It is becoming almost cliche to acknowledge the fact that social media can negatively affect our mental health. We all seem to feel the negativity on some level and yet we still reach for our phone. As a mom, I have noticed myself both hating social media and then at times feeling like I need the outlet. Can social media use for moms be both positive and negative? Join me here for a couple minutes of your time and I will share a couple things I have noticed.
Positive aspects of social media use for moms; a source of connection
Speaking from personal experience, I can say there are positive things about social media during this stage of life. I have a four-month-old which can mean a lot of time on the couch for contact naps and feeding sessions. It can be nice to have a way to connect with others through Instagram, especially on days when I just do not have energy or ability to go out of the house. There are beautiful and inspiring accounts on all different topics around motherhood that provide encouragement or can help one find tools on the journey of figuring out how to be a parent for a little person. Some accounts are just great at providing those real words that give validation and help us feel less alone during those isolating days of being covered in spit-up or trying to do everything in our power to soothe a cranky baby. In fact, there are some accounts on Instagram that I appreciate so much I maybe even would recommend them to friends and clients. If you are going to use social media, you might as well find the positive corners. It can feel fun for me to share that photo of my daily matcha drink I made or maybe my cat just did something that’s making me laugh my head off and it feels good to share the joy. Friends can send posts or reflections back and forth and build relationships in this way. So yes, there are lots of positives about social media (at least Instagram for me, as that is the only one I really use much).
Negative aspects around social media use for moms; it can be isolating
Social media can give a platform to almost anyone. There are influencers or “pseudo influencers” (those accounts have enough of a following that they seem credible) parading as experts on all varieties of topics. But are they really experts? Can they really replace healthcare providers? Aside from the fact that some of them do not actually have the education or credentials to back up their opinions, even if they do, I do not believe they can ever replace your doctor or your therapist. Here is why: having a newborn has had me running to the doctor’s office more times in four months than I have ever before in my life and it has made me realize how important it is that I have a trusted relationship with my provider. The need for this trust has taken on a new level. I am not just looking for support on my health needs where I can feel and experience and know what is happening with my body, but rather for my little son who, as of yet, is too small to communicate his needs very clearly. One can only understand so much from a baby crying, after all. So, understandably, there’s anxiety, right? In fact, there is evidence that the season of entering motherhood is one of heightened anxiety for any woman (Boyd, 2022). Meanwhile, social media (and even just google) is a tempting “quick fix.” I can allay my anxiety by finding an “expert” opinion on something my child is dealing with and suddenly we are using social media to “cope” with our anxiety. Can’t get them to sleep? Here’s this 30 second video with a fix. Feeling anxious or stressed or sad postpartum? This remedy according to this mom can fix it because that is what helped her. Way quicker than a trip to the doctor or therapist, right? The problem is that these “experts” on social media do not know you or your child(ren). It is almost like healthcare outside the context of a relationship. Which, quite frankly, is not healthcare after all.
Using social media to cope with anxiety misses the key component that any good provider will tell you is necessary: having a trusting relationship. This is called evidence-based practice. It means you have to have a provider that doesn’t just know the research, but knows YOU and your situation as well (NASW, n.d). Social media bypasses the important step of bringing your needs for support in a relationship and can give us a false sense of security or expertise that we “solved” a problem by following someone’s advice. However, that quick fix can often heighten anxiety over time because, well, we are programmed for relationships. The irony is that if we are using social media to cope with stress rather than being a source of connection, it can be a source of isolation. See a further reflection on anxiety and relationships at this blog post here: But What If…?
Another way that social media can be isolating for anyone, but especially for a mom, is when toxic positivity creeps in. Toxic positivity means only being willing to be positive and avoiding or ignoring the negative, therefore it usually means avoiding reality (MediLexicon International, n.d.). There are many mom influencers that bring this negative energy of toxic positivity to the social media platform. Unfortunately, when this happens, it is just another way for moms to feel isolated and disconnected. It can be difficult not to compare yourself with the seemingly perfect lifestyle of that mom who just LOVES to be a mom 24/7 and everything is always perfect. These types of accounts can lead moms to feel inadequate, compare themselves, or feel even more stressed. When social media starts to feel like this, maybe it is time to pause and put it away.
I recently picked up a book on mindful mothering and I think I officially discovered my personal parenting style. As a very simple intro, mindful mothering is basically a way of parenting that is focused on knowing what is important to you and making decisions based on this; doing your best to be in the present moment; and focusing on being gentle and flexible with yourself and your littles in the meantime. It becomes possible if you are parenting with support from your village whether that’s a partner, spouse, family members, friends, chosen family or any combo of those (Boyd, 2022). Mindfulness can help anchor and stabilize during the everyday stressors of being a parent and can contribute to reduced anxiety. See more on that here: The ABC’s of Anxiety . When it comes to social media, it can be helpful to ask yourself if using social media is going to be a source of connection or if it is going to be a distraction.
In the end, I think it is possible to hold both perspectives; using social media can have positives and negatives for moms. Like most things in life, maybe it’s about finding a balance. Using the tool when it’s helpful and taking a break when it’s not. Ultimately, it is about relationships and connection. When we find those, when we can live in a community that supports us – which usually happens as a combination of in person and online in today’s day and age – our mental health will be supported as well. Just remember that watching a video or giving someone a like on their post can’t ever fully replace that much-needed therapy session, that visit to your doctor, that medication you might need, or even just that conversation with a friend. Remember, you get to be the one to figure out what you need and go after it. And be okay with making some mistakes in the meantime. Meanwhile, I am over here cheering you on in this crazy journey of life and motherhood and parenting and all the things in between.
Boyd, C. (2022). Mindful new mom: Meditation, yoga, visualization, natural remedies, nutrition: A mind-body approach to the highs and lows of Motherhood. DK.
MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Toxic positivity: Definition, risks, how to avoid, and more. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-positivity#risks
News. NASW, National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). https://www.socialworkers.org/news/research-data/social-work-policy-research/evidence-based-practice