Archive of ‘Health’ category

Social Media & Mental Health

If I were to have 20, 50, or even 100 people in a room and asked them all if they had a social media account, chances are all (or most everyone) would say “yes”.  Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc., (you get the point), social media has become (and has been for years) a fundamental component of people’s lives.  By definition, social media is a website and/or application that enables users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.  While this is an accurate definition, it oversimplifies everything that social media represents in society today.  Social media is a way to stay connected with others and it creates opportunities for new ideas & inspiration, however, it can also create avenues for self-loathing, cyberbullying, and envy.  While it’s certainly not all good or all bad, it’s important to be mindful of the impacts social media can have on mental health. 

How Social Media is Beneficial

  • Enhanced Connectivity
    • It has become easier for us to connect with business people, family and friends and maintain relationships that may otherwise have not been sustained. 
  • Encourages Creativity & Innovative Thinking
    • Social media sites are all about content in a variety of forms. From written content to photos and graphics, there are many ways for users to participate, engage, and show off their creativity.
  • Using Social Media for the Greater Good
    • Social media offers easy ways to show support for (or condemn) an issue, raise money, promote a charity event or spread an important message. People can be encouraged to get involved in philanthropic and altruistic causes via social media.
  • Social media can benefit people already dealing with mental health issues by helping them build online communities that provide a source of emotional support. 
    • This can be invaluable for people with various health conditions to know they are not alone and to know there are sources of support.  These individuals are often one of the most vulnerable in society and can help reduce the stigma attached to seeking treatment.

Potential Detrimental Effects of Social Media

  • Social Media Use Can Lead to Feelings of Depression & Loneliness
    • Ever heard of FOMO (fear of missing out)?  Social media is a platform for people to showcase their best selves (and best version of their lives).  It’s all-too-easy for someone to peruse through a friend’s social media account and feel lonely (because they’re left out)—which could lead to feelings of depression.  This phenomena has been referred to as Facebook Envy
  • Worsened Body Image (particularly for young women)
    • When people, especially women, follow pages/accounts/media that depict attractive women’s photos, it can cause adverse effects on body image and decrease self-esteem.  When people interact with family members on social media, this does not happen. 
  • Worsened Attention Span
    • Because social media provides a means of constantly giving into the temptation of instant, easy-access entertaining, this ultimately means people can (and do) become more easily distracted. 
  • Poor Sleep Habits
    • Checking your phone ONE more time before bed is a habit that many people have created.  Doing this can create anxiety or envy—which ultimately keeps the brain on high alert and prevents people from falling asleep.  Additionally, having light from a mobile device inches from our face can suppress the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel tired.

What to Do About It

  • Turn off your notifications for at least a few hours each day.  This can be accomplished by putting your phone in “Airplane” mode or “Do Not Disturb”
  • Delete apps that contribute to unhealthy body image or feelings of inadequacy. 
  • Add apps or follow pages that help you feel better about yourself or inspire you to engage in healthy behaviors.  Some of our recommendations include:
  • Take a day off from social media to focus on other things.  We recommend doing this on a day that you don’t have school or work so you can use that time to participate in other activities you enjoy 
  • Make a plan with a group of friends to spend more time hanging out in person and less time interacting via social media.
  • Set boundaries or only certain times when you can check your notifications.  This can be done by setting screentime limits. 
  • If you are a parent wanting to learn more about how to limit your child or teenager’s social media use, check out these additional tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Ultimately, using social media, screens, anything like that is not ALL bad and shouldn’t be banished, however, it’s important to be mindful of the detrimental effects and be intentional about how much time you do (or do not) allow yourself & your children to be on social media. 

By: Julie Burke, LPC

Follow her on Instagram for some positive social media posts!


Are You in Sleep Debt?

Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

Sleep: A Casualty of Technology

Harnessed electricity is so ubiquitous in our culture it takes a robust act of imagination to picture a world without it. It’s hard to believe that only a hundred fifty years ago, a mere blip in human evolution, people still relied primarily on sunlight by which to see during the day and for the fortunate few, candles by night. For most people, nighttime was for sleeping. What an ancient world that seems to be.

One of the most significant yet frequently unacknowledged adjustments we have made to widespread, inexpensive electricity involves changes in sleep. No longer constrained by darkness, we now face virtually unlimited alternatives to sleeping at night. Some of us work the night shift, others use the nighttime to catch up on work from the day, to send emails and communicate with people online, while others play games, see movies or socialize at bars and clubs. In all of these cases, it’s most often the quantity and quality of sleep that suffers.

