Using social media has drastically changed the way I perceive my life – my accomplishments, my appearance, my personality traits, my past-times – and I don’t mean through receiving hate online. I’m talking about…
…seeing ‘someone’ in the club or at a festival while you’re stuck at home. The ‘someone’ on a holiday you couldn’t afford to book. The ‘someone’ getting engaged surrounded by their family and friends with 10 professional pics to document it all. The ‘someone’ landing their dream job or getting a big pay rise. The ‘someone’ showing off their brand new car. The ‘someone’ with nicely decorated, tidy houses. The ‘someone’ who always manage to take loads of perfectly posed photos, with their clear skin and fashionable clothes. The ‘someone’ revealing the gender of their baby. The ‘someone’ moving into a beautiful new house. The ‘someone’ with happy, healthy family members.
These are the kind of posts we compare against our own lives. These are the kinds of posts which tend to knock you on your arse, especially when you’re mentally unwell. The posts which get you thinking ‘what am I doing wrong?’ ‘why is everyone achieving SO much more than me?’ ‘why am I even trying, I won’t ever be good enough?’. Comparison can be a real bitch.
Of course, social media isn’t all bad and there are even some benefits to it, so they say:
- You have access to unlimited information, almost instantly.
- You can connect with people from all over the world.
- You can share things that matter to you.
- You can look back fondly on memories and recount your past events.
- You can re-connect with people you have lost contact with.
- It can help young people to explore new concepts.
- It can provide a platform for voices to be heard about what matters to them.
- It allows bloggers like me to share our stories.
- It can motivate people into action and promote social change.
So why do I find myself comparing myself SO much to everyone else on social media, regardless of how well I’m doing in my life? If I’m totally honest, I have always, always compared myself to other people – even more so when social media took off.
I felt like I was different growing up. I started to notice that I thought differently too, especially at a young age. I would do things that other people around me just wouldn’t. I always felt like an outsider, the odd one out. But I didn’t look any different, so why was I? The more diagnoses I got on paper, the more I felt distanced and ‘different’ from everyone around me yet again. I was constantly led to believe there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t the same as other people.
I was determined to fit in. I spent as much time as I physically could using the people around me as a frame of reference on how to be ‘normal’ – what was everyone doing, wearing, thinking, feeling… even if I couldn’t BE normal, I could still try to pretend like I was. (Something which seems SO silly to me now).
It worked for a long time, I was getting comments like ‘you don’t look bipolar’, so I assumed it was working. But the worse my mental health got, the more I realised my life was different from other peoples, and social media was just a big fat reminder of that. When I was bombarded with other people’s accomplishments, I would be reminded of my own failings and what I hadn’t done yet – as opposed to the huge obstacles I had actually overcome. My achievements never seemed to match up in my head, no matter how hard anyone tried to reassure me. I just didn’t want to be me, I wanted to be them.
Social media is called a ‘life comparing tool’ – just like how I used to use it – to figure out how we measure up to other people. We look at people’s pictures and posts and compare them to our own lives. What is missing is ‘reality’ on social media. We tend to only present the very best from our lives, far more regularly than the bad or the boring stuff, this is why it seems to be the way people’s lives actually are. Missing from those lovely holiday posts is their lost luggage or their delayed flight. Missing from that lovely picture of mother and baby is the 2am night feeds. I’m guilty of it too. I post when I’m high or enjoying my life and scroll through passively when I’m low. This means that the differences between our ‘real’ lives and the idealised ones are amplified.
There has been a lot of other negative impacts on mental health from social media use:
- A deep impact on interpersonal relationships.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Negative impact on physical wellbeing – which in turn affects mental health.
- Chasing likes to drive self-esteem and self-worth.
- Seeking approval and external validation. Preoccupation with how other people react to what we post on social media can lead to people feeling unsure about their value. They may worry about how they are seen, becoming more self-critical of their physical appearance and lives in general.
- Fear of missing out.
- It can distort the way you remember certain events from your life.
- It can affect your attention span.
- It makes us think we care about some things more than we actually do.
- We check social media in our downtime when we are more likely to be self-reflective.
- We have a stream of information at our fingertips constantly, information which would have been delayed to conversations otherwise.
- Constant posting opens you up to receiving more negative comments online rather than compliments – increasing the risk of cyberbullying, which can lead to depression and suicidal ideation.
- Create a sense of inadequacy.
- Creates doubts about our choices which often outweigh pride in our accomplishments.
- Low self-esteem.
- The comparisons we make as a way of evaluating ourselves is connected to the instant judgements we make of other people.
