Using Social Media to Meet Your Needs: Coping

Social media: it’s the not-so-new technology that has shaped and ingrained itself in nearly every industry in the world. It’s a force that can give one a competitive edge in a job interview (having a certain desirable number of followers and a “clean” account are two must-haves in my old career of public relations) or add another dimension to one’s overall reach or clout. It’s also one of the few places where someone can exert the most control over how others perceive him or herself. Social media can also act as a means of maintaining one’s coping abilities when under high amounts of stress.

I am definitely guilty of utilizing social media to create a controlled narrative of my life. One glance at my Instagram account will provide the viewer with ample examples of a mildly-successful twenty-something who has enough pocket money to attend some of the best concerts, enjoy himself with his gifted (and attractive as hell) friends in the biggest cities in the world, and travel on a whim back to his hometown to spend time with his family. While this may be the perception I perpetuate weekly on my Instagram (and Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts), it may not be truly representative of the person I actually am. When dealing with immense stress, it is easy to portray an image of happiness and tranquility.

We want to assure those who have even a minor stake (if any at all) in our well-being that we are indeed fine through filtered and fine-tuned pictures and stories of the intense and rewarding adventures and accomplishments we embark upon. It’s like crisis communications: as long as you’re the one releasing the information, you control the story and can shape how others will interpret it.

In the gallery: Just a sampling of the types of posts one can find on my Instagram page. Whether it’s traveling to wine country with friends, attending electrifying performances from today’s biggest pop stars, or just clowning around with my puppy, I try to maintain an air of general merriment and happiness in my posts. Photo credit: @KittuPannu

When it comes to highly-personal issues, I have never been the type to pour my heart out to any stranger. I am not the type to explain the intricacies of the ticking time bomb known as the disintegration of my family unit. Hell, I would rather recount terrible dating stories than provide narratives of actual devastation. How my life has been on the precipice of changing for the past two years, with each day pushing me closer and closer to the edge of assuming a new identity and new role. How I know that this doomsday of sorts will come and how I have tried to prepare myself for the inevitable but that even the most prepared individuals truly have no idea how to deal with a situation of this magnitude. I don’t want to tell everyone that my father will be dying within the next month. Because really, what of it is their business? And when doctors and caregivers have tried everything in their power, what could these strangers really do to help?

In the photo: My father and me enjoying some time at home. Much of our time together is spent sitting with him in bed due to the extent of his health issues. But just because someone is relegated to spending 90 percent of their time in his bed does not mean that one can’t be creative in time spent. Needless to say, Dad and I have binged a ton of television and discussed a lot of politics this past year. Photo credit: @KittuPannu

I speak of this issue now because I realize we all use social media for something. Many use it to create an online persona. Some employ it to build a marketing empire or amass followers. Others utilize it as a means to gain acceptance from people or one-up their friends (I’m talking about you #blessed people). Some people apply various aspects of social media as avenues of therapy. Others may take advantage of social media’s unfiltered experience to create an echo chamber and promote false narratives. But many, including myself, use it as a means to cope with our own realities.

For me, social media is a land of distraction. A land in which there are so many interesting things that are much more pleasant to deal with than a dying parent. Just this past year I distracted myself with various friends’ engagements, babies, and successes. When these updates lost their luster, I could turn to current events, political analyses, and the occasional Facebook Wall war to occupy my mind. Social media diverted my attention from the inevitable disaster known as my father’s health. When I wasn’t using social media to fulfill that role, I would rely on close friends, family members, and my amazing puppy to pull me through, as evidenced through the many pictures posted on social media channels. I had built an online identity of being this human rights advocate who enjoys life in the big apple and hangs out with friends and his dog when he has the time. And I spent time maintaining this persona online. While it is an accurate portrayal of me, it does not represent my multifaceted identity that close friends and family members have come to know and love.

In the photo: The love of my life, my puppy. Puppies have so much love to give, and if you’re looking for something to really commit you to staying on a schedule and be more responsible, it’s a pet. My own, Kadhu, is the best at sensing when I have had a terrible day and will just sit next to me to show that he’s here if I need him. They’re the best. Photo credit: @KittuPannu

Maintaining this “facade” has definitely been a way of coping with the reality of my father’s impending death. It gives me something to do instead of facing the music. Instead of focusing on things out of my control like my father’s health, I focus on the complexity of filters, likes, shares, and comments. Because there’s a formula that works. There’s a way to increase one’s following. There are ways to succeed. And the same cannot be said regarding agonizing on my father’s illness.

