You’ve just spent 30 minutes scrolling through social media. Everyone looks happy outside having fun. Due to our current uncertainty, you aren’t ready to head out to a restaurant or go on summer vacation. How do you feel right now? Envious? Frustrated? Down? You need to remember four important things about what you see on social media to keep things in perspective in your life.
We used to keep diaries or maybe a journal. Now we post. What was once an act of private, intimate self-reflection has become, for many, a project involving not only mutual inspection but judgment, but has our perception of ourselves been clarified or just twisted and quantified by social media?
Instead of a diary or journal being used to provide insights into ourselves, social media has provided us with an avenue to peek into other people’s lives while it affords about 250 million other Americans and 3.5 billion people worldwide the same opportunity to see our own life, share opinions on it, and “rate” our life via Likes, Shares, Friends, Followers, and Retweets.
That’s a big stage to put your life on. And research shows we have a natural inclination to compare.
★ You should try not to compare yourself or your life to what you see on social media.
(I get it—it’s so hard…)
Here’s why you shouldn’t play the comparison game…
1. What you see on social media isn’t reality.
Whether you are looking at Kim Kardashian West with 181M followers on Insta or your friend with 81, there are definite degrees of unreality you need to remember. From filters and retouching apps to lighting and staging to the fact that you are seeing a snapshot of a moment in time and not a “video” of someone’s real-life—PLEASE remind yourself not to compare yourself, your family, and your quality of life to what you see on social media. You are comparing someone’s “highlight reel” to your own “behind the scenes footage.” It’s just not a fair comparison. It’s also a comparison that depressed individuals are about 3 times more likely to make.
Dr. Brian Primack, the Director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh put it best: “People who engage in a lot of social media use may feel they are not living up to the idealized portraits of life that other people tend to present in their profiles. This phenomenon has sometimes been called ‘Facebook depression.’” Instagram has been found by a number of studies to be the worst social media platform for your mental health.
2. Social media is a rigged game.
This is why you should never compare Likes, Followers, Shares, or Retweets. Social media platforms exist to make money. They want you to come back for more. Just like Vegas. The House always wins.
Brain science has shown that we get little dopamine squirts when we hop on social media. Feels good for a few seconds. Each platform is created to maximize that effect. (They know their brain research.) So, Instagram not showing you all your Likes right away is an effective way to keep you coming back to see how your post is doing. Twitter doesn’t take a few seconds to load new tweets because your connection is slow. It’s intentional. In casinos it’s called a “variable ratio schedule” or “the slot machine effect.” The idea is that an action is rewarded, but at various times. We get a little dopamine hit anticipating what content we will see. (Other social media apps do this, too.) Don’t let social media Vegas you. Don’t slide into addiction. (Check out this Business Insider article on how social media is rigged.) You are comparing yourself to “gamed” numbers.
With bots, fake accounts, people buying followers, and algorithms set against you, why would you compare your Followers, Likes, Shares, and Retweets with those of anybody else? Please don’t allow those numbers to make you feel bad about yourself or your life. Ignore ‘em and just see what your cousin is up to on social.
If you or your family had a great experience, took a pic, posted it, and it didn’t get “the response” you hoped for, YOU STILL HAD A GREAT EXPERIENCE. That’s what’s important.
3. Nobody has changed someone’s mind on social media.
Actually, this isn’t exactly true. Among men and women 30 years and older, 12% and 11% respectively reported changing their mind on a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media in the past year. But you get the point. You have about a 1 in 10 chance to change a mind with your flaming post. Is comparing your beliefs worth the stress and anxiety? People have different opinions. Keep moving.
So, when you compare your beliefs and opinions to other people on social media, what does it make you feel? Anger? Stress? Frustration? Anxiety? Bitterness? About half of U.S. adults say talking about politics with people they disagree with on social media is “stressful and frustrating.”
You investing time, energy, and emotions into a debate that isn’t going to change anyone’s mind is just setting you up to be aggravated. This didn’t dawn on me until the time my wife asked me why I was still awake and I quipped, “Because someone is wrong on the internet!” Hearing myself say those words out loud made me realize that not only was I on a fool’s errand, but I was losing precious sleep. Comparing your political beliefs and stances on social or religious issues to other people’s is just not the best use of your time. Arguing about them with people is an even worse use of your time. Time to put the phone down.
A study of Twitter use in America found that between 90-97% of political tweets were made by only 3-10% of Twitter users. That’s a handful of people with an ax to grind. Not letting them affect my day.
4. Because stress, anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness are killers.
There is a debate raging in research about social media: Does social media use cause stress, anxiety, and depression OR do stressed, anxious, depressed people use social media more?
While the eggheads research what comes first, the chicken or the egg, what is not open for debate is the correlation between social media use and negative mental health. Whether you feel like social media use causes you to feel negative things like anger, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression or you turn to social media as a coping mechanism for those kinds of feelings, you should be concerned. Your mental health should be priority #1.
If you suspect that your mental health is suffering because of your time spent online,
- Unplug for a designated amount of time.
- Set time limits on your phone for social media sites.
- Suspend your social media accounts for a specific amount of time.
- Challenge a friend to unplug with you and be each other’s support.
- Keep your phone out of arm’s reach when possible.
- Turn notifications off on your social media accounts.
- Stop using your phone in bed.
- Try the 50/50 rule: No social media the last/first 50 minutes of your day.
- Get professional help if necessary.
Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Social Media Use:
- What need does my use of social media meet?
- Do I catch myself comparing myself to what I see on social media?
- How does my time on social media make me feel about myself?
- How does my time on social media make me feel about my life, family, and friends?
- Have I trained my brain to question statements and pics on social media?
- Does it bother me when a post I make doesn’t get many Likes or Shares?
- Can I recognize when I need to take a break from social media?
There is a lot for you to like and enjoy about social media—It is so important for you to stay in touch with family, friends, and co-workers who may be spread out across the country and the world. It’s cool for you to get a “peek” into the lives of some of your favorite personalities and potentially even interact with them. You can be inspired and encouraged by stories and pictures that people have shared on social media. You can spot the positives and the negatives!
But the only person you need to compare yourself to is your best self.