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When Social Media Is a Trigger

Erica¬†just got engaged.¬†‚ÄúOh, that’s just great, another person is getting married.” Marcus just got a promotion. ‚ÄúI guess I am happy for him.”¬†Brittany got a new job with a salary increase and she’s expecting her first child. Rachel is traveling to Italy. Another black person killed by a police officer.¬†“So you mean to tell me another one of my childhood friends was shot and killed?”

These are the thoughts that run through¬†my mind as I scroll¬†down¬†my news feed on Facebook. I start sweating, my mind starts racing and I feel a mixture of emotions. I begin to ask myself question after question. ‚ÄúWhat can I do to protect my brothers against police brutality in this country? What can I do in my community to help? Why does¬†everything appear to be so perfect in everyone else’s life? Is something wrong with me? Why is their life moving and mine isn’t?‚ÄĚ I tell myself ‚ÄúWait,¬†Joy.¬†Shut up, stop thinking.‚ÄĚ But I can’t, it’s¬†too hard to turn my mind off once it starts racing.

Of course, I know what I see on social media is only a small portion of someone’s everyday life. Most people only share their good news with the exception of the senseless killings in my community and the world. So yes, I know there is a such thing as a filter on social media. I have a filter on social media, but that doesn’t change the fact that I immediately start comparing myself to my peers and discrediting all of my accomplishments. This empty feeling comes over me for a moment and then I get angry.¬†I wish this was only an occasional inconvenience, but I find myself feeling this way multiple times a day on social media.¬†So you may ask, ‚ÄúHow many hours do you spend on social media?‚ÄĚ Honestly, I have no idea, but I tend to scroll through my feed at work, at home on the couch, in church, when I am hanging out with friends and in the middle of the night when I wake up. I enjoy posting selfies, sharing the highlights of my life, ¬†encouraging others through words of affirmation and scrolling through my news feed to see what’s going on in the world and among my peers. Most importantly I use it to escape my depression.

As I sit in group therapy while we discuss triggers, the therapist tells us that a trigger can be a¬†person, place or thing that brings you back to a mentality¬†where you can risk having a relapse.¬†She also talked about how to recognize them and ways to cope. She gave¬†us a worksheet with questions that forced me to sit and think about what things make my depression and anxiety worse. I immediately thought of my mother’s abusive boyfriend and¬†my financial hardship, but as I begin writing, the words social media popped into my head. I did not want to believe it. I¬†can identify a few of my¬†triggers¬†but I did not want to believe that something like social media was a trigger.

But after being off it for five months, I noticed I did not have the desire to go back on social media. Recently, I decided to get on Facebook and the empty feeling did not come back. Maybe because I could not get myself to scroll through my news feed.¬† Three days later, I deactivated my account because I knew I was not ready. Considering that I attempted suicide a month ago, I was not mentally strong enough and then I immediately thought ‚ÄúWill I ever be?‚ÄĚ.

As I begin to do some research on major depressive disorder and social media, I discovered an article on Everyday Health. In the piece,¬†psychologist Stephanie Mihalas, PHD, says spending too much time on social media can create a negative cycle¬†of thoughts, and social media can actually become a root of unhealthy emotions because of that. In addition, Natascha M. Santos, PsyD, says it can lead you to process information with a negative bias and have dysfunctional beliefs. It can even cause you to minimize the positives of your own relationships by comparing them to others. The¬†photos and status updates are¬†carefully crafted, and often put a depressed person in a¬†place where he/she begins to compare his or her entire life to someone else’s highlights. I said to myself, ‚ÄúYes, that is me.‚ÄĚ I am not sure when I will be ready considering that I need social media to market my start-up. How will I do that if social media is one of my triggers? ‚ÄúMaybe I will have to hire and train someone?‚ÄĚ Even thinking about it is enough to make my anxiety kick in.

I don’t know when I will be ready to be on social media full-time, especially since¬†I am in recovery. I have started making steps to get myself into a healthier head space when I am active on social media. Now I set myself a time limit for Facebook. Hopefully I can gradually learn to use social media in a healthy way and avoid being triggered. I would encourage those dealing with depression, anxiety or any mental illness to learn your triggers and healthy ways to cope. This may include seeing a therapist, talking to love ones, deep breathing, listening to music¬†and a variety of other things.

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