Sleep Debt Defined

Most of us are carrying what scientists call a sleep debt. For example, let’s say you require 8 hours of sleep a night to feel rested and alert. If you sleep for seven hours, you carry one hour of sleep debt. For every hour of sleep debt you carry, the steeper the cost to your health. Oh, and by the way, these hours are cumulative! They don’t simply vanish over time. The only way to reduce your debt is to sleep more. Many studies have been done to evaluate the effects of sleep debt and the results are compelling, though not surprising. Our cognition suffers, as does our physical and psychological health. Insufficient sleep tends to exacerbate symptoms of psychological distress and compromises our ability to tolerate stress. By sleeping less, we may have more time to engage in alternatives, but they won’t be as rewarding or successful as they would be without sleep debt. You can measure your level of sleepiness and establish your ideal window of sleep by taking the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

Managing Sleep Debt

How do we take back our sleep? One easy and highly effective tool I extracted from the book, The Promise of Sleep, by William Dement, M.D. is to maintain a sleep diary. In studies asking people to report how little or how much they slept the night before, people’s answers were far less accurate than they predicted. (p 336) That is not surprising given the fluctuating states of consciousness one experiences at night. Maintaining a simple sleep diary to record variables like hours slept, number of times waking up, and number of trips to the bathroom provides a richer, far more accurate understanding of your specific sleep patterns and habits that need attention. You can use this sleep diary template published by the National Institute of Health.

There are a variety of applications available for download on your smart phone that monitors your sleep in much the same way a sleep diary would. Many of these apps purport to measure when and whether you were sleeping and how deeply you were sleeping throughout the night. It is beyond the scope of this article to assess the accuracy of these claims, but given the pace of technological advancement and the scale of our society’s sleep problems, these apps represent an exciting shift in how we understand and prioritize sleep.

sleep debt


Creating Healthy Body Image

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

I was always smaller than the other girls in middle school. I remember around 6th grade, when the other girls started developing, I was often picked on because I didn’t have curves or cellulite. I remember feeling so apart from them and hated my small figure. I made buttered popcorn my regular snack in hopes of gaining weight and creating a little cellulite so I could fit in and not be picked on anymore. I was also torn because the magazines I saw displayed and even promoted small figures, so it seemed I couldn’t win. I’m sure I was told by my mother that I was beautiful the way I was, but I don’t remember that… probably because the messages I was getting on a regular basis drowned out her compassion. Creating healthy body image was difficult for me at that time. I struggled with the choice to either gain weight and fit in at school or embrace and maintain my smallness so I could be accepted in the rest of society. Every girl (and boy) growing up in our society struggles with body image and most likely with body shaming. Body image is defined as how one sees their body, and this is influenced by the individual’s own perception and the comments and ideas of others. Consider the following statistics about body image (taken from http://www.dosomething.org):

  • “Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape.”
  • “58% of college-aged girls feel pressured to be a certain weight.”
  • Body image is closely linked to self-esteem and is often affected by family, peers, social pressure, and the media.
  • Low self-esteem in adolescents can lead to eating disorders, early sexual activity, substance use, and suicidal thoughts.
  • According to research, the more reality television a young girl watches, the more likely she is to place high importance on appearance.
  • “In a survey, more than 40% of women and about 20% of men agreed they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future. These statistics remain relatively constant across gender, age, marital status, and race.”
  • “Students, especially women, who consume more mainstream media place a greater importance on sexiness and overall appearance than those who do not consume as much.”
  • Only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.
  • “95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.”

Creating Healthy Body Image

Developing Body Image

The way we develop our perceptions of our bodies is largely due to the messages we receive about what our bodies are supposed to look like. With advances in computer and graphics technology, now more than ever images in the media are photo shopped to give consumers the belief that more women (and men) have this “ideal” body… and the underlying message is that you should too. Actually, sometimes this message isn’t so covert, but rather individuals are told directly that this is the body to strive towards. Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, it’s impossible to avoid these messages and it’s even more prevalent on television and the Internet. There are even websites that encourage and teach individuals how to be anorexic or bulimic, and how to do so without parents or loved ones finding out.

Tips for Creating Healthy Body Image

How can we combat the epidemic of body shaming and create healthy body image? The first step is to place importance on things other than physical attributes, such as intelligence, creativity, humor, and compassion. Even when someone compliments another on their appearance or how much weight they’ve lost, the messages sent are “how you look is important” and “you did not look okay before and now you do.” Another subtle way in which we body shame is when we shame ourselves, whether in front of others or alone. If I am with friends or family and say, “I really need to workout more so I can get rid of my cellulite,” I am sending the message that I am judgmental of anybody who has cellulite. If we voice that we don’t like something about ourselves, we are often sending the message we won’t like and accept that same attribute on someone else. And the truth is that many of the things individuals don’t like about their appearance and want to change, like cellulite or the lack of a “thigh gap,” are strongly genetic. As it says in the statistics above, only 5% of women are born with the bodies that are lauded in the media – you can’t diet your way to these figures. You are either born that way or you aren’t.

I believe we need to teach others, and ourselves, that physical appearance is not a measure of whether we are enough. We can start by simply not mentioning appearance when discussing ourselves or others. When you want to compliment someone you love, choose to compliment them on the things that really matter. Try to surround yourself with others who do not place importance on physical appearance and with those who do not talk regularly about the things they want to change about themselves. Try to break the habit of commenting on your own appearance. This in turn can help you learn to love and accept your body as it is. Working out and healthy eating should be a practice based on physical and mental health, rather than looks. It’s up to us to make a change in the way we perceive what’s important in our society, and it’s certainly an uphill battle, but we can start by making these changes and creating healthy body image in our homes and communities.


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