If you’re like me, sometimes you long for the days of a social media-free world. A time when we had no idea what everyone else was doing, how many kids they had, and what careers they had built. Imagine only holding in our minds the information that was provided to us through connections with others in real life. Unfortunately, or fortunately, social media is here to stay.
So, what does this have to do with our mental health? More and more, I have clients discussing the impact that social media is having on their mental health. They’re often unaware of the direct impact but will say things like, “Everyone else seems to be doing better than I am,” “This person’s house is far more organized than mine,” and the dreaded “I’m not as good a parent as my friends.”
When I ask them how they know this, they comment that they see perfect-looking homes, families, meals, vacations and children all over their social media. We’ve heard of doomsday scrolling, where bad news stories are consumed endlessly, but perhaps we should create a term for toxic comparison scrolling.
We often discuss how parents must teach their children how to use social media and the internet responsibly, but this must also apply equally to adults. We did not grow up with social media and likely began using it in early adulthood. No one taught us, we’ve just logged in and started posting!
Scrolling daily impacts our mental health, and we need to consume this information responsibly. In my professional practice, the incessant scrolling we all participate in is causing intensified symptoms of depression and anxiety. “Am I a good enough parent” is often an underlying thought. With this in mind, there are three rules I encourage my clients to abide by when scrolling something like Instagram.
Instagram is a wonderful tool to share our lives, but what are we really sharing? Snapshots. And not just snapshots, carefully curated moments of joy. This joy is not fake, but it’s not the whole story.
I often joke that I intentionally don’t capture the moments of whining, complaining and melting down in my home. These are not picture-worthy. I have a camera full of selfies with my kids on the days I did my hair, put on real clothes, and maybe even put on some makeup.
Moments like the one I’m in right now where I’m typing on my computer, in pyjamas, with a 10-month-old in his exersaucer and an 8-year-old complaining that the Play Station isn’t connected, all while our puppy chews on his brand new dog bed and pulls out the stuffing (potentially to attempt to put me over the edge) will not be captured, let alone posted!
I encourage clients to open their own Instagram and to ask themselves how others might view their life. Chances are, it looks wonderful and would be envied by many. Social media is a snapshot in time, not a long narrative.
Another tip I give my clients is to be intentional about who they follow. We all follow our friends and family but be mindful of following public figures. Remind yourself that social media makes us feel like we’re getting to know celebrities and their lives, while in reality, they often portray a very curated image.
Their posts may be linked to advertising opportunities or partnerships, and they have a team behind them doing this. Several of these people are often in financial positions that the average family will never reach and are given free items and opportunities in exchange for posting.
That extravagant children’s birthday party or VIP vacation is not reasonable for the average parent. For many, this can lead to feelings of inadequacy, guilt and even shame about the type of parent that they are.
If this happens, I often ask my clients to cleanse the list of accounts they’re following. Do these accounts help me or hurt me? How do I feel looking at them? Are they boosting my confidence? If the answer is no, consider hitting the unfollow button.
The flip side to this is that many accounts on Instagram or TikTok are now committed to showing real life. Homes that are not magazine ready and look lived in, parents serving mac and cheese and hot dogs for dinner, and kids wearing uncoordinated outfits designed for play. These accounts can provide many parents with a sense of validation and understanding as we often see ourselves in these images.
If you find that you’re struggling, I encourage you to take a few moments now and take an inventory of who you follow.
Finally, being mindful of our mood can be very beneficial when we open our apps, how we feel when scrolling can impact how we interpret information presented to us and strengthen unhelpful narratives about ourselves and the world around us.
If you’re dealing with bedtime, and everyone is exhausted, one child just remembered that they have homework due tomorrow, your dog just woke up your baby, and you still have a kitchen to clean – from personal experience, you’re likely not in the best mindset.
Opening your phone for a quick scroll and seeing images of happy families may lead to negative thoughts such as “I’ll bet they don’t have these issues.” Alternatively, when we’re in a positive mood and feel good about our lives and skills, we may see the exact same picture and think to ourselves, “What a lovely picture of them!”
The main difference here is how our negative emotions can have us internalize situations. Suddenly that picture we’re viewing has everything to do with us and our skills instead of separating ourselves from this person’s life.
Checking in with yourself before you scroll can be a very handy tool. Ask yourself why you’re scrolling and if you think it will be helpful or hurtful in the moment.
Remember, social media is a place to share the good moments of ourselves and our families, but these moments are fleeting and never represent any family’s full reality. Everyone struggles, everyone has messes, and everyone questions themselves. Use social media responsibly and intentionally to help protect your mental health.
Stefanie Peachey is a Registered Social Worker and Accredited Family Mediator. She is the founder of Peachey Counselling and Family Support in Burlington, ON.
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