It’s not uncommon in my therapy office to talk about social media. Specifically, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about wanting to not be on social media but having a hard time stopping.
When people bring up the topic of their social media use, it’s usually said with a bit of a guilty look, and can come across as a shrug off comment. “I really shouldn’t be using my phone so much,” they might say in an off-hand way. But, since people are paying me money to notice things, I don’t just shrug it off. Instead, I invite them to talk about it. So many of my clients are finding that they’re on social media more than they actually want to be, and that it’s causing upset in their lives. These are some of the things we’ve been talking about in those conversations.
1. Getting clearer on what is it about our social media use that we don’t like.
Sometimes in having this conversation, we realize we're actually okay with our social media use. But 95% of the time we can easily rattle off some reasons why it’s no longer serving us, including:
I ignore my partner when I’m on my phone. We just sit on the couch near each other having conversations with strangers. I don’t like that. I miss him.
It makes me feel shitty about myself. I can’t help comparing myself.
It makes me mad. All I see are more and more stories about how terrible the world is.
Once we start listing the reasons it’s not working for them, we start to feel a little more adamant that we don’t want to be spending very much time on social media. My next question is this (and you can ask it to yourself now): “So, why do you spend so much time on it?” This isn’t a judgment question – it’s a curiosity. I have plenty of my own reasons but I always think it's important to understand our very individual reasons for it. The most common responses I'm hearing are boredom, habit, feeling anxious, and “I don’t know”.
2. Understanding why we're using social media
If we don’t know why we’re drawn to social media, we can start noticing. What happens in the moments leading up to checking your social media feed? What time of day is it, where are you, and what are you doing? For me it often comes when I’m waiting for something. Like waiting for my partner to be done fixing the camera he’s working on so that we can hang out. Or waiting for my coffee to warm up in the microwave for the third time. Or waiting for a show to download. (Darn buffering…) It also happens a lot when I’m taking care of my daughter and getting tired. I love spending time with her, but as any parent knows, it’s exhausting sometimes.
Once we know what hooks us in, we can think about how else we want to meet those needs. Personally, I had to ask myself what I actually wanted to do while I was waiting for my partner to be done fixing his camera. The answer came easily: reading. I really like reading, and I usually have several books on the go. And I usually don’t end up finishing said books before they’re due back at the library. I would be a much happier person if I spent more time actually reading the books that I’m so into reading. As for the times that I’m getting tired with caregiving, feeling drawn toward social media is usually a good cue for me that it’s time to go outside, or have a dance party, or get really into whatever she’s doing, or make myself a coffee.
3. Now what?
Having a better understanding of the impact our social media use is having in our lives and what’s driving it is absolutely foundational. Once we have that figured out, we can start to think about what we want to do with this information. The most common response I get when I ask people about this is “I guess I just won’t check my feed as much”. It seems like just deciding to stop is the most obvious answer and yet! It’s not as simple or easy as that. If it was, I wouldn’t be having so many conversations about it. We think we can just rely on willpower and this leads me to my biggest piece of advice: don’t rely on willpower.
In Kelly McGonigal’s book “The Willpower Instinct” she talks about how willpower is like a muscle. You can work it out and make it stronger, which she recommends, but at some point you’re willpower muscle is going to get tired. And then all the social media and ice cream that you’ve been avoiding will be consumed in a regrettable moment of furious indulgence. (Relate, anyone?).
Rather than relying on will power, I usually encourage people to set up the structures that will help them. I originally got this idea from the HOME Podcast by Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker.
Structures are the things we set up ahead of time to make life easier. So if we’re working on spending less time on social media, one structure we could set up would be a really long and annoying password to get into our social media accounts. We could delete the apps off our phones. We could leave our phones at home or in the other room. The extra effort it takes to go get our phone unlock it and type in a long password is enough time that the automatic impulse can be brought to our conscious awareness and we can make a decision about whether or not we actually want to do it.
We can also set up structures to make other, more desirable habits a little easier to access. So for me, it might be having a dance party playlist already ready, or a good book on the corner of my nightstand.
I'm a big believer that we can all be more conscious about our social media use and make sure our relationship with it is still serving us. Good luck, all!
It’s hard saying no. For a lot of new therapists, we really struggle with the idea of disappointing someone in our care.
