When it comes to chronic illness, social media can be a blessing and a curse. Especially if your condition prevents you from getting out of the house, social media can be a great way to keep in touch with friends and family. It can also be a great way to connect with online support groups.
Being a member of an online support group comes with many benefits. First, you can make friends with people who are struggling with the same conditions and symptoms. Having a friend that truly understands what you are going through is invaluable. In addition to meeting people who you connect with on a personal level, the online support group can give you a feeling of belonging, provide you with knowledge and educational resources about your condition, and give you a place to seek comfort, let off steam or assuage your fears.
However, as with most things, there can be negatives to participating in social media when you are struggling with a chronic illness:
1. Fear of missing out (aka FOMO)
When your illness limits your ability to participate in social activities, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be death traps of self-pity, frustration and jealousy. From seeing pictures of your friends enjoying a night out to posts about weddings, babies, new jobs and new homes, social media can quickly make you feel like your life isn’t measuring up.
2. Becoming overwhelmed by your support group
Online support groups can also be a double-edged sword. When you get hundreds or even thousands of people together who are suffering, you are going to get a lot of stories and rants about hospital visits, scary symptoms and everyday struggles. While this can be very therapeutic, sometimes this can become overwhelming and cause you to focus on and magnify your own sufferings, which can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.
3. Opening yourself up to criticism
Often, people will share their journey with chronic illness on social media to spread awareness or keep close family and friends updated on their condition. Unfortunately, some social media users lack tact and compassion and will find a way to criticize, drag you down and cast doubts and negativity your way. Some days you may feel strong enough to shake it off, but if you are having a particularly hard time, it can feel like you are being kicked when you are down.
So, what should you do to combat the dark side?
1. Remember that social media is a sanitized representation of people’s lives.
Keep in mind that people usually try to represent their best selves on social media, so you need to view every post with a grain of salt. Also, remember, on Facebook, you can unfollow a person’s posts without unfriending him or her, or you can create lists on Twitter so that you are only seeing posts by certain people.
2. Find balance in your social media use.
If you find yourself feeling jealous, frustrated or overwhelmed when you’re scrolling through your news feed or reading posts in an online support group, take a break. It is important to find the right balance for your social media use. Take a technology vacation if you need to or limit the amount of you time you spend on social media sites. Of course, if you really struggle with social media and don’t find it provides you with any benefit at all, you may want to unplug altogether.
3. Make use of privacy settings.
Familiarize yourself with the various privacy settings available on each social media site. This can help you protect your posts so that they are only visible by your inner circle of supporters. You might even want to consider creating a secret group or separate social media handle just for updates and posts related to your illness. Also, remember: When you are being attacked online, it is like any other bullying situation; it is about the bully, not about you.
How does social media help you through your chronic illness journey? What do you do to combat the social media blues? Share in the comments below.