With social media becoming more entrenched in our everyday lives, it is important that we take time to reflect on how this may be affecting our mental health and relationships. There are now several sources of research that link social media use with low self-esteem, increased anxiety and negative mental states.
One reason for this is that social media can cause us to compare our lives with those of our virtual ‘friends’ that we see on our feeds. But in many ways this is an unfair comparison as the online lives of others often fail to truly reflect their experiences, thoughts and emotions. Social media is a bit like a mirror in a funhouse; instead of reflecting the way we truly look it can be used to exaggerate the bits we like and hide the parts we don’t, just like our Facebook timeline.
“When we look to social media, we end up comparing ourselves to what we see which can lower our self-esteem. On social media, everyone’s life looks perfect but you’re only seeing a snapshot of reality. We can be whoever we want to be in social media and if we take what we see literally then it’s possible that we can feel we are falling short in life”
Sherrie Campbell, Psychotherapist
A friend of mine took part in the #100HappyDays challenge last year where she posted about something each day which made her happy. During this time she started a new job which bought along with it both exciting times and periods of stress and anxiety. However to the outside world her life was an endless stream of happy moments. She recalls how uncomfortable she felt when friends messaged her saying how great it was she was doing well and so happy.
Another friend told me that she was looking through her Facebook photos at the end of a tough year and could count more photos taken when she felt low than when she felt OK or happy. So although her online life appeared full of friendship, happiness and excitement, in reality she had to be very resilient and often drag herself to the occasions when those photos were taken.
These are just two real life examples of how social media can mask our real lives and encourage us to only share the ‘good bits’ as these are what the online world approves of.
If you relate to feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem after scrolling through Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, then it’s time to take charge and inject some reality into what you’re seeing, below are some tips for steering clear of ‘comparing and despairing’ when using social media:
- Switch off.
This doesn’t have to mean disappearing from the online world altogether, but it may help to reduce the amount of time you spend on social media. Try keeping track of how often you use social media in a day then set a realistic goal for how much you’d like to cut down by. You could also make social media less accessible by deleting apps from your phone. Social media time can be especially harmful before you go to sleep as a recent study found that people reported being unable to relax or sleep after online time. Try another bedtime habit such as a Gratitude Diary.
- Take control of your news feed
It’s up to you what you see, so tailor your feed to make you feel good. ‘Hide’ people who you often compare yourself with and try filling up your feed with more interesting content, you can ‘like’ campaigns, bands or artists pages so that you see more of their posts instead.
- Connect with friends offline
So your friend has just come back from an amazing holiday – instead of drooling over their pictures, try meeting up and hearing about their experiences first-hand. Or perhaps your friend is at uni posting pictures of fun times 24/7 – instead of getting jealous by assuming they are having the time of their life, why not call them up to find out how they are. These interactions will give you a more realistic picture of their life and chances are your friends will appreciate them too.
- Challenge those unhelpful thoughts
If time on social media causes you to have unhelpful thoughts such as ‘wow, they are so talented, I’m so crap compared to them’ or ‘I should be having as much fun as they are’ then you can develop ways to challenge such thoughts. At OTR’s Resilience Lab we call these thinking patterns ‘Negative Automatic Thoughts’ and you can learn more here.
- Reality check
To remind yourself that there is so much more to someone’s life than what we see on social media, have a flick through your latest photos/posts and think about the context; what happened before and after? How did you feel at the time? Then remember that all these details exist for every photo and post you see from online friends…
- Change your perspective
Try to view other’s lives as an inspiration rather than a point for comparison. If you like what others are doing, try to incorporate these into your own goals – but remember that everyone is different so try to make these goals realistic and achievable for you.
- Take time alone
As part of a digital generation we are very rarely alone, even when no-one else is in the room our computers and phones connect us with many others instantaneously. Time alone can help you to be more creative, get to know yourself better and give you time to reflect without others to compare yourself to. Resilience Lab has written a helpful tips and trick page on taking a moment alone.
~ Written by Eleanor Lloyd (Resilience Lab Facilitator)