So social — to a fault?

First Posted: 1/12/2015

LIMA — Social media can be a wonderful tool for keeping in touch with family and friends who are spread out across the nation. Yet, being tethered to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can also have negative effects on mental health and relationships.

For those seeking to cut back on social media immersion, or to simply use these outlets in a more positive way for the New Year, look no further. Two local mental health experts have shared their tips and insights for a healthier overall experience.

“People can report better satisfaction with their life when they are contributing to social media,” said Jennifer Hughes, Ph.D., Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) with Carol L. Patrick & Associates in Lima and assistant professor at Wright State University. “It can reduce loneliness, but it can also increase feelings of loneliness and isolation when you’re looking at how wonderful everyone else’s life is, and why mine isn’t.”

But how does a person know if his or her social media usage is a problem in the first place? Hughes shed some light on a few warning signs.

“If it’s causing a problem in their functioning with their partners, their kids, their work, and they’ve had negative consequences for being too connected electronically, then clearly that’s a red flag,” Hughes said. “So if they’ve gotten reprimanded at work, or if they’re having marital problems from that, then it’s easier for me as a therapist to say, ‘Look, these are causing these kinds of problems in your life.’”

If someone is struggling with finding a balance between online interaction and face-to-face interaction, they might consider making a plan of action, Hughes explained.

“If I had a client who had identified social media as an addiction — as a problem — I would start with where my client is at,” she said. “And then I would want to have them kind of determine how much they’re doing, how much time they’re spending, how much they would like to change that or reduce that. So they would have to be part of their own plan of success.”

A solution for some people might be to remove social media apps from mobile devices — only accessing them from a computer. Still others may benefit from a more drastic solution.

“Sometimes people have to cut things out of their lives completely in order to get control over it, rather than try to back off,” said Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) Rosalie Stluka, with Personal Growth Counseling in Lima. “An addiction, by definition, is something that is very difficult to back off of. You almost have to cut it off, cut it out of your life.”

For other people, allowing one hour each day for social media might be a reasonable goal. Limiting the number of posts, status updates or text messages per day can be another approach.

“But when you’re taking anything away, then you want to put something in its place,” Hughes said. “So, if you’re going to spend less time on a social media outlet, then what is something you could do in place of?

Making plans to go out to lunch with a family member or grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend can be good alternatives to vegging out at home, refreshing your Facebook or Twitter feed.

“And then I would also want them to kind of monitor their progress themselves,” Hughes said. “So, whether that was coming up with journaling, or a way to kind of keep track of where they’re at. So that kind of come up with that spot of what’s enough and what’s too much?”

Aside from cutting back, there are ways to improve your social media experience. Simply being more aware of others’ feelings and the possible interpretations of posts can go a long way.

“I think there is a lot of potential for people to be hurt unnecessarily through social media, either because they read something that they misunderstand, or they take it the wrong way,” Stluka said. “You and I having a conversation could misunderstand each other, but if we’re talking live, we can probably get that clarified real quickly, if there’s a misunderstanding. That doesn’t happen social media, or even texting and email, for that matter.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that sometimes people are going to be intentionally hurtful, Stluka noted. Passive-aggressive posting is typically meant to stir the pot.

“I think sometimes people hurt people intentionally,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Well, if I put this on there, I know so-and-so is going to see it, and I want to get ‘em.’ And I can do that innocently enough, without it being obvious that I’m doing that.”

Being mindful of the types and frequency of social media updates — and even filtering them, as necessary — can be beneficial, too. Try not make status updates during highly emotional states, Stluka advised.

“I think maybe people should think about limiting how much they post, or what they post,” she said. “It’s a simple thing, but it can mean a lot — to just stop and think before you post something. Just stop and think about it. What am I trying to say? Who am I trying to reach? Could this be taken wrong?”

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