By Robyn L. Stern, LCSW, MSW, MSEd
Social media has its benefits; it has allowed us to connect with people from our past, maintain relationships in our present, form new bonds with other people, and see places from afar. However, there are also some major pitfalls, especially for people who struggle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). I feel it’s important to understand best practices when navigating social media when you have BDD, the best way to use it, and when it’s best to stay off of it until symptoms decrease to where it will be less triggering.
As a clinician that specializes in the treatment of BDD and as a person with lived experience, I have my own personal and professional thoughts on how it’s best to utilize social media when you’re struggling with BDD. I will start off by saying that there are many benefits to having access to social media as it has expanded our reach to discussing and disseminating research-based information on BDD. Depending upon where you are in your journey and treatment with BDD should provide some insight on what your relationship with social media may look like. For example, if you are in a place where you are really struggling with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, it would be advisable to initially stay off social media as it can cause increased anxiety, stress, and symptoms that may exacerbate your BDD and can likely cause an increase in compulsions and disruption in functioning. When working with a skilled clinician trained in treating BDD, exposures can be initiated that can incorporate the healthy use of social media where you begin to use it in a way that will not trigger symptoms and compulsions.
With people who have managed their BDD through treatment, it is not an absolute “no” for them to stop utilizing social media, but it’s a good idea to begin to use it in a way that is healthy and will not cause distress in their day-to-day functioning. Being aware of how social media can trigger BDD, I often encourage clients to not follow beauty influencers, steer clear of ads related to beauty products and procedures, and to not follow forums related to beauty and appearance.
For me, the notion of social media, at this point, is to connect with old friends and family members, and to be very mindful of what information is being presented to me. I really feel it is important for people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder to understand that people on these social media platforms tend to alter their photos using filters and photoshop and so what they are seeing and often comparing themselves to are “not real depictions of people.” Many images on social media are not an accurate perception of who people truly are. I want to be clear in stating there is no judgment for those people who do filter, photoshop or alter their pictures. That is a personal choice. However, it is something that people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder are more susceptible to feeling like this is a reality and how they should or need to look like. I continue to encourage clients to go on the apps with this awareness, the notion that what they are seeing is not an accurate depiction of people, and it is often an altered sense of what is real, and that they should take that into consideration when they are scanning or comparing, which are all compulsions, that we see with people who struggle with BDD.
It is so hard to tell people to stop using a method of communication that is universally accepted and utilized by so many, but when you struggle with a disorder, such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, it is in your best interest to understand how to utilize these platforms in the most healthy way possible and to see if the benefits outweigh the potential negative impact on your mental health, well-being, and daily functioning. Please use social media to enhance your life and not negatively impact your mental health.