Almost everyone is at it in the modern world – scrolling through social media as if their lives depend on it. But for whatever good it may do, social media can also make us feel inferior, jealous, sad, or angry. But why do we let it do this to us, and what can we do to ensure that it doesn’t?
What harm can social media do?
Have you ever found yourself scrolling through social media and noticed you felt a bit down or maybe a little envious? Why aren’t you living in a mansion or on a yacht? Why are you not the CEO of a successful startup or able to look glamorous all day, every day?
The good news is you are not alone. Although social media has some benefits, it can also make us feel a little depressed, along with various other negative feelings.
Why does social media make us feel bad?
As humans, we inherently compare ourselves to others to determine our self-worth. Psychologists call this social comparison theory. We primarily make two types of comparisons –
- Upward comparison: and
- Downward comparisons.
Upward comparisons occur when we compare ourselves to someone else (in real life or on social media) and feel they are better than us (an unfavorable comparison for us) in whatever domain we are assessing (such as status, beauty, abilities, or success – however we define it).
For example, comparing your day at work to your friend’s post from the ski fields is likely to be an upward comparison. Another example is making appearance comparisons which can make you feel worse about yourself or your looks.
Although upward comparison can sometimes motivate you to do better, this depends on the change being achievable and on your esteem. Research suggests upward comparisons may be particularly damaging if you have low self-esteem.
In contrast, downward comparisons occur when we view ourselves more favorably than the other person – for example, by comparing ourselves to someone less fortunate. Downward comparisons make us feel better about ourselves but are rare in social media because people don’t tend to post about the mundane realities of life.
Comparisons in social media
Social media showcases the best of people’s lives. It presents a carefully curated version of reality and presents it as fact. Sometimes, as with influencers, this is intentional, but often, it is an unconscious bias. We are just naturally more likely to post when we are happy, on holiday, or to share successes – and even then, we choose the best version to share.
When we compare ourselves to what we see on social media, we typically make upward comparisons that make us feel worse. We compare ourselves on an average day to others on their best day. In fact, it’s not even their best day. It’s often a perfectly curated, photoshopped, produced, filter-applied moment. It’s not a fair comparison.
That’s not to say social media is all bad. It can help people feel supported, connected, and get information. So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, keep your social media use in check with these tips.
Tips on how you can make yourself feel better about social media
1. Monitor your reactions. If social media is enjoyable, you may not need to change anything – but if it’s making you exhausted, depressed, or anxious, or you are losing time to mindless scrolling, it’s time for a change.
2. Avoid comparisons. Remind yourself that comparing your reality with a selected moment on social media is an unrealistic benchmark. This is especially the case with high-profile accounts that are paid to create the perfect content.
3. Be selective. If you must compare, search for downward comparisons (with those who are worse off) or more equal comparisons to help you feel better. This might include unfollowing celebrities, focusing on real posts by friends, or using reality-focused platforms like BeReal.
4. Redefine success. Influencers and celebrities make luxury seem like the norm. Most people don’t live in pristine homes and sip barista-made coffee in white sheets looking perfect. Consider what real success means to you and measure yourself against that instead.
5. Practise gratitude. Remind yourself of things that are great in your life, and celebrate your accomplishments (big and small!). Create a “happy me” folder of your favorite life moments, pics with friends, and great pictures of yourself, and look at this if you find yourself falling into the comparison trap.
6. Unplug. If needed, take a break, turn off notifications, or cut down. Avoid mindless scrolling by moving tempting apps to the last page of your phone or using in-built focus features on your device. Alternatively, use an app to temporarily block yourself from social media.
7. Engage in real life. Sometimes social media makes people notice what is missing in their own lives, which can encourage growth. Get out with friends, start a new hobby, take more exercise, and embrace life away from the screen.
8. Get amongst nature. Nature has health and mood benefits that combat screen time.
9. Be the change. Avoid only sharing the picture-perfect version of your life and share (in a safe setting) your real life. You’d be surprised how this will resonate with others. This will help you and them feel better.
10. Seek help. If you are feeling depressed or anxious over a period of time, get support. Talk to your friends, family or a GP about how you are feeling. Alternatively, contact one of the support lines listed on our Get Help pages.
It is arguable whether the widespread availability of social media has improved our lives or harmed them. Regardless of your viewpoint, social media is here to stay and will develop in future years in ways that we cannot possibly comprehend today.
And while there is a temptation to let social media take over our lives, following our tips above may just provide the counterbalance we need to stay focused on what really matters in life.
Do you find your mental health or mood impacted by content on social media? What measures do you take to reduce the effects of social media on your life? Let us know in the comments.