The other day, a client was saying that she feels like a failure every time she logs onto social media and sees yet another person posting some amazing thing they have done or achieved. 

She went on to say that each time she sees someone posting photos of their workouts they have been doing this past year, the dishes they have created or the craft or language they have learned ‘thanks to the pandemic’, she wants to scream.

I was surprised.

And a little taken aback.

Because I post quite a bit on social media: my art, some quotes that speak to me etc, but also more private things such as my regular running through woods of my neighbourhood and my fitness regime.

So my posts too made her and potentially other people scream?

Social media is a funny and sociologically interesting beast.

  • Some people are only viewers and rarely post anything.
  • Some people use it only to connect to friends and family or networking.
  • For some people it is their main news source.
  • Others use it extensively to share about their life/business and promote themselves/their business.
  • To others it is an escape, a distraction from real life – though they might not even realise it.
  • Some use it to boost their ego or feel good about themselves when they receive likes and comments.
  • Others are only there to spread their opinion and comment on all things they do not agree with.
  • Some use it for simple entertainment.

The list is endless – especially with more and more new social media channels and apps popping up.

Does social media make you scream too?

The problem with non-stop access to social media is that we can feel that our boundaries, identities and values are being trampled on or trespassed, whenever we look at our phones. “You could say that people are chronically wound up,” says Balick, author of “The Psychodynamics of Social Networking“.

We seem to have a margin of tolerance that becomes smaller. According to Malick, it’s similar to when we’re driving. “If you’re in a state of mild or high stress, so if someone pulls out in front of you, you’re more likely to scream out of the window. Whereas if you’re in a relatively calm state, and the same stimulus happens, you have a threshold to not let it get to you. People who are exposed to angry social media tend to have less margin to contain their anger, too.”

So when you spin that thought further, people who are exposed to ‘perfect lives’ on social media, feel pressured because their own life is not perfect and beautiful and they should be working out and cooking a beautiful meal or learn to speak Mandarin.

Should you avoid social media if it makes you scream?

Of course the Facebooks and Twitters of this world will power up confirmation bias and you will find yourself in a filtered bubble that will make you see even more posts that make you upset, or posts that agree with your anger.

“Social media is an extension of what is already there,” says Balick. So whatever triggers you there, will also trigger you offline.

So instead of banning social media (or anything else) when you want to scream, it would be interesting to go to the source of that anger.

Root causes of anger

Although there are many triggers (like social media, or traffic etc), there are 4 root causes of anger:

1. Pain: if you are rejected or hurt, anger serves as a protective wall that prevents further pain.

2. Injustice: when your internal sense of what is right and just is ‘abused’ it feels like an attack and anger serves as a counter-attack.

3. Fear: when we feel threatened, when we worry too much and start feeling helpless we get into fight, flight or freeze mode to get away from the danger.

4. Frustration: when our efforts do not meet our own expectations or that of others, we get frustrated because we feel unseen, unheard, unvalidated.

When we get angry, we either express it (by voicing our anger) or we suppress it (to avoid conflict).

Neither of the two usually serves in the long term. Expression when in anger usually leads to more anger, misunderstanding and conflict. Suppression of anger leads to frustration, stress and might turn into passive-aggressive behaviour.

How to stay calm in all this?

Ironically, for my client at least, one solution is to expend angry energy by doing something physical like exercising.

So all those people on social media posting their fitness photos are really just making sure they’re not angry?  🙂

Kind of.

When stress, anger or any other frustration hits, the best way for me is to take it running.

Some people kick-box in their basement to avoid throttling their puppy and kids.

The goal is not to have a perfect life or to lose weight, but to stay balanced, or even just sane.

I know this is hard.

Because when we’re angry and frustrated we definitely DO NOT want to work out, be mindful and chant yoga affirmations!

All we want to do is lie on the couch and watch tv. But then we feel guilty!

So my client and I have started working on defining the root causes of her anger and will follow up with healing and protecting them and creating healthy boundaries and habits to deal with strong emotions.

Will this always work?

Hell no. We are human. And shit happens.

But what it does is create a solid base to start building from. And even if shit hits the fan or we’re having a bad (and angry) day, the foundation will not crumble but allow us to pick ourselves up again instead of screaming and falling to pieces.