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Social Distortion: How to Create a Healthier Relationship with Technology and Media

“What’s your social media consumption like?” That’s a question I find myself asking my patients more and more often in therapy. When discussing issues such as mood, anxiety, perfectionism, and negative social comparison, it is a logical next question. 

Social media has become commonplace in our daily lives. While platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok offer us the ability to connect with others, they also have a dark side. More and more research is being conducted on the negative impact of social media on mental health, often with particular attention being paid to adolescent girls, as they seem to be the cohort that suffers the most. However, these detrimental effects of social media extend into adulthood and are often a topic of conversation in my therapy sessions, especially with women. 

One of the most significant negative impacts of social media on adult women is the perpetuation of unrealistic standards of beauty and perfection. Scrolling through carefully curated feeds filled with flawless images can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Whatever your current stage in life or interests, you are bombarded with images of ideals …perfect homes, perfect meals, perfect outfits, perfect bodies, perfect relationships. Instagram, which for many started with the benefit of feeling connected to friends, now feels as if it has become one long feed of advertisements that promote this perfection. 

Moreover, as these social media companies have refined their algorithms for keeping people on their sites, they’ve learned to leverage a disturbing truth--people tend to engage more with negative content. Posts that make consumers feel inadequate are particularly sticky. They leave people to think, ”I need this supplement to lose my belly fat! I need this book to know how to parent! I need this stylist to know how to dress!” It is no wonder that research has shown a correlation between frequent social media use and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and body dissatisfaction among women.

Lately, one topic I’ve been most bothered by is what social media is doing to mothers. Parenting is hard and often new parents feel ill-equipped to deal with their new role. Ideally, they can lean on friends, family, and their community to help them navigate this new world. It sounds cliché but parenting does work best when you are part of a village. A real village. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful resources for parents on social media, but it also comes with the barrage of advice about the “right” way to do things. This often leaves the consumer with the feeling that if they don’t do it that way, they are a “bad” parent. 

There is a constant stream of information on how to best feed your kids (even how to best cut their food!), discipline them, dress them, educate them—all with the underlying promise that they will be smarter, happier, and more well-adjusted if you just perfectly do these things. It preys on parents’ fear that “I’m not good at this and I will mess up my child in some way.” Having adolescents myself, my own feed is now constantly full of advice and advertisements about how to get them into the “best” colleges. It never ends. 

So, what can we do? My first piece of advice is to be mindful of your social media consumption. Track how much time you spend scrolling and notice how it impacts your mood and your self-talk. If it is having a negative impact, try these steps:

  1. Limit Screen Time: Set boundaries for your social media use and prioritize real-life interactions over virtual ones. Designate specific times of the day for checking social media and stick to them.

  2. Curate Your Feed: Be mindful of who you follow on social media. Unfollow accounts that make you feel inadequate or trigger negative emotions. Instead, follow accounts that promote authenticity as well as emotional and body positivity.

  3. Practice Self-Compassion: Remind yourself that social media is a highlight and advertising reel, not an accurate representation of reality. Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion when feelings of inadequacy arise.

  4. Seek advice and support from the real world around you: Talk to trusted friends, family members, colleagues, and medical/mental health professionals. 

While social media has undoubtedly revolutionized the way we connect and communicate, its impact on adult women's mental health cannot be ignored. By being mindful of our social media use and implementing strategies to promote resilience, we can mitigate the negative effects and cultivate a healthier relationship with technology. 

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