By: Julia D’Addurno
I truly believe that we were not meant to have as much access into other people’s lives as we do through social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Social media has made everyone accessible for comparison and that has essentially just led to a perfection contest. Social media use has been associated with the rise in mental health issues, such as higher levels of anxiety and depression (Banjanin, Banjanin, Dimitrijevic & Pantic, 2015; Pantic, 2014). It has been known to increase envy, has been linked to addiction, and research also indicates that it contributes to low self-esteem (Vogel et al., 2014). It is also associated with poor sleep quality among adolescents (Woods, H. C., & Scott, H., 2016).
That’s a lot of damage caused by something that is seemingly meant to bring us closer together and increase connection. But it’s no surprise social media may be the source of poor mental health, considering the way people attempt to portray themselves online. Of course, we know that social media is not all bad, and just like everything else, we should be mindful of the way we use it in our daily lives.
When we see a picture, we know that it can be filtered and that people are portraying the best parts of their life – we know this because we know our lives are not perfect, so realistically, no one’s life can possibly be exactly what it seems online. We can grasp this concept; we know that these pictures and narratives are constructed to an extent and aren't necessarily “real” in the sense that we know how much thought goes into a picture: the perfect angle, the perfect lighting, filters, editing, etc. We can discuss it with others and rationalize it. However, on an emotional level, it can still affect us. A picture, like the one featured in this article, can really get to us sometimes. If those images express what we aspire to but don't have, then it becomes very powerful.
I think everyone can relate to falling victim to that occasional feeling when you’re scrolling on Instagram through your feed and you start feeling inadequate or even envious towards people who are doing things you wish you could be doing or have something that you wish you had. This can cause you to feel bad about your own life and shift your focus to what you’re missing instead of being grateful for what you do have – the latter being proven to make you happier. This feeling of inadequacy can even cause you to create your own envy-inducing post that makes it seem like you're doing just as well. Well, perpetuating a so-called perfect life on social media is actually not going to make you feel better. In fact, it can do the opposite.
Creating an unrealistic image of ourselves and our lives online can be really bad for our mental wellbeing. We look at our life through our Instagram lens in which we only show the best of ourselves, and we just don’t measure up to the lives we are portraying: one where we are always happy, our relationships look perfect, we look our best, and we’re achieving great things. Of course, that could have been a reality at the time of the photo, but it can cause what social psychologist Sherry Turkle refers to as “self-envy.” She explains that when we only show the best of ourselves, we feel a fear of missing out on our own lives. “We don’t measure up to the lives we tell others we are living and we look at the self as though it were an other, and feel envious of it” (Sarner M., 2018). Sometimes we can look back at these pictures in nostalgia and see ourselves as more happy than we were, and then feel bad about our current situation.
There has, however, been a recent flood of pictures on social media with captions and images that portray something more real. People are becoming more open to showing their struggles and hardships. Most people are realizing the more real you are, the more people like you – the real you. I’ve mentioned it before in a recent article about the importance of embracing vulnerability. Embracing and revealing our flaws makes it easier to connect with others. Being vulnerable – and that means not perfect – allows us to truly connect with others. Perfection is nice to look at, for sure, but flaws draw people in. We are human and we’re inclined to gravitate towards what’s real. That’s something to keep in mind when you have the urge to edit out a flaw from a picture you’re about to post.
Even though people are becoming more open on social media, the reality is that Instagram is mainly a hub for showing our best moments and selves. Since the flow of perfection-riddled posts is inevitable, we can try to change the way we use social media and especially how often. Studies show that people mostly use social media passively and not actively, mindlessly scrolling through hundreds of pictures and not always actively interacting with others. This passive usage is presumed to be more harmful than active use, according to a study comparing active and passive usage on Facebook (Verduyn, P. et al., 2015). There is a huge link between passive usage and decline in well-being. This is because when we are actively using social media, we are connecting and interacting with others through comments, which usually makes us feel better and more connected.
We should definitely be more aware and careful when we use social media. Even when using it actively, we should always be mindful of what were putting out into the digital world. We should think about how we are portraying ourselves and really think about what we are saying, commenting, posting, and why.
Banjanin, N., Banjanin, N., Dimitrijevic, I., & Pantic, I. (2015). Relationship between internet use and depression: Focus on physiological mood oscillations, social networking and online addictive behavior. Computers In Human Behavior, 43, 308-312.
Pantic, I. (2014). Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(10), 652-657. Sarner, M. (2018, October 10). Age of envy – social media has created a world in which everyone else seems happy. Retrieved June 27, 2019, from https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/age-of-envy-social-media-has-created-a-world-in-which-everyone-else-seems-happy-1.3657251
Verduyn, P., Lee, D. S., Park, J., Shablack, H., Orvell, A., Bayer, J., ... & Kross, E. (2015). Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(2), 480.
Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206- 222.
Woods, H. C., & Scott, H. (2016). # Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of adolescence, 51, 41-49.