I wrote this post as it is a topic I really do struggle with myself. Social media is supposed to motivate you into improving your own life, but what if you can’t do that because your mental illnesses get in the way? I’ve created a list of some (hopefully) helpful tips:
- You don’t need to seek approval from those on the online world, you only need to be good enough for yourself.
- Remember to not compare your full life to someone else’s’ edited version of theirs. It might just be for show. You can never know what goes on behind closed doors.
- Social media is not the only way of being social.
- Try to reduce your time on social media, this can be challenging but if you redirect your focus onto the things that matter in your life, it can be done. Less time to direct towards meaningless activities like social comparison, more time to direct towards personal growth.
- Avoid looking at profiles which trigger thoughts of comparison – you have nothing to gain by checking them besides anxiety and sadness.
- Immerse yourself in activities that leave you feeling better for having engaged in them. Make a list of activities you love or want to try, grab a calendar and schedule them in.
- Face to face interaction can be more rewarding.
- Don’t be afraid to remove people who routinely make you feel bad.
- Explore what you admire and appreciate about other people – be happy for their success. Let it be a catalyst for your own personal growth.
- Just because someones achieving ahead of you, doesn’t mean they’re achieving instead of you.
- Compare yourself to yourself. Stay focused on your own improvement. A happy runner compares himself to his last run, not to those who run faster.
- Focus on the good things in your life, you’ll be less likely to obsess over what you lack.
- Seek connection, not a comparison. Instead of just scrolling, send messages, talk about shared experiences, seek genuine emotional connection, use social media to foster the kind of relationships you find valuable offline. This is my favourite tip and the one I’ve been benefitting from the most so far.
- Become more conscious of the time you spend scrolling through other people’s online profiles, this can help you to focus more on yourself and boost your own self-esteem.
- Identify what you value in these people’s posts, come up with a plan to integrate these things into your own life.
- Assess where your negative comparisons are stemming from. Whilst they feel negative at the time, they can be positive in showing us an area of our lives which may benefit from some improvement.
- Put a higher value on your relationships – friends, family, relationships can often be taken for granted. Be more present and appreciative in your interactions with them.
- Value your own time more. In the past, I have always been more respectful of other people’s time than my own. Put our own needs first and accept that it is okay to do so.
- Do more of what you love. Do things because you like doing them, not because you’ll get likes for doing them. This can increase self-value and feel like you are making the most of your time.
- Compare where your expectations originate from, adjust them accordingly.
- You cannot be someone else, you can only be you – and you are enough.
- Develop and maintain a stable sense of self – establish your identity and self-esteem, nourish relationships with people who see the real you, stay true to your beliefs. A stable sense of self comes from thinking about who you are, absent from any feedback.
- Your story is so unique and so different and not worthy of comparison.
- What are your values and preferences in the absence of anyone else knowing about them? Can you be proud of the person you aren’t posting online?
- It is not how much time we spend on social media, but how we use social media that defines how we feel. If we use social media to passively view others posts, our happiness will decrease. When we compare others lives, we forget to enjoy our own. Contributing, sharing, interacting with others can have the opposite effect. Other peoples’ good news can make us feel good too.
- People are going to talk about you, no matter what you do. So you might as well do whatever brings you happiness.
- Eventually, you’ll end up where you need to be, with who you’re meant to be with, and doing what you should be doing.
- Do it for you, and not for them.
- Remember that you once dreamed of being where you are now.
- Don’t wait until you’re 70 for it to hit you that while you were obsessing over someone else life on social media, you were putting yours on hold.
Writing this post was a good way for me to re-evaluate my current situation. As a result, I’ve set myself some goals for the rest of the year, and hopefully one day the rest of my life…
- To really start to think about what I want and who I want to be, regardless of everyone else’s influence.
- To remember that I have faced many situations that a lot of the people I compare myself against will never, ever have to face.
- To realise my abilities are equal to someone else’s despite me having mental illnesses.
- To remember the achievements I have made are valid and are equal to everyone else’s.
- It is unrealistic for me to compare my story with anyone other than my past self.
- To remember I have plenty of things to be grateful for, everyone’s life is different and comparison can work both ways.
- To be proud of the person I am both on and offline.
- To see individuals I know as people to identify with, not as comparison targets.
- To remember that mental illness is not a competition.
- To remember I am worthy of the same love I give.
- To remember I am still blooming, even while I am waiting.
- To remember I have achieved so much since 2011.
- To remember I am not weak for needing time to rest.
- To focus on how far I’ve come, not how far I have to go.
- To remember that just because they’re succeeding before me, doesn’t mean they’re succeeding in replacement of me.