatever. Many of us, when scrolling through our social media feed, feel that our own lives fall very short by comparison.
Social media often presents a false image. People put their best, funniest, most incisive and most beautiful face on social media. Social media sites are platforms of extremes – nobody (or, almost nobody) posts about the mundane normality of their everyday life. So, social media feeds read like a melodramatic soap opera, veering from glowing pictures of beautiful lives to stories of personal drama posted in capitals.
Of course, nobody’s life is actually like a TV series. Most of us just muddle along as best we can, with a reasonable mix of good stuff and bad stuff. But it is very easy when scrolling through social media feeds to start feeling that everyone else’s life is much more exciting than yours. Social media presents everyone else’s ‘highlight reel’, and does it so effectively that we forget that, just like ours, their lives are also mostly ‘filler’ (with plenty of ‘bloopers’ to boot).
This is causing a real issue where self-image is concerned. These days, many of us are editing our ‘selfies’ to make ourselves look more attractive. Modern photo-editing apps can even alter the fundamental shape of your face. It’s only natural to want to put your best face out there for the world to see...but it becomes a problem when feeds full of digitally altered selfies make people feel ashamed of their real-life looks. More and more people are feeling a lot of pressure to resemble their online alter-egos. So much so that some are even opting for what the media are calling ‘Snapchat surgery’ – surgical procedures designed to edit real faces so that they match up with their photoshopped online counterparts.
All in all, social media seems to be behind a lot of anxiety, insecurity, feelings of low self-esteem, and even body-dysmorphia. However, many people have also found communities of accepting, tolerant people online who build them up and help them to accept themselves. Again, the problem is not social media itself – it’s the way in which people use it and respond to it.
An accredited social media counsellor will help you to understand the reality behind the online profiles. They’ll work with you to uncover the reasons behind your feelings, and help you develop tactics which will prevent social media from making you feel worse. They’ll give you the support you need to work through your social media issues, and hopefully you’ll come out the other side a happier, more confident, and more self-accepting person (who doesn’t feel the need to check their phone every three seconds!)