Study Shows Social Media Can Add Stress to Parenting—Find a Community That Supports You
Social comparison leads to an increase in stress and negative emotions. Instead, find spaces where you feel uplifted and can show up as your full self.
For the first 3 years of my son’s life, I lived in a rural area where community was hard to come by. Like many, I sought out connection with other new moms and parents online, from mom groups to focused mom pages that featured writer moms, artist moms ,and moms who work. Mothers filled pages across screens with acronyms I did not know yet: AI, BD, NIP—all the letters that made me thankful Google existed. They shared stories, they shared problems, and, at times, openly shared judgment.
In my early years of being a first-time parent and a new mom, I realized something else was happening to my mental health and stress levels from certain online spaces. I was seeing and comparing myself, my child, our experience and our lives to other people. I had found myself in toxic online spaces.
A new study on social media exposure and cortisol levels shows that mothers who spend more time online engage in greater levels of social comparison leading to an increase in stress and negative emotions. Been there, done that. In the years since my rural country days, I have begun to ask questions about engaging in online spaces just as I would in any in-real-life community space. Does this community support me back? Can I show up as my full self? Do I feel uplifted from my time spent here, or do I feel drained and depressed? I have learned to be aware of and note when I find myself comparing my life to the public curation of others.
Our society is rife with social comparison, and it’s a pitfall for parents, mothers especially. The studied tendency is that mothers compare themselves a lot online, and it seems to be bringing out anger and sadness amidst the cortisol release. What may occur in group gatherings at smaller or lesser intervals, has become overwhelming with one’s capacity to be in so many different online spaces and for far greater amounts of time.
I have experienced the in-person version of this. I remember struggling to find friendships within the one mom group that met an hour away from my rural home. When I was with them, I never felt seen, never witnessed. I had struggled for months with breastfeeding, and instead of feeling supported I felt only shamed. I realized I was with a group of mothers whom I had nothing in common with other than our roles. I spent hours comparing myself to this mother, to that mother. To the one who seemed to have it all together, the perfect partner and the perfect life. The one who always looked polished with hair done and looked well rested. I compared myself to the one who seemed to have all the answers. It took me until my son was 2 to see how negatively impacted I was by this group. Now, imagine that online, times 10.
While it’s easy to find toxic spaces in real life and online, we can also find incredibly supportive and loving communities too. We determine where and how our time is spent. Asking, is this a space I should be in, is the culture of this online group one I align with? Or would my time be better spent talking to my best friend, my grandmother or a person who makes me feel happy? We can be aware when we find ourselves doomscrolling or looking wistfully at pics of some other parent’s spotless house, and can say, “This is not serving my best interest. It’s time to log off.”
Spend the time you need to make certain that an online group is one where you can show up fully, and if not, if you can just utilize it when needed for specific questions. The best thing you can do for yourself as a parent is to surround yourself and your child with people who love you, who support you, and who can tell you when you might need to take a break and go outside.