When Social Media Is a Trigger


Erica just got engaged. “Oh, that’s just great, another person is getting married.” Marcus just got a promotion. “I 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. “What 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?” I tell myself “Wait, Joy. Shut up, stop thinking.” 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, “How many hours do you spend on social media?” 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 “Will I ever be?”.

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, “Yes, that is me.” 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? “Maybe I will have to hire and train someone?” 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.

Follow this journey on joygreenmentalhealth.com

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