Like many modern moms, your Instagram feed is probably packed with shots of your tiny tot giggling, goofing off and just being plain adorable. Your little love’s mere presence in your posts triggers a “like” spike, and, let’s be honest, that can feel really good. This affirmation from your invisible audience seems to validate a basic human need to feel accepted. But have you ever noticed yourself feeling blue after you toggle between several mediums to share what should be a happy moment? If so, you are not alone. New research confirms a paradoxical phenomenon linking the more social media use — not just in the amount of time spent on social media, but in the quantity of platforms we use — with greater risks of depression and anxiety.
According to the study, which was published by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, these feelings of sadness and unease can cause you to negatively reflect on your experiences. It can diminish your happiness and subsequently cast a gloomy shadow over your interactions with your kids. Suddenly what should be a beautiful moment with your child feels dark and icky.
These negative feelings can arise in part from trying to live up to the unrealistic existence we curate in our social media feeds. As we post on our different channels, we begin to set impossible expectations upon ourselves and then devalue our accomplishments. The tyranny of these “shoulds” gets louder and louder and further fuels feelings of inadequacy. As a result, moms report experiencing fears that their less glamorous lives will be exposed. So they work to maintain the illusion that causes them to feel like imposters in their own lives.
Don’t feel despair if you’ve been caught in this loop. Here are 5 tips to help you fight back and overcome your social media shortcomings.
1. Recognize the stress that social media causes you. Awareness is the first step toward change. So if you find yourself feeling distressed, know that you are already on your journey to self-improvement. Social media can have a strong hold on your life, especially when the little ones comes into the picture. But armed with information and stress-busting techniques, you can fight it back to where it belongs. When you have greater awareness into your authentic self, you can make decisions that support your genuine needs.
2. One-week social media detox. By simply limiting the quantity of platforms you regularly frequent, you will reduce any symptoms of anxiety you may have. Challenge yourself to go cold turkey by writing down the time you spend on each platform. Then organizing the list in order of value added to your life. For the ones in the bottom 20 percent, hit delete and cut them out of your regular rotation. Try it for 10 days and see if you notice a change in your emotional state.
3. Pursue acceptance. Be kind to yourself. Keep in mind that your relationship with social media grew over time, so understandably, it will take some time to create more balance. Ask yourself why it feels so important to amass “likes” and examine the value you assign to this virtual validation. Give yourself a test: try emailing your photos to select friends and family members and notice if their responses elicit happier feelings than garnering multiple likes.
4. Be aware of your own gratitude. If you feel disconnected from your kids’ accomplishments, you can repair those feelings by raising awareness of your own gratitude. By acknowledging the goodness in your life, you can connect to something larger than your individual experience. Gratitude is also associated with greater happiness and helps you overcome adversity. Begin by creating a “gratitude journal” comprised of thoughts, events and experiences that contribute to a positive existence. The list may range from knowing how to make your little one laugh, to your partner’s good health, to catching blooming azaleas while out on a stroll. Try keeping the list in an easily accessible place, like on your phone or on a small pad you can take with you everywhere, and continually add to the inventory, so you can easily reference it when you’re having a stressful moment.
5. Don’t do it alone. . If you find yourself feeling constantly anxious or down but are unable to pinpoint the source of these feelings, it may be worthwhile to explore counseling. If you symptoms of anxiety persist and influence your daily functioning, you don’t have to suffer in silence. A professional therapist can help you unpack some contributing emotional issues and come up with a game plan to better manage your social media response.
Lindsay Liben, LCSW, has a private therapy practice near Union Square, focusing on women’s issues including depression, anxiety, and life transitions. She believes that by helping her patients get in touch with their most authentic selves, they can make choices that set them up for personal and professional success. Learn more about Lindsay and her work on her website.