Our mood system is ordinarily very robust, for the most part we deal with knock backs and obstacles within a relatively short period of upset. Whether it’s an argument with a partner, the car breaking down or something tragic we see on the news; we experience upset or annoyance but ordinarily our mood bounces back and is naturally restored before too long.
When we are struggling with low mood or anxious, we are more vulnerable to external factors having an impact upon us. When the resilience of our mood is reduced there is less of a bounce back to a balanced mood. It makes sense that we are then more susceptible to prolonged low moods and the influence of negative events.
For example, when we watch the news we are bombarded with negativity about events around the globe.
Unfortunately bad news attracts our attention more than good and so often the news is full of tragedy, injustice or sadness. In reality most of this news will have no impact upon our own reality and yet we feel drawn to it once we become aware of it.
If we have an awareness of our own vulnerability, then perhaps we can help ourselves by reducing the amount of negativity we expose ourselves to. For example, if you know you are sensitive to bad news about injustice, it may be worth considering what you stand to gain by exposing yourself to this?
Looking for what we already believe
We have a tendency to look for things which reinforce the way we feel and what we believe. When we feel low or if there is a strong sense of injustice, we are more likely to seek out information or events which reaffirm how unfair life is.
This can be a double-edged sword. Some are able to find meaning and purpose in pursuing injustice and shining a light into dark areas. Others may become sucked into a vicious circle of proving to themselves how unfair the world is. The key here is recognising that none of us are immune to the effects of constant negative stimulus.
As someone who advocates increasing curiosity and awareness, it may seem odd to suggest that we avoid sources of potential information. However, as with all things the key is often in finding the right balance for you. Too much of any one thing is not good for any of us and this is no less the case with media.
Henry David Thoreau was a philosopher and writer who lived in the 1800s. Thoreau had much to say about simplifying our lives in order to live more freely from stress. This is what Thoreau had to say about the news :
‘“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, – we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”
When we consider that Thoreau lived nearly 200 yrs ago, before modern technology even existed, we can only imagine how shocked he would be at the barrage of information we are now continually exposed to on a daily basis.
It’s equally shocking to think that without modern technology, there were still those who felt this amount of news was unnecessary.
Whilst Thoreau’s message may seem quaint, the thought behind it is worth considering. Is it helpful to know about everything that is going on outside of your immediate world? Or might this be fuel for a negative cycle you are experiencing?
When you feel vulnerable or low rather than watching programmes geared to provoke negative emotions such as the news, perhaps you could immerse yourself in something positive or stimulate your imagination.
Despite its many uses and appeals, of all the social media platforms facebook is one of the most problematic in terms of its effects upon our moods. Several studies have found that the use of facebook can make us feel worse about ourselves.
Part of the problem is in how we use facebook. Sharing exciting news, things we’re proud of etc. For someone feeling unhappy about their life, this can make it look as though everyone is having a great time, doing impressive things, whilst you struggle along on your own.
This presents you with a one-dimensional view of others lives as you are only presented with the best of others experiences, which may appear to be much more exciting or impressive than your own.
Comparing against an imaginary life
This can tap into your instinctive need to compare and contrast your own life with others, which can leave you feeling like your life is mundane, not exciting, or simply not good enough.
If you struggle in particular with feelings of low self-worth those thoughts of ‘my life’s not good enough’ can easily turn into ‘I’m not good enough’.
A further problem with facebook is that those who use it most often use it as a form of ‘checking in’ with everyone they know. The ability to contact anyone in the world so easily over the internet can be a great thing.
However, having the potential to reach everyone we know whilst we are angry, frustrated, upset or under the influence is different. It brings the risk of embarrassment, shame or potential arguments if we say something we regret.
The maintenance of boundaries is extremely important in the upkeep of relationships so this can create tension in our social circles and further damage our sense of worth.
Facebook does also have some potential for good. For example, we might practice gratitude in looking back through our photos, reflecting on positive memories. The big difference here is we focus on our own actions and the people we care about, rather than comparing our experiences to others.
Secondly, joining facebook groups with connections to others may help you to realise you are not alone in dealing with your problems. These groups, when run correctly can be a great support through difficult times. But again we can see the difference here is that these support groups are ‘closed’ or ‘secret’ and therefore have boundaries.
This form of support can also be found in other forms of social media or in forum groups amongst other areas, so the question remains, is facebook worth the potential effect upon your mood?
Whilst Twitter holds the same dangers for broadcasting our feelings whilst we are distressed or under the influence, the dynamics work differently. Twitter is less geared to trigger social comparison.
Facebook requires that you accept someone as a friend before you can interact with them, whereas on Twitter anyone can interact. This allows instant access to support or information on something we may be struggling with.
Importantly, Twitter also allows those who may feel unable to reach out within their social circle, to do so anonymously; finding others who might be struggling with a similar issue or to ask advice.
The flipside of this is that Twitter can sometimes be used as a powerful shame inducing weapon as we can see with ‘cancel culture’. Hundreds of thousands of people could potentially see a tweet in a short space of time. This can result in judgements being made instantaneously and presented as facts across thousands of people. The resulting emotions can be overwhelmingly painful.
Is it worth it?
If you don’t feel the technology serves you well, or that on balance it is effecting your moods or mental health, stop and consider do you really need it in your life?
We need to remember that whilst we cannot avoid marketing messages, we are often in control of our choice of media and the messages we seek out. An awareness of this can make a big difference in how we feel about ourselves and the world around us.
If you find that you are overusing social media, or that you find yourself particularly upset, frustrated or angered by reading or watching news, here are some ideas to consider :
- Take a news fast : Cut down or completely avoid any intake of news from Newspapers, Magazines or TV.
- If you want to access news be careful with your choices. Be aware TV news is constant and you have no control over it’s content.
- Be aware of marketing messages in magazines that are geared to make you feel less than ‘enough’
- If you don’t want to leave facebook, limit your use of Facebook daily by:
- Using software to lock yourself out between certain hours.
- Remove passwords from your smart phone and sign out after using, it’s more of an inconvenience to access on a whim.
- Resist the urge to use social media whilst you are in the company of others, this will also improve your presence in your offline relationships.
- Cultivate curiosity in subjects you have a genuine interest in, rather than spending time reinforcing negative feelings. Make self-care a priority. We cannot fight injustice if we do not first look after ourselves.
- Rather than checking social media on your phone or reading a newspaper at every opportunity, consider reading a book, listening to music or an audio book.
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