We’ve all read the tragic stories of adolescents driven to self-harm after reading nasty remarks on social media. But the overuse of – and overreliance on – social media can affect even the most well-adjusted adult in many damaging ways. Studies show that social media is linked to higher levels of loneliness, envy, anxiety, depression, narcissism and decreased social skills.
How does this happen? It’s pretty simple, really. Whether you realize it or not, social media is tricking you into believing that perfection is not only attainable – but necessary for happiness. As you scroll through your friends’ Instagram and Facebook feeds, observing their photos, you’re actually being inundated with idealized versions of ordinary people and everyday experiences.
Through the daily observation of these “perfect” lives and the subsequent pressure to look like you’re also living the ultimate life, you’re essentially being trained to adopt a perfectionistic standard for what life is supposed to look like.
Since the standards promoted via social media are essentially unachievable, those of us who don’t take mindful countermeasures will either exacerbate an existing depressive condition or pave the way for a more depressing life in the future.
The ugly truth behind the pretty images
Social media is a showcase for the highlights of people’s lives: weddings, vacations, parties… moments when the backdrop is gorgeous and everyone looks their best. But all of that is an illusion. What no one posts are the photos of their break-ups, their poor performance reviews, their bad hair days, their everyday, ordinary little miseries. They don’t want pity, they want likes.
But the dopamine rush we feel from getting likes on our posts can become addictive and affect how we value ourselves based on the responses we get. If a post doesn’t get enough positive feedback, we automatically ask ourselves what we did wrong. Wasn’t it funny enough? Didn’t we look good enough? Wasn’t what we achieved as great as we thought it was? We begin to give more value to the opinions of others rather than to our own.
A Huffington Post study which interviewed people ranging in age from 28 to 73 found that 60% of people using social media reported that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way, 50% reported social media having negative effects on their relationships, and 80% reported that is easier to be deceived by others through their sharing on social media.
When people start basing their self-esteem on the number of their followers or likes, it creates a vicious circle that requires more and more likes or followers in order to achieve the same feeling, and it’s neither healthy nor sustainable.
How to lessen social media’s negative impact
Here are a few recommendations for minimizing the negative impact of social media on your mood and self-image:
- Remember that most of it isn’t even real. Our social media connections, and even friendships, aren’t necessarily real, at least not in the way our real-world friendships are. (That’s not to say you can’t have meaningful relationships with people you meet online.) But it does mean that you’re open to a lot of criticism and negativity from connections who are literally meaningless in the context of your real life.
- Learn to embrace (and post) your imperfections. Stop taking 47 selfies until you get “the perfect one”. You’re driving yourself crazy for no reason. Post a photo that’s a little blurry or one where you think your neck looks weird: no one important will criticize it, and the people important to you will love it.
- Try to avoid judging other people’s images. Being judged for superficial appearances is exactly what you’re trying to escape. Observe other peoples’ images with empathy and understanding. It will help you to judge yourself less harshly.
- Take a break from the worst offenders. If you’re feeling too much pressure, take a break from the social media sites that get you down. Or you can “mute” the specific people whose posts tend to tug at your self-esteem. Better yet, unplug it all and do something radical: go out and meet people face to face!