Mental Health and Facebook

Today as I (Karen) opened my Facebook account, the first thing I saw were memories.  Everyday Facebook recaps things posted in years past on this same day.  Often times for me, it is fun reflection of our kids’ lives, fun vacations, and memories of the past.  Today I was reminded of how well I was able to hid a serious struggle I was going through and how that lie might have negatively impacted those around me.

On this day several years ago, I posted an article highlighting an award my husband Brian had received.  He was honored by Gulfshore Business magazine in the annual 40 under 40 that honors southwest Florida’s young leaders.  I’m sure when those who saw the post thought things like …

  • Wow, look at their family, they are doing so well.  LIE.
  • Those people really have it together. LIE.
  • If I could just have a husband like that my life would be better.  LIE.
  • She must be so happy.  LIE.

The truth is, when I posted that article, I had been off of Facebook for a long time because every time I got on, it made me fall further into the depressed and anxious state I was already experiencing.

There are typically two types of posts on Facebook.

MY LIFE IS SO AWESOME

The first type of content is look at how awesome my life is, in which you see photos of elaborate birthday parties, wonderful dinner dates with husbands, photos of people out with their awesome friends doing awesome things, or people being uber successful in their career.

During this period of my life, the look at how awesome my life is posts increased my anxiety because I was reminded at how awful my life was and how I didn’t measure up.

THE WORLD IS SO TERRIBLE

The other type of content is look at how terrible the world is, in which you get to see highlights of terrible injustice, devastating disasters, disease, and death.  These terrible posts pushed me further into depression because someday I will experience one of those tragedies.

COGNITIVE DISTORTION

The reality is, most of daily life bears little resemblance to either of these types of posts.  Yet 98% of the content seen on social media causes us to believe that it’s either one or the other … wonderful or terrible.  These are cognitive distortions.

A cognitive distortion is an irrational thought that impacts your emotions.

Have you ever put a person’s glasses on that weren’t your prescription and they caused everything you looked at to be distorted and inaccurately proportioned?  That is how a cognitive distortion works.  You see something through a lens of irrational thoughts and for that reason you believe something that is inaccurate.

We see a social media post and we think …

  • That person threw a great birthday party for their kid
    • ==> I’ve never done that before, I must be a terrible parent.   
  • That person went on a date with their husband
    • ==> I haven’t done that in several months, our marriage is doomed.   
  • I posted this on my Facebook page and this person didn’t comment or like the post.
    • ==> I must have offended them, and now they hate me.   
  • There is a picture of two of my friends at dinner and I didn’t get invited.
    • ==> If I did more to stay involved, then I would have gotten invited. 
  • Nancy’s mom just died.
    • ==> That’s going to happen to me soon
  •  My life isn’t as awesome as this person’s post.
    • ==> My life is going nowhere.

We catastrophize … overgeneralize …  personalize.  Jump to conclusions.  Reason emotionally.  Disqualify the positive.  Think in an all or nothing capacity …

……..… and it wrecks us.

Cognitive Distortions are based on a reality that isn’t real and is not mentally healthy!

Remember the 40 under 40 post I referenced?  What if I told you when I made that post, Brian couldn’t leave me in the house alone because there were things like knives and a car that I could start in a closed garage?  He was afraid, rightfully so, of what he might come home to if I were alone.  I was in the pit of one of the worst depressive cycle I have ever been in, but I was able to make the Facebook world believe everything was perfect.

Nothing is perfect.  No one is perfect.  No one has it together.  As we say in my women’s Bible Study … WE ALL SUCK!

REMEDIES FOR COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS

  • Take a break from social media if you feel you are not mentally healthy enough not to let it impact your emotions negatively.
  • Take some time to reflect on all the lies you have been believing that have negatively impacted your emotions and mental health.
  • Become aware of how these distortions work so you are aware. It’s easier to fight an enemy if you recognize their tactic.
  • Once you feel more self-aware, approach social media cautiously, always being reflective of any emotions you might be feeling while you are viewing content and after you are viewing content.

IF YOU ARE FEELING NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

Examine and challenge your thoughts.  Put on glasses that help you interpret the world with truth.  Then ask yourself …

  • Do I have evidence to prove the thought I’m currently believing to be true?
  • Do I have evidence to disprove the thought I believe?
  • What would I say to a friend if they told me the thought I was having?

Facebook can be a great place to stay up to date with family and friends, but being aware of how it can negatively impact your outlook is essential to good mental health.

Written by Karen Culbertson

Wife, mom and licensed mental health counselor.

One comment

Leave a Reply