You stumbled upon a TikTok from a stranger who described your lived experience like they were your long-lost twin. It was life-changing! And then you found a few more that fit too… they clicked like a magical decoder ring. So, you’ve spent more and more time on TikTok – or Instagram Reels or Facebook Stories – taking in more and more media about ADHD, BPD, Divorce, Anxiety, IBS, Gender, Sexuality, Depression, Parenting, Managing Debt, etc.
Some are incredibly affirming, some not so much. And even the pieces that really hit home are starting to become less affirming and more suffocating. It feels like this piece of your identity is getting bigger and bigger, eclipsing other pieces of your life. It’s getting overwhelming. “Why doesn’t it feel so great anymore? And why can’t I look away!?”
Well, before we get any further, you need to know that A) you’re not the only one and B) there is relief! These should be spaces for the enjoyment of cat videos and best dance competitions and not a source of angst.
This article published by Good Morning America further explains how TikTok can affect your mental health in regards to identity and diagnosis: Experts troubled by TikTok trend that can have teens believing they have serious mental disorders. It’s almost like TikTok is becoming the next WebMD for self-diagnosis of mental health disorders – and while it is sometimes SUPER helpful explore online to learn about yourself, and to name and make sense of your experiences, it that can also lead anyone down a rabbit-hole of confusion and misdirection!!
So now that we fully understand the TikTok mental health dilemma, let’s explore some solutions…
Here are 5 easy things you can do to cope with social media-driven identity distress without totally cutting these fun platforms out of your life (which is, of course, another option):
1. Take some time to sit with your own experience.
You can make a list, journal about it, share it with a trusted friend, or even record yourself on your phone talking about it. You don’t need to post on social media or anything. This is about giving yourself voice and hearing your own truth. You can toss these when you’re done or you can keep them to reference later or to share with family/friends or in therapy.
2. Check in with yourself about what fits.
Keep a paper or digital note where you can sort what other people share about their experiences on social media into what you can relate to and what you can’t. You might even have a third category of “not sure.” This can help you stay tuned into yourself while you’re scrolling. You don’t need to fit yourself into someone else’s box just because they have the same diagnosis or you relate to one or two of their vids, but you can still empathize and appreciate the content.
3. Come up for air and connect to other pieces of who you are.
Watch some media about gardening or painting, Formula One racing or golf, travel or music, or whatever else makes you feel excited or connected. Or better yet, get out of the house and experience some culture or nature… or even break out your crafting stuff! Maybe you can meet up with a friend or hop on a Facetime with someone farther away. When social media and other people’s “stuff” become suffocating, making some space for the rest of who you are is hugely important.
4. Sit in gratitude for the content creators whose videos feel validating to you.
Maybe write them a note or imagine what you’d say to them if you were out on a hike or sitting down to coffee together. As part of this, make sure to also imagine putting down the pen, walking away from the table, or otherwise ending the conversation. Hold the thoughts and feelings, then release them. This can be helpful with creating a mental boundary and preventing obsessions and ruminations from taking hold.
5. Connect with your therapist about your experiences of the media you’ve viewed.
They can help you to cope with struggles, embrace what makes you unique, make meaning from what might be confusing, and celebrate your wins. A therapist can also offer you tools, techniques, and structure to move through anything that feels complicated and help you integrate what you’ve learned and experienced to move forward feeling clear and empowered.
Remember that social media and connecting with others who have similar experiences can be incredibly supportive – in the right amount and when you’re checking in with yourself along the way. Your hands are on the steering wheel and your feet are on the pedals. Check in with yourself and make mindful choices about when it feels best to close the app or when it feels good to continue to scroll. You’re wise and you know yourself best.