Over the past few years it seems that media has been getting more and more intense, more stressful and more controversial. With increased access to social media and platforms like YouTube it is easy to become overwhelmed by the steady stream of negative content. This is detrimental for most people’s mental health, but it is especially destructive for someone who has a mental health disorder like bipolar.
Media these days has become similar to the Coronavirus pandemic, infecting those who consume it with fear, anxiety and worry over increasingly intense conflicts–domestic and foreign. This “infection” has a serious impact on their mental health.
During the worst parts of the pandemic anyone who was physically “immune compromised” needed to take extra precautions to protect their physical health from infection by a disease that could have serious, potentially fatal consequences. If you have a “preexisting condition” mentally you need to take extra precautions to prevent exposure to the “pandemic of negative media” that could have serious consequences to your mental health.
When you have bipolar disorder you will tend to be “stress sensitive.” Stressors can trigger mood cycles, depression and anxiety.
Mania and the Emotional Rollercoaster
Stress sensitivity can look different for each person. Some people respond to stress by becoming manic, triggering a mood cycle. Seeing intense situations that seem immoral or unjust can cause some with bipolar disorder to latch on emotionally and become hyper focused on trying to solve it, even if there is no reasonable way for you to have a meaningful impact on the problem.
Mania causes the brain to go into “overdrive” and eventually crash into depression. You can’t get on the rollercoaster and jump off in the middle, you have to ride it all the way through (see my post Bipolar Disorder: The Rollercoaster).
Some people become overwhelmed by everything that is happening and get severely depressed. This happened to me when I was trying to help a friend who was directly connected to an international crisis. She needed help and I was trying desperately to assist her, but I had no idea what to do and spent days trying to help with no success.
I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and the futility of my efforts. It began to impact my ability to function in my own life. Those feelings of helplessness and futility began to color my view of my own life and I spiraled down into depression. I began struggling to maintain my self-care routine and found myself wanting to escape into sleep and television or YouTube.
Other people find themselves dealing with increasing anxiety. When you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about your own life it is easy to get focused on outside problems that are beyond your control. In an effort to avoid dealing with your own challenges you are focusing on other issues that bring you additional anxiety and stress and most of those issues are things you have no real ability to influence. This results in increased anxiety, frustration, and anger and will cause you to become more emotionally and mentally unwell.
Danger! Social Media Ahead
Social media can also be a “high risk” environment for someone with bipolar disorder. First, you have little control over what you see as you scroll through YouTube, TikTok, or Instagram Reels. Even your feed on Facebook and Instagram isn’t limited to your contacts as it includes ads and suggested accounts.
Not being able to control the images and videos that come up in your feed is similar to not being able to control the people you come into contact with outside during a pandemic. If you are “immune compromised” with a mental health disorder you need to be vigilant in limiting your exposure to potential “infection.” Scrolling through social media for hours a day can be very dangerous to your mental health.
There is the risk of being exposed to toxic content that can be emotionally upsetting. There is the risk of falling into the comparison trap, seeing influencers that seem to have it all together physically, in their homes, as mothers, as women.
This is especially dangerous for women with bipolar disorder because we are already prone to feeling broken, damaged or flawed. To learn more about the dangers of comparison when you have bipolar see my post Bipolar Disorder: You Are Not Broken!
What Do You Do?
Does this mean you should never view the news or social media? No, of course not. But it is critical to be aware of the negative impact these things can have on your mental health and be diligent in setting healthy boundaries to protect yourself.
Circle of Influence Vs. Circle of Concern
Years ago I was reading Stephen R. Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (one of many attempts at using self-help books to “fix” myself) and I learned an important concept that has had a profound impact on my journey to learn to live well with bipolar disorder.
This concept addressed the difference between your circle of influence and your circle of concern. Your circle of influence are things you have the ability to “influence” or change by your choices and actions. Your circle of concern, on the other hand, are things that you have no real ability to impact in any meaningful way.
Over the years I realized how important it was in my journey to live well with bipolar disorder to focus on my circle of influence, beginning with myself and my mental health. In the beginning of this journey that was all I could manage at times.
As I worked to learn how to live well I was able to expand my circle to include my family and my home. Gradually over the years I have learned how to keep my priorities in the right order and focus on doing the work to learn how to live well and my circle of influence has expanded to include additional responsibilities outside myself, my family and my home.
I had been a political science major in college and I have always been fascinated by politics and world events, but I began to recognize that listening to the news and political talk shows usually had a very negative effect on my mental health. Focusing on stressful things in my circle of concern was having a very negative impact on my ability to function in a healthy way in my circle of influence.
So I have learned some very important lessons in the past ten years about how to manage my exposure to social media and the news so that I don’t damage my mental health and my ability to take care of myself, my children and my other direct responsibilities.
Identifying Your Priorities
When I was developing my Mental Health Emergency Response Plan I needed to identify what my top priorities (circle of influence) were in order of importance to determine my “Auxiliary Power” (Step 3 in the plan).
I needed to make sure I protected my limited emotional resources and focused on my responsibilities in my own life, beginning with taking responsibility for my mental health. I became very careful to identify unnecessary stressors in my life and either eliminate them or create healthy boundaries to limit their use of my emotional resources.
The Impact of Media
You need to carefully monitor and evaluate the effect of the news and social media on your mental health. What good is it for you to watch news coverage of children in dire circumstances on the other side of the world that you can do nothing to help if it damages your mental health and makes it difficult or impossible to care for your own children? Your “sacrifice” of your mental wellness is not helping the children that are suffering in another country and now your own children are suffering.
What good is it for you to view someone else’s perfectly curated life if it makes you feel horrible and inadequate about your own? You boost their following and make yourself feel worse, damaging your mental health further and preventing you from progressing in your journey to live well with bipolar disorder.
Some of the best ways to be proactive about identifying the influence of media in your life and creating healthy boundaries are:
- Use a mood tracking app. I use Bearable. I DO NOT receive any benefit from recommending it, I just love the app! Bearable is customizable and you can record the amount of time you are spending on social media, YouTube, news, etc. Using the app you can identify how it impacts your mood cycle.
- Discuss social media and news consumption with your therapist. Some people struggle with controlling these things because of unresolved issues, unhealthy boundaries, or addictions. Working with your therapist you can come up with a plan to manage your social media and news consumption in a healthy way.
- Develop a Mental Health Emergency Response Plan to help identify your “circle of influence” or your highest priorities for your mental and emotional energy. Then commit to protecting your emotional resources so that you are able to care for yourself and those who matter most to you.
- Join our Facebook group Bipolar Moms Learning to Live Well to get encouragement and support in your journey to live well with bipolar disorder. You can ask others in the group about their experiences with media and what boundaries they have set to protect their mental health.
Our world is experiencing a “pandemic” of negative media. Everyone is impacted by negative media, but if you have bipolar disorder you are especially sensitive to it. In order to protect yourself and learn to live a healthy, balanced, productive life with bipolar disorder you need to be willing to accept responsibility for managing the stressors in your life.
Those stressors include social media and news consumption. If you are willing to evaluate the impact of media on your mood and set healthy boundaries to protect your mental health you will be one step closer to learning how to live well with bipolar disorder.