Try Our OCD Self-Help Program

Try our OCD Self-Help Course

Still Feeling Anxious? Swipe Up

OCD and Social Media: Navigating the Digital Age’s Challenges

With the influx of social media and the isolation of the COVID pandemic, many people with mental health concerns, especially anxiety and depression have seen a significant increase in their symptoms. Even people who have never experienced mental health concerns have begun to experience emotional and social distress, leading to a dependency on social media for entertainment, pain relief, company, and escapism. 

Living with OCD can be challenging, and that is without the inclusion of social media. For OCD sufferers, social media, and the internet, in general, can be both anxiety-provoking, and depressing. Social media can be wrought with distractions, drama, stress, potential triggers, and scary interactions. The good news is there are ways to keep your social media usage under control so it does not become another obsession destined to take over your life. 

In this article, we will explore ways that you can manage your OCD symptoms and stay safe online in this digital age of social media.

Content

What is Social Media?

Social media helps people connect with others on digital platforms. It is a way to keep up with friends, family, co-workers, strangers, social media influencers, and celebrities. It is also a place where you can play games, share your ideas and thoughts, and join groups that align with your ideologies and beliefs. Some social media sites have a dating component where you can meet people online to get to know others digitally and in the real world. Thus, social media is essentially virtual communities. 

While social media brings a lot of positive aspects and opportunities to users, it can also create problems, especially for people who have mental health conditions like OCD. Social media is wrought with spammers, bots, trolls, catfishes, cyberbullies, and negative people which can be stressful and anxiety-provoking to people with OCD. It can trigger intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors. Thus, it is important to take precautions when it comes to navigating social media in the digital age.

What is OCD?

OCD, clinically known as obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a common anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted and intrusive or upsetting thoughts, visions, urges, fears, doubts, emotions (obsessions), and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). There are various types of OCD ranging from hoarding OCD and contamination OCD to reading OCD and meta OCD

Some people only experience obsessions, others only compulsions, but most experience both obsessions and compulsions. Common compulsions involve checking, organizing, counting, and repeating rituals or routines. OCD is a mental health condition that is normally treated with psychotherapy, medications, and/or natural remedies. With the right OCD treatments, this condition is highly treatable. At this time, there is no “cure” for OCD but sufferers can go on to live highly productive and satisfying lives.

Yes, there is a link between OCD and social media.

Studies indicate that social media can be a trigger for OCD symptoms. It can also worsen OCD symptoms in people who already struggle with this anxiety condition. Like other OCD triggers, it is possible to become obsessed with social media. This obsession can occur alone or with another type of OCD, such as relationship OCD

People with OCD tend to become “fixated” on something or someone, which is why it is easy for these individuals to become “fixated” on social media. Social media can be upsetting and nerve-wracking for people without a mental health condition like OCD, so it makes sense that it can quickly become an obsession for people who spend long periods of time on social media sites, especially when they start to compare themselves and their lives to other social media users and their lives. It is important to understand that the goal of social media is to “pull people in and keep them coming back for more.” 

While most people know how to “turn off” this pull, this is a more challenging endeavor for people with OCD. When people with OCD get caught up in social media, it often leads to a vicious cycle of stress, anxiety, social media obsessions, and compulsions to ease the stress and anxiety causing the OCD symptoms. The common reason why people become obsessed with social media is a fear of “missing out on something” if they do not check it or spend long hours scrolling through it. 

Listed below are ways that social media can trigger or worsen OCD:

  • Newsfeeds, social media profiles, and notifications – Constantly scrolling through news feeds and social media profiles, and being distracted by the “dings” of notifications can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms in some OCD sufferers. Additionally, jumbled text, a continued stream of images, and information can trigger or worsen stress, anxiety, and upsetting or repetitive thoughts, visions, urges, fears, and/or emotions. 
  • Pressure to be “perfect” – Much of social media is an illusion in that most people tend to convince others that they are living the ideal life. Pressure to be “perfect” can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms. Moreover, it can lead to “just right” or perfectionism OCD.

    In this case, an OCD sufferer may become obsessed with the idea that their life must be “perfect.” This could cause this individual to perform rituals or routines (compulsions) designed to ease their stress and anxiety centering around not being able to compare to what they see on social media.

    Comparing oneself and one’s life to the people and lives on social media can lead to intrusive, upsetting, and negative thoughts, visions, fears, urges, or emotions (obsessions). Note: Keep in mind that most, if not all social media users create profiles based on how they would like people to see them – not how they actually are or how they live. As mentioned above, social media, for the most part, is an illusion – not an accurate portrayal of reality. 

