Young Adults & Social Media: The importance of creating a mindfulness practice online.

Young Adults & Social Media: The importance of creating a mindfulness practice online.

internet overwhelmedSomething that often comes up in conversations with the social-media savvy young adults that I treat is how anxiety provoking it can be for them to witness the lives of their friends and peers unfolding in real time. Especially for a young adult participating in treatment for a psychiatric disorder, the trajectories of their seemingly “normal” friends’ lives feels like a marker of where they “should be” in many capacities of their life be it growth, development, professional and social life.

As a clinician who coaches young adults in stressful times of personal and professional transition, I witness first hand the difficulty of a client accepting their own progress and life trajectory when they are simultaneously scrolling through a digital display of their peers’ best, most successful and joyous moments.

The truth is, witnessing the happiest moments in other peoples’ lives via social media, especially when one is struggling, can quickly turn into jealousy, self-loathing and self-deprecating behavior and resentment towards the self and others. This is true for anyone. Yet for a young adult in the midst of treatment from a mental illness, the mindless activity of “catching up” on social media outlets such as Facebook or Instagram, can be a dangerous threat to the self-esteem and acceptance that are integral components to a healthy life and recovery.

How not to fall into this trap?

I suggest my clients extend their mindfulness practice to Internet and social media usage.

Some tips:

  1. Create an Internet agenda, give yourself a time frame, and be mindful of what and why you are clicking on what you are clicking on. Being mindful of WHY you have signed on to the Internet in the first place can prevent one from falling down the rabbit hole. Anyone who uses social media has been there: mindless, addictive clicking from page to page that starts out so innocently. Perhaps we just wanted to write happy birthday on a friend’s Facebook wall, but then see a post from another friend, which leads to another person’s page, and finally you are checking out the fabulous seeming life of that random girl you sat behind in sophomore year math class, jealous because she has a wonderful job and she has just gotten engaged and you wonder, “Why don’t I have that? Why is her life so together when mine isn’t? What is wrong with me?” Being mindful of this is the first step in preventing it. Preventing this can increase productivity and time management while also preventing the negative feelings of comparison.
  1. Be mindful that what is shared on social media is the cream of the crop of peoples’ lives. Nobody wants to share the difficult moments of their lives, but they are there. Hardly anybody writes a status update about losing a job, failing an exam, gaining a lot of weight, or having a miserable evening that ends in a hangover. Be aware that what you are looking at is only a small snapshot of people’s lives. The imperfections are there, too! They just aren’t posted. We are all human.
  1. Stay in wise mind. Acknowledge the emotion mind that comes up for you and bring these feelings up with your therapist in session. Processing these intense, very real feelings is important to the therapeutic process and can only benefit recovery and enhance self-awareness.
  1. Engage in positive self-talk.  Being kind and gentle to your own self is such an important element of living a healthy lifestyle. Reminding yourself of your accomplishments -no matter if you feel they are large or small- is integral to building a healthy relationship with oneself. Accepting that where you are in any given moment is exactly where you supposed to be is the key, especially when engaged in treatment.

Learning to use your best self as a measure of accomplishment, rather than comparing to others, is a goal that everyone should have. We all live our own lives at our own pace, and while it can be frustrating to seem less accomplished than others, or to not have the same things others do, it is important to be mindful that the time and negative energy spent ruminating in resentment and self-deprecation can be better used in a positive, more beneficial and deserved way: acknowledging and celebrating your strengths and progress on a daily basis.

–Jaime Gleicher, MSW