Not living by living on social media – an experiment on cutting it out

Early this year I undertook a digital declutter.  What on earth is this?  It’s a deliberate removal, sort out, and general reassessing of your of social media, email, and other online information.  I did this as part of an international informal experiment, just to see what happened.

I’ve never been a big user of social media, but I was aware that my usage was creeping up and it wasn’t always helpful.  We all know that mindless use of social platforms eats away at our time like almost nothing else.  Social media is wonderful, it connects us, and makes communication easier in some cases, but as a therapist, I also know about increasing research that tells us social media is also making us actually feel more isolated, more lonely, and more anxious and depressed.

How can this be? You only have to look at the average Facebook account. Everyone is living it up, all the time. Everyone has a loving family, lots of friends, perfect children, having parties.  And some of them are those people who look like they have everything.

It’s a lie.

And yet we compare ourselves to them, and we feel inadequate. And lonely.  Social media is something we do in isolation.  We are alone, even if we are surrounded by others.  The recipient of our interaction chooses whether to interact back. The human version of this would be to walk down the street randomly saying what is in our heads to no-one in particular.  Sounds strange? Yet we do this online constantly.

So I was interested to find out what would happen if I shut down even my limited social media to only work related email. Just that. No Facebook, no Instagram, no messaging, cancelling my unwanted email.  It was more difficult than I thought.  I had got used to just having a ‘quick look’ at whatever happened to be my favourite social media that week.  In spare moments, waiting for something, standing in a queue.

I was actually wasting time. I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings. Every mind-wandering moment when you just click on a notification means you are not focussing on here and now. I was surprised by how many times in a day I had got into a habit of ‘just checking Insta/FB/fill in blank’, that I didn’t even think about it. And are all so busy aren’t we? How do we have time to do this? Don’t we want that time back?  I did.

So I followed the rules of the digital declutter (there was some leeway to account for essential work use – and that means really essential).  Everything else had to go.  I did fail a couple of times.  I would urge everyone to try it just to see how difficult it is.  I’ll post later about some tips I discovered.

Fear of missing out?  Yes, that’s a big one.  But think about this – what life might we be missing out on whilst we’re too busy being on social media?

How to Choose a Therapist

It can be really daunting trying to choose a therapist. First, you’re getting over the challenge of deciding whether you really need to see one – and there is no rule about how “bad” or “deserving” you have to be.  Maybe you just need a couple of sessions to talk something over. Maybe you need more. Some people don’t really know until they arrive in the therapist’s room.

Whichever it is, it’s a difficult decision.  You may be with this person for some weeks.  You might be telling them things you’ve kept to yourself, and you might be talking about some really difficult things, so it’s important you feel comfortable.

How to choose?

Some people follow a recommendation from a friend or someone they know.   This is fine, but bear in mind, what may feel right for one person may not feel right for you.  One of the most common places to look for a therapist is online.

Many BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) registered counsellors are listed with the Counselling Directory: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk as this is one of the most popular places to find a therapist.  The BACP also has its own listing of BACP registered therapists: https://www.bacp.co.uk/search/Therapists. The other main registering accrediting body in the  is the UK Council for Psychotherapy which also has a listing of therapists: https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/find-a-therapist/.

There are other listings, but I would advise anyone looking for a therapist to start with one of these. The counselling and psychotherapy profession is becoming more regulated, and these listings make sure that its members are properly professionally trained (by accredited postgraduate training), and registered. A BACP or UKCP registered therapist ensures that they are actually professionally qualified, meet regulated standards, and are up to date with professional development in their professional area.

Other than this, read therapist profiles, look at the photos, and go with your gut feeling. Good luck!

Looking after your mental health

1 in 4 of us will experience mental health difficulties at some point in our lives (Mind), sometimes repeatedly.  This can range from mild depression or anxiety to more debilitating symptoms – not being able to cope with day to day life, everything seeming overwhelming, feelings of panic out of the blue, to name a few – and more serious disorders of various kinds.  Some people struggle with these things for years, sometimes without help or any relief.  And yet this is still such a difficult thing to talk about.

There is even today a perception that people suffering symptoms are weak, need to pull themselves together, or are simply seeking attention.  Men are sometimes told to ‘man up’.  And yet this is sad because in some cases those pointing the finger have perhaps not been able to ask for help themselves, and so can’t bear to see others asking for it.

Just talking about symptoms can help – feeling heard and understood instead of judged and told what to do can go a long way to helping a person feel less alone.  Poor mental health might be a perfectly normal reaction to life events or stress, yet we often feel we are not allowed to feel sad.

As our society becomes more uncertain, employment becomes less secure, and our communities more fractured, it doesn’t seem surprising that we might struggle more with sadness, anxiety, worry, low mood or mood swings, or anger. There is no shame in seeking help of whatever kind you might need – therapist, coach, or guide of some kind.  For some reason, seeing a therapist still appears less acceptable than other kinds of support.  But it is just as essential as a doctor or dentist for physical health or a business coach for guiding your business.

We think mental health takes care of itself.  It does not.  We all need a little help and support from time to time.  Valuing ourselves means valuing all parts of ourselves and attending to them – physical, mental and spiritual.  Looking after our mental health is sometimes about finding the time for some meditation or finding a quiet moment in the day, and sometimes it is about finding a therapist, and sometimes it is about all of these things.  Let’s start making looking after our mental health a priority this new year – giving ourselves space and above all, permission.