The Problem of Social Media Use for Sensitive Therapists
How do you typically decompress between client sessions or anytime you have a small window of time to yourself? Chances are you spend at least some of your downtime scrolling through your phone or hopping on social media as a form of stress relief or distraction. Despite being aware of the negative effects of increased social media use on our mental health such as dependency, decreased self-esteem and false sense of connection, we still have trouble pulling ourselves away. As Highly Sensitive Therapists, we are particularly vulnerable to being negatively impacted by social media use - what seems like a simple way to decompress and escape between client sessions.
What is wrong with using social media to decompress?
As Highly Sensitive People, our brains are wired to notice subtleties and then deeply process all the information we come in contact with throughout the day. We also have more active mirror neurons and emotional centers in our brains which gives us a greater capacity for empathy and emotional responsiveness. Given these capabilities, a client session creates a significant amount of emotional and intellectual data for our brains and nervous systems to sift through.
Typically, therapists only have about ten minutes between sessions to care for our needs before getting ready to take in new emotional and intellectual information. That is not very much time to recenter ourselves. Imagine having a tall stack of paperwork sitting on your desk. If you keep adding to the stack of papers without stopping to file occasionally, eventually the stack will collapse from the sheer volume. However, if you take a bit of time to file every day, the stack remains tidy and manageable. This is the same process that happens in our brains when we don’t take time to process information before exposing ourselves to more. When we get too overstimulated or inundated with clinical information, we get overwhelmed and our cognitive brains “collapse” or shut down.
Checking social media between sessions instead of taking quiet downtime to regulate our nervous systems and digest client information just adds to the metaphorical stack of paper on our desk and causes our systems to get overwhelmed with too much input. As a result, we may start to feel:
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Digestive Upset
The quiet moments between sessions are important opportunities to integrate what we heard from the previous session, recenter ourselves and prepare to be present for the next client. Skipping downtime prevents us from being focused and present with our clients.
How do we decrease overstimulation from social media use?
The obvious way to decrease the overstimulation of social media use is to decrease accessibility and use different self-care practices instead:
- Remove all social media apps from your phone or install an app blocker.
- Be more intentional about using social media when you have the capacity and interest.
- Set limits on your use by choosing when and for how long you want to engage.
- Incorporate mindfulness tools, movement or creative activities into your breaks.
Before you restrict your access to social media, it can be helpful to identify a few of the tools or practices that you can use to soothe yourself when you are feeling stressed or need to decompress. I personally have started sitting for at least five minutes after session with my eyes closed, feet propped up and Weighting Comforts lap pad over my abdomen to soothe my nervous system and let my mind wander. This is especially helpful after sessions that contain activating or stressful content. You may feel uncomfortable or frustrated with this change in routine but over time you will start to feel more relaxed and clear headed.
It’s natural to feel uncomfortable or frustrated with this transition in routine, but if you continue to struggle with this adjustment, I would recommend looking a little deeper at what stressors may be present such as an overwhelming schedule or need for more professional connection. For instance, you may need longer breaks between clients, see fewer clients per week or set firmer boundaries around your accessibility with clients and are using social media use as a distraction.
The lure of social media can be problematic for everyone, but especially Highly Sensitive Therapists who are easily overwhelmed by too much information to process and need more downtime than their colleagues to calm their nervous systems after sessions. I encourage you to ask yourself, “is your social media use operating as a support or adding to your level of overstimulation?” If the latter is true, replacing social media use with self-care practices can help you feel more relaxed and present.