  • Re-checking behaviors – OCD sufferers who have become “fixated” on social media may experience urges to constantly check and re-check their social media pages, negatively impacting their ability to perform tasks and accomplish goals.
  • Doubt and insecurity – Social media can cause a person with a mental health condition, like OCD, to become triggered or overwhelmed by what they see on social media profiles. More specifically, it can cause feelings of doubt and insecurity because, in their mind, the OCD sufferer does not “measure up” to what they see on the screen. The doubt and insecurity can trigger or exacerbate OCD symptoms. 
  • Excessive social media usage – Excessive social media usage can actually aggravate OCD symptoms, leading to comorbid types of OCD, such as “just right” or “perfectionism” OCD and social media OCD. Thus, when possible, it is important to limit your screen time.

What is it Like To Struggle with Social Media OCD?

The best way to understand what it is like to struggle with social media OCD, which is linked to internet use disorder, is to hear from people who have experienced this type of OCD.

  • “I’ve started to notice this, when I wake up and go straight to Twitter or TikTok or whatever I have a bad ocd day. All the obsessive thoughts are worse and seem scarier. However, if I wake up and don’t go on my phone or social media (just reply to friends or play a game) I can cope better or it feels like I don’t have OCD at all. I used to think it was my phone but if I text people I’m fine but as soon as I open socials it just begins. Is it just me?
  • “I deleted TikTok and have never had Twitter because of this. It left me feeling like I wasn’t being productive enough and left me with an uneasy feeling. It definitely made my OCD symptoms worse.”
  • “I get social media OCD pretty badly, especially when it comes to old accounts that I can’t gain access to anymore. I go into full breakdowns about being unable to take them down and get really bad obsessive thoughts surrounding what can happen because I can’t take them down. I also struggle with trauma from being stalked and followed on social media by people to further the rumors they were spreading about me.

    So following requests, and certain videos of people I know coming up on my social media causes a complete breakdown. I struggle with thinking I’ll be hacked and all my information will be leaked, etc. Meds have helped but not much! Also, I’m struggling the most with being unable to connect to any wifi that is not my home wifi because it’s not “safe”. The more time I spend away from social media/the internet the better!”

  • “Social media definitely draws us in more. For me, I’m drawn to correcting people with bias and researching articles. And I really like reading, for example, people have tried to send me “proof” that bulldogs were “innately more dangerous than other dogs.” And when I read the article he provided, it completely contradicted what they claimed it said! Said that these small dogs, not bulldogs, were more likely to show aggression! People just hate it because it’s easier than reading and learning.” 
  • “I 100% feel better without social media. I have a ghost IG account that I don’t post on or have any followers and only follow things that interest me. I went big time into online business when COVID hit and affected my side hustle (hockey goalie coach/personal trainer) and my mental health took a nosedive. I tried a couple of different medications the past year and I honestly think cutting off social media and half-assed ‘friends’ has helped my intrusive thoughts to diminish the most.”

    “Social Media triggers me SO much. I tried going on TikTok but I ended up feeling worse than before. I’m gonna be honest, most of the people there claim they’re awesome good people but they are not. They judge without knowing anything and they turn mental illnesses into an aesthetic, only those mental illnesses that are seen as “quirky” by them, are tolerated (for example anxiety or depression are tolerated) but others like OCD are seen as something made up. I only use Pinterest and Reddit so I can vent. Pinterest because I love the memes but it messed me up.

    I also think Pinterest generally “promotes” depression or whatever, like holding victims back from recovering because “if you have someone to talk to and get the help you’re faking it”. I was convinced for some time I was just faking it because I was able to talk to my best friend sometimes about my problems. Also, I hate the unpopular opinion template really much it’s filled with toxic bs and it ends up triggering me more or less and thanks to Pinterest I got obsessed with the idea of being a good person to the point where I nearly changed myself for online strangers if there was something I liked but they didn’t like. But one thing: don’t go near Quora! This site messed me up SO badly and made me freak out about everything.”

Did you know, our our self-help course has helped thousands of OCD sufferers better manage their symptoms?

"My OCD is finally manageable"

Jennifer S

How to Safeguard Against Social Media Dangers When You Have OCD?

It is important to remember that everyone’s life is different and that you should not compare yourself to others. Some dangers linked to social media include social media OCD and social media addiction. Researchers have found that anxious and depressed people have a heightened risk of social media addiction. 

Listed below are safeguards against social media dangers when you have OCD:

  • Identify your triggers – If you determine that social media is a trigger for your OCD, then you will likely need to avoid social media. If forgoing social media is not realistic for you, then you will need to limit the amount of time you spend on social media and the internet. Why? Because getting on the internet may trigger an urge to visit social media sites (i.e., Facebook, X, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, etc.).

    Visiting social media sites will likely spark stress and anxiety, thereby triggering or worsening your OCD symptoms. So avoid or block social media, check it once or twice a day, or limit your scrolling behaviors to one or two hours a day. It is important to set firm boundaries when it comes to your social media practices. 

