Social media usage can be a source of support if you’re thinking about, going through, or rebuilding after a divorce. However, social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram, can also wreak havoc on your emotional health, becoming a source of distress instead of inspiration if you’re not careful.
In an obvious sense, social media usage post-divorce comes with risk, especially if the relationship you share with your ex is or has been contentious. You can read about some of the pitfalls and how to avoid them here. But what I am specifically referring to now are the conclusions you may draw when comparing your life to others at a time when your life plan didn’t work out as you once expected it to.
When using social media, it’s easy to get caught up looking at what your peers are doing and then think to yourself, often in error, how the grass is greener for them and that they’ve achieved the goals you’ve only dreamt about, whether professionally or personally. The reality is you’ll never know what was going on a minute before or a minute after a picture was taken or post was written. Still, the images can linger and do their damage if you allow them to. Depending on your emotional and psychological state, the way you process the information you see and read online can vary. The trick is to keep in mind that you don’t know the full story.
Then there is the capacity to empathize, and the fine line that exists between empathy and absorbing someone else’s pain to your detriment. As part of my job as a writer and lifestyle editor, I belong to many Facebook groups—including Worthy’s own—that focus specifically on topics I write about the most: divorce, single parenting, relationships, and midlife career change. After reading the heartfelt accounts from members of these groups—their struggles as well as their successes, their day-to-day ups as well as their downs—I have come to understand that there are a lot of people who are in pain and that their suffering can ebb and flow, like mine. Reading about the hardships experienced by others, depending on my frame of mind, can either knock me down or lift me up when I’m feeling depressed or discouraged. I need to be conscious of how other people’s problems affect me and protect myself accordingly.
If that isn’t enough, I also have to consider what it is I’m putting out there, the image I communicate to others—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The moment we post, we send a message to friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike that this is who we are, this is where we’re at, and this is what we want to say during a given moment. As we all know, moments change; however, on social media, a moment can last forever, even though the situation causing our moment to be what it is can change in an instant, too. The immutability of our lives online coupled with a tumultuous time such as that surrounding a divorce can cause even more anxiety than we already have, particularly if we tend to ask ourselves later on, “What was I thinking when I posted this?”
So how can we deal? Take social media for what it is: a space for people to express themselves the way they would on a stage. Sometimes the performance is authentic and timeless, and sometimes it’s not. As an audience member, a social media voyeur, it’s essential we remember the comparison when using these platforms as the yardstick by which we measure ourselves against others. As a performer, a social media sharer, it’s equally critical to question the message we want to convey and, more importantly, why. If our answers indicate that social media usage is compromising our mental health, the short answer is to turn it off. Take a break. People lived without social media for millions of years. Surely, we can all live without it for a week.
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