Luckily, curating my own content in the form of videos, photos, and witty captions not only distracts me from my dad but it also helps me produce content that will ultimately make me happy to reflect upon when dealing with the outcome of his health crises. Ultimately, the most healthy coping method I have found has been a supportive network of friends, colleagues, and family members, all of whom I have felt that I could trust enough to open up with regarding the hardships of caring for an ailing parent.

In the photo: My close friends and I celebrate my birthday in the Flatiron area of New York City. I owe much of my sanity and ability to deal with family struggles to their interactions with me. Photo credit: @KittuPannu

They say that you’re supposed to remember the best parts of someone’s life when they pass. That you should remember those who, like my father, have suffered from long-acting illnesses as the healthy, amazing people they once were. The problem with this request is actually recalling the memories of a perfectly-healthy Dad.  Our own faulty memory can sometimes strip us of these invaluable memories. Without photographs, entries, or even material acknowledgments of specific events, it is hard to recall them from the memory banks full of worthwhile memories.


One simple picture can transport the viewer back to a simpler time, when wearing matching shiny windbreakers with my father triggers a memory of ringing in the New Year by playing with fireworks outside in our backyard when I was 4 years old. Or how a specific song reminds me of the time that my dad willfully drove 30 miles from our hotel with me just so I could eat some In-N-Out Burger as we discussed the merits of cultural appropriation in popular music — of course he just smiled and nodded in agreement. Or how a specific tree near my neighborhood reminds me of the time I told my dad how I wanted to be a father and explained how surrogacy and single parenthood was a more viable option in today’s society for LGBT-identifying individuals who want to start families. Of course, after he overcame his initial shock, my dad went on to discuss all of the expenses he had racked up because of me over the years in an effort to dissuade me from taking on such an expensive decision with one income, but that’s a whole other story. . . . 

The common thread here amongst these picture, song, and material reminders is that they transport me back to an a cherished memory shared with one of the most intelligent and strong individuals I know: my father. As we grow up, so do our means of creating reminders of simpler times. Social media has now become my go-to for creating these triggers of remembrance. It’s my way of coping with the stress of a dying parent. It’s also my way of maintaining the semblance of a constructed identity I have worked hard to maintain. It is, in essence, representative of me and my personality.

In the photo: Sometimes life gives you a curve ball or two – including jumping on six flights on your birthday in order to see your father before he undergoes a life-threatening surgery. But that’s what we have our support systems in place for. To help us make sense of life and maintain some sort of coping strategy. Photo credit: @KittuPannu

Social media has many roles for many people, but each of them varies slightly. And that’s the great thing about it, because if it remained static and functioned in the exact same manner for every person out there, it would not be the success it is today. We all have unique ways of utilizing social media to fulfill our specific needs, and just as social media evolves daily, our own ways of using it remain dynamic. Here’s to finding a way to make social media work for you, no matter what situation you’re facing.

Recommended reading: “A (DIS)CONNECTED LIFE”

About the Author /

Kittu Pannu is currently a Masters in Public Health candidate at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. When he's not writing or studying, Kittu enjoys exploring New York with his dog and catching up on all things related to pop culture, technology, science, and healthcare. Kittu plans on revolutionizing the mental health profession through policies and practices aimed at strengthening relationships between minority patients and mental health professionals. An aspiring doctor, Kittu expects to save the world one diagnosis at a time.


  • Claude Forthomme

    February 17, 2017

    A very moving testimonial of a son’s love for his father and how social media can be a help and a necessary distraction in hard times of tragedy. Thank you for sharing.

  • Carmie Malubay

    February 19, 2017

    I can relate to this story. Lost my father 10 years ago. I agree that we all use social media for different purposes. From when our family discovered that my father didn’t have much time left until he passed away, I really didn’t turn to social media for therapy or distraction. I kept the whole thing as private as possible. It’s very important to surround yourself with people you extremely trust. At present, I use social media for information and distraction. Food porn is definitely therapeutic for me!

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