Social media offers us a lot of benefits: connecting with friends and family we don’t live near or see often, support groups and advice, quick access to news, etc. Without a doubt, social media has become the best way to reach a large audience quickly. However, in my Potomac MD family counseling office, I often see the dark side to the use (and overuse) of social media. A therapist I know told me once, “Social media keeps me in business.” Many aspects of the constant stream of information in front of us can adversely impact our mental health.
One concern I hear regularly from friends and Potomac MD couples counseling clients alike is that they feel that all of their connections on social media are happier, more successful in their career, more successful financially, have the perfect families, and the list goes on. The constant barrage of one-liners and snapshots from other’s lives makes people feel lesser. In order to prevent this comparison, users of social media have to remind themselves that what they are seeing is exactly that: a snapshot. A picture is not the reality of anyone’s lives. In fact, you can all probably remember trying to take a family picture with yelling and screaming preceding and following that still frame of happy faces!
Another huge issue is with the large amount of news that is presented to us – both world news and the news from friend’s personal lives. We might hear a lot more uplifting stories than we would have twenty years ago, but we also hear a lot more sad news. How many days a week is there a link to a friend of a friends fundraising site to support recovery from an illness? Or the story of someone’s tragedy on the news. These are stories that, before social media, we would never know about. The enormous amount of sad information we have to process makes the world seem a much scarier place.
Lastly, I believe that while social media makes us feel connected to people we don’t see often, it also keeps us from connecting with friends in person. If we feel that we have interacted with them on social media and know what is going on in their lives, the need to go out to eat together, take a walk in the park, etc, tends to be diminished. In reality, connection through social media is generally superficial. We need the connection where we see each other, touch each other, have long conversations without phones and iPads involved. Without this human connection, we are lonelier, more anxious, and more depressed.
I ask clients in my Rockville MD family counseling office to put down the social media and look how the overuse has impacted them. Have they become more anxious or depressed because they are comparing their lives to the snapshots of others? Are they impacted by the sad or scary news they see? Are they replacing human connection with web connection? Do they need to disconnect from social media and truly connect with others? Making the decision to disconnect can be scary because people have lost the skill of connecting in person, but developing that skill through Rockville MD family counseling might just be the key to improving well-being and living a more fulfilling life.