Monday, July 30, 2012

When FaceBook Becomes Toxic

I like FaceBook. At best, it is a marvelous marketing tool and a connector of people with similar interests. I love keeping up with friends, seeing pictures of old schoolmates, and hearing about activities of far-off relatives. I get new recipes, healthy living tips, and book recommendations.

At worst, it is a colossal waste of time, a tool for procrastination, and a source of tremendous stress. FaceBook exposure can even lead to a newly identified malady—Face Book depression. Although unrecognized by the American Psychological Association :) the Urban Dictionary defines it thus:

“When you're on FaceBook and see your friends looking like they're living amazing lives while you're feeling like you're just barely making it and you become sadder and sadder with each update you see.”

FaceBook provides a digital replacement for the much-maligned, often ridiculed, stereotypical Christmas newsletter. You know the kind. “We had to cut our trip to Rome short to make it home in time for little John’s graduation from Harvard. Hard to believe he’s our third to graduate magna cum laude from an Ivy League school. Deidre is enjoying married life and so grateful that she can be a stay at home mom since Gottfried sold the business to Dell last year. Both of the grandchildren will be in camps this summer—Hermione at Interlochen and Sebastian at the Duke Early Talent Identification Program. You may have read about Oliver’s grant for cancer research. We’re so proud of him. Just hoping they can all find time to visit us in the Hamptons this summer.”

Cancer patients and caregivers are particularly vulnerable to this “grass is greener” phenomenon. When your only vacation is to a comprehensive cancer center for scans or treatment, reading about tropical get-aways replete with poolside service and turned down beds, rubs salt in an already painful wound. When your exercise consists of running up and down steps to take care of your husband, watching your friends skiing down mountaintops is a bit hard to take.

If your mood takes a plummet after a stint on FB, you might try:

1. Limiting your exposure. FaceBook can be addictive. You don’t need to get on every day. Try every other day or once a week or you might even consider abstinence.

2. Clean out your friend list. If there are particular people whose posts rub you the wrong way, temporarily block them. The gag reflex is a good measure of which friends should go.

3. Find some new “friends.” Search for pages that have a positive effect. I, for instance, “like” Lung Cancer Alliance, Lungevity, Caregiver, WTF (Where’s the Funding for Lung Cancer), and other pages that are either informative or uplifting.

4. Don’t feel guilty if reading about others’ good fortune is difficult. There are times when you have to protect yourself by separating from anything or anyone who brings you down—intentionally or more often, thoughtlessly.