Check the news, blogs and yes, social media, and you can see people everywhere talking about how we are harming ourselves with social media. The medium presents a paradox — it connects us with the world while making us feel lonely, depressed and isolated.
We acknowledge this but are too dependent to break the cycle of compare, despair, like and share.
“I need to get my mind off of this.”
One of my Talkspace clients, Ashley, texts me around midnight on Friday.
“I hit the gym and then went out for a drink with friends after work. I tried to stay busy and I even called my mom, but I broke down. I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Of course, the minute I saw his Facebook, I regretted it. Augh! Why do I keep doing this to myself?! It’s over, I know it is over. What do I care what he is up to? Naturally, he checked in at the bar where she works. One of his friends made a comment about giving a good ‘tip’ to the service there. This is so humiliating. We just broke up a couple of weeks ago. I need to get my mind off of this.”
I ask her what she did after she saw the Facebook post.
“I was agitated after that and couldn’t take it. I checked his insta, twitter, tumblr…Just when I thought I had eased down to just Facebook checking. But this totally triggered me and it set me off. I didn’t feel in control. On his insta, I saw a black and white photo of her in a sea of sheets… his sheets. He had deleted all the photos of me. Even the last weekend trip we took last month. To make matters worse, she looked hot and all of his bros left comments and liked. Someone posted, ‘Ashley who?’ I feel like he never cared for me at all. I feel like it was so easy for him to make it where I don’t even exist anymore.”
Ashley’s pain and distress touches me. A breakup is hard under any circumstances, but to navigate letting go and moving forward when you are still connected over social media takes an enormous amount of strength. It is easy to tell someone, “just block him” or “don’t click.” Actually, it is too easy and cruel. Anyone who has had to struggle with similar circumstances realizes it isn’t that simple.
Humans thrive on consistent behavior and social media platforms are designed for habitual checking. When you add the stress of a breakup, it is like you are throwing gasoline on a fire. It’s more than sadness. Ashley needed understanding because she was suffering with Social Media Dysphoria.
Social Media Dysphoria Explained
Social Media Dysphoria is the term mental health professionals use to describe people who experience troubling symptoms associated with use of social media. Growing evidence suggests social media use is contributing to a myriad of mental health concerns. There are biological, environmental and emotional reasons why people find it so hard to pull away from social media use when they feel harmful effects.
The word dysphoria comes from Greek origins meaning, “difficult to bear.” It is a profound state of unease and dissatisfaction and has certain characteristics of mood that accompany it. These can include:
- Irritability, increased anger or feeling “on edge”
- Guilty ruminations, obsessive thinking
- Low or depressed mood
- Sleep difficulties
- Racing thoughts
- Feelings of indifference
- Feeling out of control or overwhelmed with emotion
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation
If you think you struggle with any of these symptoms, there are steps you can take to feel better. Trying to ignore or wait out your concerns is not a good idea. When we ignore what is troubling us, it often gets worse. Talking with a therapist and finding ways to interact with social media in an empowering way can help.
When sharing is real
Many months after the Instagram discovery, Ashley said something to me that spoke to how much social media impacted and distorted what was happening in her past relationships.
“I thought that type of sharing was an extension of our relationship, that posting those photos to everyone was a declaration of his love for me; that those likes meant love in some way,” she said. “I now understand his idea of sharing was not the same as mine.”
Through our conversations, Ashley was able to look at her ex’s social media behavior objectively. She was becoming more aware and taking time to heal and discover what she wanted moving forward. She was opening up, sharing her truth and expecting a more genuine type of sharing from others.
We need to move beyond identifying the problems people are having with social media and take action.
The therapists at Talkspace created a Social Media Dysphoria Task Force after many of our clients came to us with a social media element hindering their well-being. We have been examining the latest research, sharing ideas and adapting tried and true interventions that are helping people.
The task force recently launched Social Media Dependency Therapy, a 12-week program to help people overcome the mental health issues social media causes or exacerbates. By developing an authentic online relationship with a licensed therapist on the Talkspace platform, a person can regain control over their dependence on social media and share in authentic ways that are meaningful to them.