It can be easy to feel that because our clients need something, we need to be the one to give it to them. I hear new therapists say things like “but they need evening hours – they can’t make it during the normal workday“ or “they need a sliding scale – they can’t afford the full fee”.
It’s true that a client may very well need these things. Some clients are dealing with financial security and would be at risk of losing their jobs if they had to take appointment hours during the workday. Some clients have such tight budgets that they’d have to give up some of the essentials in order to make it to even an hour of therapy per month. And absolutely there are times where I’ll meet a client on these things – giving a sliding scale where I can for the clients who need it most. But it gets really tricky when we see ourselves as “the one and only” that can solve these problems or fill these gaps for our community. Remember – we all have limits. That’s what makes us human.
What I’d love to share with each of you is something I learned through my Somatic Experiencing training. They taught us that feeling as though we have to be the one to save the world is actually a trauma mentality. It stems from a belief that the world is inherently unsafe, and what’s more, that we’re the only ones that can protect others and ourselves from it. I was blown away to first learn this. I just thought everyone felt this way. Through my training, I started to see things differently (and more importantly, I started to feel differently about them).
I began noticing what was happening in my body when I would have thoughts like “I have to fix this”. It turned out I was feeling the activation of the stress response cycle. My body was moving into fight/flight/freeze. This thought was coming from a place of desperation, scarcity, and fear. And it may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: when we approach our clients from a trauma mentality, we’re of little help to them (especially if they’re dealing with trauma themselves).
Let me put it this way. If we’re both stuck in the whirlpool of trauma, then that means no one is actually standing on the edge, grounded and able to offer a connection to hope or aliveness. It’s just two people caught in the waters. And if you think your clients can’t pick up on this, you’re wrong. They may not be able to name it directly, but we all know the difference between what it feels like to be supported by someone who is empathizing with our pain and someone who’s overtaken by it. Our clients pick up on our nervous system cues, whether we’re in a calm place or a desperate one.
In order to be of real help to my clients, I had to start discerning when my actions were coming from a trauma response versus a healed place inside. I began noticing the physiological response. I noticed that I felt especially triggered when clients were talking about injustice in the court system. (Like when a family court judge grants custody my client’s abusive ex because there’s “no evidence of danger to the children” Ugh!). Now let’s be clear – we should all be angry when something so obviously wrong happens. Taking a moment to be angry with my client about what she’s going through is a pretty human response, and I think a good place to start. But as the therapist, it’s also my job not to get stuck in anger. I still need to be grounded enough in my own nervous system so I can guide her through and help her process the experience. Ideally I want to help her listen to what her anger is telling her, and understand what she wants to do with it.
These days, when I notice myself getting activated, I take the time to ground back into myself. When I can feel my feet rooted into the floor and stay connected with the slowness of my breath, I know I’m on the right track. I continue to do a lot of personal work on my own activation and stress response in order to help with this. (And here I can’t say enough about the benefits of doing your own personal work through as a therapist).
When I’m connected to my wise, grounded self, I know in my whole body that it’s okay to say no, and I want to pass on what was so clear inside me to each of you now:
You can hold onto yourself in the face of other peoples’ disappointment.
You can say no and still be a good person.
You can know that you’re doing enough and that doesn’t mean you have to be doing it all.
Here’s one more thing to think about as you work on saying no and respecting your own limits. When we take on our community problems, we allow the system to continue on as is, unchallenged and broken. Eventually there are too many clients who are failed by the system than we can support and we need to draw a line. In my experience, it’s better to draw the line before we get to our breaking point. And better to put the responsibility back where it belongs – on the broken system.
My good friend Lily recently did an episode on "mom pressures" for her podcast. She asked to write a few things about the pressures moms face, and I accidentally wrote her a novel about it. Here's what I came up with one evening.
Pressure around whether or not to even have children, and if you have one, pressure to “give them a sibling”
So many clients have told me about constantly getting questions from friends/family/coworkers/acquaintances/strangers about whether or not they’re having children. Some of these clients are actively trying to get pregnant (and struggling with it). Others haven’t decided about parenting but are feeling the weight of other people’s expectations. And some are decidedly not having children and hate having to justify themselves. “You’ll be a great mom!” one of my clients was told. “That’s not a good reason to have kids,” was her (awesome and hilarious) response.
