What is one of the very first things you do each morning? If you said check social media, you answered the same as 80% of people. There are more devices connected to the Internet than there are people on Earth. Social media is everywhere, and it can play a significant role along the road to eating disorder recovery.
We have all heard the basics: be careful what you post, nothing can be erased from the Internet, beware of stranger danger, etc. These are all very important messages amidst a society consumed by social media. Becoming media literate – or having the ability to understand and interpret media messages – is a helpful step in facing the challenges that social media may bring.
Social media sites and applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Reddit, bring both benefits and risks to users. Being aware of these pros and cons can be helpful in navigating social media throughout the treatment and recovery process.
-Recovery-Oriented Material: The Internet is a great way to share your story – and to read the stories of others. When someone is struggling with the process of recovery, it can be helpful to draw from the inspiration of those who have recovered. Whether it be a recovery blog, a Twitter handle dedicated to inspirational quotes, or an eating disorder agency’s website providing education and information, the Internet can provide pro-recovery and pro-health information and resources.
-Access to Supports: In an age when approx. 40% of people socialize more online than face-to-face, it can feel challenging to pick up the phone and ask for help. With the ability to instantly connect using Facebook Messenger, GChat, texting, and other online chat tools, accessing supports is easier than ever. Whether you need someone to listen, offer advice, or just tell you something funny as a pick-me-up, using social media can be a great way to connect.
-Distraction Techniques: It is no secret that the Internet can be a great way to waste time – which sometimes isn’t such a waste, after all. When faced with a challenging situation, distractions can often assist in getting through the moment without making it worse. YouTube videos, games from the App store (ever heard of Candy Crush?), and Reddit are full of facts, activities, photographs, and quizzes that can help when struggling. Plus, who can look into the eyes of one of the puppies on The Daily Puppy iPhone app and not smile?
-Increased Comparison to Peers: While we often point to larger media forms such as advertisements, television, and magazines, it is important to consider how social media comparisons can play a significant role in the development of self-worth. It can be challenging to see a photo that a friend or family member posted of themself online and not immediately start to compare your physical appearance. In fact, 51% of participants in a 2012 study reported that Facebook makes them more conscious about their body & weight. This increase in comparison can be true of things other than physical appearance as well, such as comparing how many people “liked” the last photo you posted, when you last went to the gym, and where you recently went on vacation. A quote that can be helpful with this aspect of social media is as follows: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” –Steve Furtick. People tend to post only their most flattering photos and their happiest adventures – and this does not always accurately reflect reality.
-ED-Fueling Material: Unfortunately, material promoting eating disorder behaviors has become rampant on the Internet. This can be tempting for those struggling with intensifying eating disorder thoughts. Some social media sites, such as Pinterest or Instagram, have elected to post warnings and links to helpful resources when a user searches for dangerous or risky content. This is a start, however, the material is generally still accessible after the warning, and may exacerbate eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.
-Cyber-Bulling: As previously mentioned, people communicate via the Internet almost as frequently as they do in person. Using social media, however, allows people to “hide behind the mask of the Internet” and perhaps say things they wouldn’t say face-to-face. This can lead to unkind words, and even cyber-bullying. Feeling victimized can lead to isolation and withdrawal from peers, and may trigger an increase in eating disorder behaviors to cope.
What You Can Do:
-Recognize the effect that perusing others’ photos may have on your self-esteem or body image.
-Interrupt the negativity by subscribing to positive social media pages and accounts.
-Make an effort to post about friends’ non-physical accomplishments and successes rather than only about their appearance or weight/shape.
-Consider taking a break from Facebook and log-off … or deactivate. Use the time you would normally spend on Facebook to engage with positive influences or activities.
When using social media, it is important to keep your goals in mind and be aware of where you may find triggering content. Happy Tweeting, and remember to #BeSafe.
Erika Vargas, MA, is a clinician in the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient & Partial Hospitalization Programs at the WBC Braintree location. She is trained in the Maudsley Method/Family Based-Treatment and works with adolescents to decrease eating disorder behaviors with the support of their families.