  • Step away – if you start to become stressed, anxious, or depressed while scrolling through social media, step away from it. In other words, take a warm bath or shower, go for a walk or jog, call a friend or loved one, work out, or read a book. Only return to it once the intrusive thoughts, fears, doubts, emotions, visions, and urges have subsided. 
  • Unfollow “triggering” accounts – Violent, upsetting, bullying, and negative social media pages can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms. When you come across these pages, unfollow, block, or snooze them. In other words, avoid your triggers. 
  • Schedule in time – What does that mean? It means scheduling time each day to “release” or “speak” your thoughts, fears, visions, doubts, urges, and emotions. Do this while you are alone and speak them aloud. Take a few minutes to “sit” with the discomfort. Use this time to face your doubts, fears, thoughts, and urges. Over time, your obsession with social media will lose its power over you and your symptoms will decline.
  • Talk to someone – If social media has become overwhelming, stressful, challenging, or anxiety-provoking, tell someone you trust about it. This person can be a close friend, co-worker, parent, sibling, OCD therapist, OCD support group, religious leader, etc. Sharing your thoughts, feelings, urges, emotions, and behaviors with a trusted confidant can help you better navigate your social media challenges in this digital age.

    Remember, you are not alone. There are people who can and want to help you get a grasp on your OCD symptoms, such as Impulse Therapy, an online OCD recovery treatment program. Also, keep in mind that social media is, for the most part, not real life.

    People only post what they want you to see and believe – not what is actually happening in their lives. Thus, it is important to not compare yourself to others on social media, because in all likelihood, your eyes are probably deceiving you. Your life may actually be better than the people you see on social media sites even though it may not look like that. Never judge a book by its cover.

  • Make an appointment with an OCD therapist – If you try these tips and none of them work, it is probably time to seek professional help from an OCD therapist. An OCD therapist can help you determine the cause of your OCD and pinpoint your OCD triggers. A therapist can also provide you with some much-needed support while you navigate your social media OCD symptoms in this digital age.

How is Social Media OCD Treated?

Social media OCD is usually treated like other types of OCD. The first line of treatment involves psychotherapy, specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which is designed to help people with social media OCD change their thoughts and views of social media so it no longer plays a significant role in their lives, and exposure-response prevention (ERP) therapy, a form of CBT, that involves gradually exposing an OCD sufferer to their triggers (i.esocial media) so they lose their power. 

Other therapies, such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and procedures like neurofeedback are added to the OCD treatment plan. The next line of treatment is medications, such as antidepressants (i.e., SSRI antidepressants), anti-psychotics, etc. When psychotherapy is unsuccessful, this is termed “treatment-resistant OCD.” 

Because this is a new age, many OCD sufferers are turning to holistic treatments, alternative medicine, and natural remedies like mindfulness meditation, hypnosis, art therapy, crystal therapy, CBD, homeotherapy, OCD podcasts and forums, and service dogs to help manage their social media OCD symptoms. 

References

  • Şentürk, E., Geniş, B., & Coşar, B. (2021). Social media addiction in young adult patients with anxiety disorders and depression. Alpha Psychiatry, 22(5), 257-262. https://doi.org/10.5152/alphapsychiatry.2021.21242
  • Alutaybi, A., Al-Thani, D., McAlaney, J., & Ali, R. (2020). Combating fear of missing out (FoMO) on social media: The FoMO-R method. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(17). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17176128
  • Nagata, J. M., Chu, J., Zamora, G., Ganson, K. T., Testa, A., Jackson, D. B., Costello, C. R., Murray, S. B., & Baker, F. C. (2023). Screen time and obsessive-compulsive disorder among children 9-10 years old: A Prospective cohort study. The Journal of Adolescent Health: Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 72(3), 390–396. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2022.10.023
  • Zheluk, A. A., Anderson, J., & Dineen-Griffin, S. (2022). Adolescent anxiety and TikTok: An exploratory study. Cureus, 14(12). https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.32530
  • Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Dew, M. A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., & Primack, B. A. (2018). Social media use and depression and anxiety symptoms: A cluster analysis. American Journal of Health Behavior, 42(2), 116. https://doi.org/10.5993/AJHB.42.2.11
  • Karim, F., Oyewande, A. A., Abdalla, L. F., Ehsanullah, R. C., & Khan, S. (2020). Social media use and its connection to mental health: A systematic review. Cureus, 12(6). https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8627
  • Guazzini, A., Gursesli, M. C., Serritella, E., Tani, M., & Duradoni, M. (2022). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) types and social media: Are social media important and impactful for OCD people? European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education, 12(8), 1108-1120. https://doi.org/10.3390/ejihpe12080078
  • Moretta, T., & Buodo, G. (2021). The Relationship Between Affective and Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms in Internet Use Disorder. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 700518. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.700518

Our self-help OCD therapy course has helped 1000s of OCD sufferers since 2018.

"My OCD is finally manageable"

Jennifer S

Author

DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

Share Post