We've all been there. Have you ever been browsing on social media and been overwhelmed by looking at posts from 'friends' about their latest overseas holiday, their new BMW, or that really fun one--sitting in the airport lounge giving departure updates, aka the 'Business Class Boast'? It seems that so many people focus on these 'things' as a measure of success and have an unrelenting need to share it with the rest of the world. It's like the entire world is trying to one-up each other.
While many see these competing social comparisons as harmless posts and nothing more than slightly annoying, to others it can result in less than positive feelings about their own possessions. We all know that the 'grass is always greener' doesn't have a positive effect--envy is a negative emotion that rarely motivates. It causes most people to feel worse about themselves and their lives.
According to The MindShift Foundation Clinical Psychologist Dr Lars Madsen, "Studies show that social media--such as Facebook and Instagram--allows for easy social comparisons that can result in people feeling envious and less than positive about themselves. And while social media doesn't cause people to feel bad about themselves on its own, the more an individual uses social media, the more they are confronted with instances when they are prone to comparing themselves with others."
Basically, the longer you stay on social media, the more likely you are to become envious of the things you don't have. A person with a larger network of 'friends' will be more likely to experience 'the grass is greener' symptoms than a person with a smaller network.
Even worse, if you use social media to keep track of others--known as surveillance use--the simple symptoms will start to go beyond envy. Negative feelings can increase and may lead to depressive symptoms that gnaw at your self-worth. Ask yourself honestly, are you happy when you come off social media? Ever? What do want from social media? Do you want to be caught up in a loop of endless envy?
If you find social media is making you feel worse about your own life, it's time to take those feelings seriously. You might not want to distance yourself entirely, so here are some tips to assist you in managing your mindset around social media.
1. Stop the automatic post feed. If you have social media applications installed on your phone, turn off your notifications. Hearing your phone beep whenever you get a notification can be nice, it makes you feel wanted, but when it gets to the point where you're checking every notification mindlessly, it's time to consciously break the cycle. When your head is down, you're missing reality.
2. Identify and block what negatively affects you. Are there certain people in your Facebook or Twitter newsfeed who routinely make you feel worse about yourself? Hiding specific people can help. Unlike those useless pages that do nothing but spam you, and if your profile is a personal, consider unfriending those that you really don't have a friendship with. Recognise the posts that you really don't like; the attention seekers, the ranters, the inspirers, the couch activists, the foodies and the lovely but overly descriptive mums. This is your page. What do you want to see?
3. Clarify your goals. Envy and jealousy can lead to feeling stuck. Some people just seem to have it all, so if you're feeling this way, why not take this opportunity to clarify what's important to you? Do you want a BMW? A great relationship? To travel? You can feel less vulnerable when you clarify what you want and how you're going to get it.
4. Stop the comparison calculation. It's easy to view ourselves in a negative light when we assess ourselves in comparison to others. Combat these feelings by reminding yourself that you mean something in this world. You matter to other people, and in some way, shape or form, another person depends on you for something. You are someone's partner, child, parent, colleague and friend. That's pretty special in its own right and no one can diminish that.
5. Choose live action. Have coffee with somebody, go for a walk so you can snap some incredible nature shots of your own, and seek out the laugh of someone who makes you smile. Even a phone call provides better interaction than social media. Take comfort that real life is just that, and not what's on a screen. That's just data on a computer.
6. Help others. You can get a great mood boost from helping others. The emotional satisfaction of doing something useful for someone else can lift you out of a negative mindset, and while it might sound like a cliché, it can also remind you what you have to be grateful for.
In the end it's all about adopting healthy practices for your use of social media. You need to protect yourself against the possibility of feeling negative because of what you're seeing and reading online. Even if you have a trial separation, it's simple enough to modify your online settings to have a trickle of news or a waterfall. Consider changing your habits to use your social media time wisely and read posts that educate and advocate. After all, your true friends will always be willing to 'share' and 'like' your life's experiences over a coffee any day of the week.
Elizabeth Venzin is the Founder and CEO of the Australian not-for-profit organisation The MindShift Foundation. Resources about self-esteem can be found on the MindShift website www.mindshift.org.au.