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Struggling in our fast-paced technology and social media-driven society? How to use CBT techniques to combat anxiety and depression from social media

Guest Post by Derek Moore, LPC, CADC

YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Tik Tok are where most of America’s youth and adults spend countless hours every week. As you scroll your social media, do you compare yourself to others, have FOMO (fear of missing out), or engage in doom-scrolling? You are not alone. What should I be doing? What new gadget should I have – and why don’t I have it already?! The constant stream of social media causes anxiety and depression for many. It can give you a distorted conception of who you should be. And it can foster unrealistic expectations, feelings of inadequacy, and low self-worth. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, more commonly known as “CBT”, can equip you with simple skills to combat anxiety and depression from social media and from the effects of doom-scrolling.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is the most researched form of psychotherapy. Its foundation is the cognitive model. This model maintains that events stimulate thoughts, which in turn stimulate emotions, and ultimately elicit behaviors. So how might CBT

This model focuses on what happens once you have a negative thought. Inevitably you attached a negative emotion or feeling to the thought, and usually in turn, a negative behavior (isolation, self-deprecation, etc.) That behavior now reinforces your negative state of mind, batters your self-esteem, and sets up a cycle. So the thought pattern results in never-ending looping.

If you’ve read this article this far, you’re probably interested in stopping that cycle. Let’s discuss simple Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercises to practice. As you practice, you’ll be reducing your vulnerability to anxiety, depression, and other painful emotions.


One way to deal with social media anxiety and depression is using Reframing. It is a tool rooted in the very foundation of CBT. You might also hear it referred to as reshaping. The idea is that when you have a negative thought, you can reshape the thought to elicit a more neutral or positive emotion.


Here is a scenario:

You see a picture of your friends on social media buying a brand-new home and car. Your initial thought might be “I am such a loser – I don’t own a house or a new car”. This would potentially result in thoughts about how you’re not doing enough such as “I am a failure” or self-shaming “I should” statements. As a result of these unhelpful thoughts, you experience an emotion. It is most likely a “negative” one like depression, sadness, self-hate, or jealousy. These feelings tend to generate actions – isolation, building resentment, doubting yourself, acting out towards a partner, or beating yourself up over it.

What’s happening in this situation? We can see that cognitive distortions are driving the thought process: all or nothing thinking, personalization, and “should” statements. These are creating false beliefs and are giving you a distorted sense of reality. Since we know nothing about this situation other than the friend posting their new assets, reframing would involve looking back at the situation and only acting upon factual thoughts. Factual thoughts in this scenario could be “I know they have been saving for this for a while,” “They moved out to the country where property is much cheaper than here in the city,” “I think I remember hearing that this is their company car, “ or an almost endless list of other factual statements.

Now imagine if you reshape the automatic negative thoughts in the scenario with the cognitive model. Even though I feel like I should be able to buy a house like that, the reality is I am saving for a house and new car just like they have.  Noticing facts allows a shift of thinking to happen. The thoughts may still not be completely positive, but you are at least working from a non-distorted thought process. Your feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth, and behaviors of isolation or anger shift. While the shift may only produce a small decrease in the negative emotion, those decreases add up as you keep reframing. This helps with the anxiety and depression caused by social media.

Notably, the shift is towards something more life-enhancing than what the previous negative thoughts pointed to. And that can also produce action. The shift might result in an increased commitment to budgeting and building savings, as in the example above.  Or it might be motivation to leave the city or to find a job that provides a company car.

With diligence and practice in reframing, you can shift your thoughts to foster a more realistic view of your life, to move towards goal creation, and to build your self-esteem.

Related Reading: Mindfulness Exercises for Depression

Making Emotions Functional

Another CBT tool to help reduce your vulnerability to doom-scrolling effects on mental health is to shift focus to making emotions functional or using them as core advantages. Most of us classify our emotions as good or bad. Rarely do we look at the function of our “negative” emotions.

For example: If you saw a coworker crying in the hallway at work, you would likely say to yourself “Why are they being so emotional? What’s going on with them?” Now imagine if that same coworker was laughing and giggling. You probably would never say that person is being “emotional.”

A social media example: Imagine scrolling through Instagram and seeing posts of some friends out having a good time. You know that you were invited but had declined. But seeing that you are not in the picture triggers feelings of depression, loneliness, and missing out. You don’t want these feelings. So, you use your tried-and-true distractions: food, substances, sleeping, or other behaviors to avoid your thoughts and feelings.

Do you see how the skewed view of these emotions in these examples – that they’re bad – is driving the show?  And comparison-fueled social media exacerbates our tendency to view emotions as something negative – that if you are emotional, it means something is wrong with you; that if you even have a “negative” emotion, it’s bad. This is an unrealistic, even dysfunctional, view of our emotions.

Here’s the thing: all emotions serve a purpose. And that purpose is usually to prompt you to take action of some sort. For instance, let’s look at depression and find its purpose. Depression is appropriate in some situations. Imagine you just had a loss of a family member or important resources like your job. It is totally appropriate to feel depressed and it is vital to grieving the loss so that you can move on.

If you don’t have an identifiable loss and if you are not living a value-directed life, the feelings of depression may be trying to signal you to take action to discern your values and find meaning. And I would suggest that if you have a biological predisposition to depression, those feelings are also meant to prompt talking with your physician or a counselor on how to best manage the depression.

If you start looking at emotions as functional and as communicators, you will notice a shift away from their “negative” effects. Biologically, the thought process will change, and you will naturally start to shift towards catching your distorted thoughts, thus stopping them from consuming you.

This does not mean that you’ll never feel the effects of depression, anxiety, anger, disappointment, and other emotions, but you can view them through a more neutral or functional lens. Your vulnerability to having your emotions surreptitiously triggered by social media will be reduced. You will utilize emotions to your advantage rather than to your disadvantage. You will take action instead of stew in painful emotion. Doing so would help your mental health and help mitigate the negative effects of our fast, technology-driven world.

Related Reading: Negative Thoughts

Next Steps

Want to learn more about CBT or check out more CBT tools? Read Feeling Great: A Revolutionary New Treatment for Anxiety and Depression by Dr. David Burns MD.  Would you rather watch and listen to the gist of the book? Then listen to Dr. Burns in his Feeling Good TEDx Talk.

If you need help to work through your emotions, learn more CBT techniques, and rediscover insight and direction, please reach out to us in our Glen Ellyn, Chicago (Jefferson Park), or Sycamore offices. We can help you find the right therapist for you.



Derek is a recently licensed psychotherapist but has more than 10 years’ experience in the mental health field. He specializes in life transitions, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and building a value-directed life. Derek enjoys using new techniques and treatments with the most up-to-date information. Most of his theoretical framework is rooted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Derek utilizes homework for sessions and values clarification work as a part of most sessions. His goal is to help his clients move forward with their lives, create goals, and learn ways to overcome barriers.