And then the questions you get when you have an only child. I personally don’t mind questions out of curiosity/interest, but a lot of times the seemingly innocent “are you going to have another?” turns into that person convincing me why it’s important to give my existing child a sibling to socialize with. The thing is, I don’t want a second child. So, there’s that.
Pressure about the kind of birth you’re going to have
I was asked too many times if I was going to have a “natural” birth. This one always confused me because I definitely wasn’t planning an “unnatural birth”, whatever that might involve. Turns out what people meant to ask was whether I was having a vaginal birth or a c-section. I guess when you put it in those words, it’s more obvious how intrusive of a question it is.
People also really want to give you their opinions about whether or not you should get an epidural. I kept hearing about the importance of “trusting in your body’s ability to give birth without medication”. What people never understood was that I have a pain disorder which would have left me wildly incapable of getting through the birthing process without medication. But most people didn’t ask about what the best fit for me would be – instead, they told me. By the way, A., was 9lbs2oz and getting an epidural was the most amazing thing I could have done for myself to have enough energy to get through the labour. No shade to women who decide to do things differently – I just wish there wasn’t so much pressure to have a one size fits all birth experience.
Pressure around breastfeedingI got really lucky with A. She began breastfeeding about 10 minutes after she was born and she just figured it out immediately. It didn’t go perfectly all the time, but I definitely didn’t have some of the struggles that other women had. Many clients had to deal with pressure from health professionals, other moms, and “well-meaning” relatives to do everything in their power to give their babies breastmilk. There are so many reasons why breastfeeding just doesn’t work. And the pressure to make it work “no matter what” just gets to be way too much. Caring for an infant is hard enough without this added pressure.
Pressure to recover quickly after childbirth and get your “pre-baby” body back
After I left the hospital, I was given a small amount of painkillers. I cried the first time they ran out. I refilled them two more times after that. I was just barely making it through from one dose to the next, for weeks. My partner went back to work after two weeks, and I’d say that’s a pretty standard amount of time, but let’s put this in context. I couldn’t walk without pain for two months after A. was born. Getting up and down the stairs was hard enough. I had to do this by myself for 11 hours a day on little to no sleep while I desperately waited for my partner to come home. Everyone thought I should be doing better than I was, and while I think my pain was greater than average, I know I’m not alone in the pressure to recover quickly. It helped so much to have my physician friends liken childbirth to a “major trauma”. I felt like I’d been hit by a car, and yet I was expected to take care of A by myself on top of my recovery.
I don’t know where the idea of getting a “pre-baby” body came from, but this much is clear to me: when you go through a pregnancy and deliver a baby, your body is never going to be the same as it was before that. For some people, it might look very similar, but trust me that you don’t go through something so altering without that being transformative in every way. You now have a different body. A body that grew a tiny human inside of it and brought that human into the world. I don’t understand why there’s a pressure to pretend that never happened.
Pressure to have your life centered around your child
Moms are expected to give 100% of their time and energy to mothering, and, here’s the crucial part – they’re expected to do all with complete satisfaction and enjoyment, as if it’s their only life purpose. I know some moms who enjoy the daily tasks of mothering. But I also know some moms who – despite loving their kids and being a mom – don’t. There’s no one right way.
Pressure to simultaneously have a full life outside of raising your child
I don’t know how intentional this one was, but I definitely felt the pressure to be doing a lot of exciting things in addition to keeping a tiny human alive. People weren’t sure what to talk about with me, and so after a question or two about how my daughter was doing, they would ask, “So, what else are you doing?”
As it turned out, keeping a newborn alive actually covered it. I think it’s just naivety – people don’t always understand that being a new mom literally takes all your time and energy.
On this note, I find it interesting that people call parenting a full time job, when in my experience it is actually more like three full time jobs – a daytime job, an evening job, and an overnight shift job. Three full time jobs where you can’t count on getting a lunchbreak or even a coffee break, or even a shower. This is what mothering is like. And that leads me to the biggest pressure:
Pressure to always be on
The biggest thing that added pressure to absolutely everything was that you never, ever, get a break. As a mom you’re not allowed to have a five minutes in the bathroom without being interrupted. There’s a pressure to always be on, always be available, and to do it all without complaint. It’s completely invisible labour and that’s probably the worst part of it.
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.