Being a therapist in an urban setting, my clients are often twenty through forty-somethings who continually base their perception of their own successes in life on the social media status and posts (Facebook, LinkedIn and the like) of their so-called “friends”. Initially, Facebook surfaced as a positive way to connect with those around you and from years past. What I have grown to learn, however, is that Facebook now serves as a venue for constant status-based comparisons including relationships, jobs, financial position, physical attractiveness, etc. According to the Social Comparison Theory, we compare ourselves (our attractiveness, success, wealth, intelligence) to others and subsequently judge ourselves – and our value – based on the perceived observations of others.
With Facebook, people judge their lives based on others’ idealized representations of their individual lives. Those who post, almost never post negative happenings, but rather tend to post flawless images of their glamorous lives. A joint study from two German universities found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their lives, while people who browsed without contributing were affected the most (Krasnova et.al, 2013).
The Pinterest social network – primarily comprised of female users – enables the creation of impossible ideals for perfect wedding planning, potty-training strategies, or throwing children’s birthday parties with an absurd amount of focus on handmade, color-coordinated gifts (who has time for all of that?). One ends up feeling lousy and inadequate if they throw a child a birthday party with simple, traditional balloons and a princess cake. In a study of 7,000 moms from TODAY Moms, “42% said that they sometimes suffer from Pinterest stress – the worry that they’re not crafty or creative enough. Symptoms include staying up until 3AM clicking through photos of exquisite hand-made birthday party favors even though you’ll end up buying yours at the dollar store, or sobbing quietly into a burnt mess of expensive ingredients that were supposed to be adorable bunny cookies for the school bake sale” (http://www.today.com/moms/pinterest-stress-afflicts-nearly-half-moms-survey-says-1C9850275).
Social media is beneficial, but can clearly come with an undercurrent of peer-related envy and increased risks that damage self-esteem – striving for perfection based on tainted views of others lives. In order to utilize social media for its benefits and fend off feelings of inadequacy, try these tips:
1) Continue to pull yourself back down to reality: People do not blast what is going wrong in their lives (usually… complainers on Facebook is a whole other story!). Even though some Facebook posts may appear as if life is blissful and glamorous, struggles and battles in this reality may exist.
2) Disconnect: Like all pleasures in life, moderation is key. Limit your amount of time on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Instead, go for a walk in nature or read a novel.
3) Catch yourself when getting caught up in the “shoulds” or perfectionistic thinking. Let yourself off the hook – no one is perfect! Notice and keep a log of your perfectionistic thinking, so that you can be better able to counter those unhelpful thoughts.
4) Cultivate a new hobby: Think of all of the things you can do with the hours spent on social media websites. You can learn how to paint, take up guitar lessons or engage in a meditation/mindfulness training program.
5) Get out of cyberspace and connect with friends in person: A study by Chou and Edge (2012) found that those who spent less time on Facebook and more time with friends in real life were less likely to be unhappy.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. -Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Ceremony
Chou, H. G., Edge, N. (2012). They Are Happier and Having Better Lives than I Am: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perception toward Others’ Lives. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
Krasnova, H., Wenninger, H., Widjaja, T., & Buxmann, P. (2013). Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?. In 11th International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI), Leipzig, Germany
This article was written by UB staff therapist, Cori Robin, LCSW