Social media is ingrained into the fabric of everyday life for teenagers and young adults. Research has shown that nearly six in 10 teenagers are daily TikTok users, and 16% say they use it almost constantly.
Concerns about social media’s impact on mental health are long-standing and have only intensified in recent years.
In the clinical world, systems and processes are in place to help young people deal with overwhelming and negative emotions. But no such support exists in the social media environment, where young people have access to an endless stream of often uncensored content.
Fiona Yassin, the psychotherapist, founder, and clinical director at The Wave Clinic explains how people can manage emotions and feelings triggered by social media and shares an effective, anxiety-reducing technique young people can practice.
Using grounding techniques to manage anxiety
Grounding techniques use tools such as visualisation and senses to help distract a person from various feelings and thoughts and bring that person back in contact with the present moment.
Yassin explains: ‘Grounding techniques are helpful for young people to manage and work through emotions and sensations they wish they weren’t feeling. By using grounding techniques, we are not saying that we will not deal with or process the emotions and sensations, but we are saying that right now, at this moment, this is not going to intrude on what I’m doing.’
‘It’s important that young people are equipped with the tools they need to help them return to a safe space if they become activated or triggered by social media or any other event in daily life.’
Light stream technique
The light stream technique is an exercise that helps to ground feelings and bodily sensations. It is a technique that anyone can use when they feel triggered and experience negative emotions and anxiety.
Step-by-step process of the light stream technique
The first part of the light stream technique is to be mindful of what you are experiencing and feeling. Ask yourself this question: What am I feeling right now, and where do I feel it in my body?
Then, imagine those feelings as objects. The goal is to take the first thing that comes to mind after recognising the emotions and location. Ask yourself these questions about the object:
- If it had a shape, what shape would it be?
- If it had a size, what size would it be?
- If it had a colour, what colour would it be?
- If it had a temperature, what temperature would it be? Hot or cold?
- If it had a texture, what texture would it be?
- If it had a sound, what kind of sound would it make? The high or low pitch?
Next, focus your attention on an imagery exercise. Pick a colour you associate with healing. Now imagine a stream of light in that colour coming down from above and flowing in through the top of your head. Focus the light stream down on the object.
Let the light vibrate and resonate like a laser beam in and around this object. Allow yourself to notice what happens to the object.
The more light or energy you need, the more available. Allow yourself to feel the light enter your mind, and allow the healing light to vibrate and resonate in and around the object. Notice what happens to the object.
When you notice the object is gone or feels contained, allow yourself to let, the energy from the light flow into your body. Allow it to reach the tips of your fingers and your toes.
Let yourself be engulfed and overwhelmed by the energy, count to three and open your eyes. You should notice the feelings of anxiety have subsided or have completely gone.
Build a toolbox of grounding techniques
As a rule, Yassin suggests every person should have six grounding techniques in their toolbox.
Yassin comments: ‘There are many different grounding techniques people can use to manage being triggered or activated. Walking can be good for bringing you back into the moment. When we walk and put one foot in front of the other, we stimulate both sides of the brain in a process called Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) which can feel soothing for some.’
‘Many people find repetitive activities such as cross stitch or crochet to be calming, while others find being in motion by sitting on a swing or rocking can help bring them into the present moment. Journaling or watching a good movie can also be effective grounding techniques.’
What does it mean to be triggered?
Yassin explains: ‘In the true sense of the word, being triggered means we are highly activated. Our nervous system starts to become activated, and our body and mind are on full alert. On a cellular level, being triggered means we are activated in a way that takes us back to something that has happened before. It can be something we are conscious or unconscious of.’
‘At that moment, we may feel we are acting in a way that is out of proportion to the events happening around us.’
‘For example, we may feel angry or really sad over something quite small and is often unable to pull ourselves around from a moment in which we can’t quite work out. What’s happening is that we overreact to things we have experienced.’
‘Certain sounds, sights, smells, and feelings can, in the true sense of the word, trigger memories and sensations that are held from previous events.’
‘Some people may experience flashbacks – particularly if they have unprocessed trauma – where they might begin to have thoughts that feel intrusive. Consequently, we may start to avoid people, places and things that remind us of unpleasant memories, emotions, sensations and events from the past.’
‘The word ‘triggered’ has become trendy and somewhat overused and is not always used in the right context. You may hear people say, “you’re triggering me”, when they mean something different. For example, they may use the phrase to put a full stop to a conversation.’
Fiona Yassin is a psychotherapist, founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic