Pressures and Dangers of Social Media: A Personal StoryMental Health
If you’re measuring your success to someone else’s, you’re setting yourself up for frustration. I know because I’ve been there. In fact, I still struggle with comparing myself to others.
Do you remember that first day back to school after winter break? Everyone would show up in their new clothes and would be talking about the new gaming device or toy they received over the holidays.
As a child, how do you not compare your gifts to other kids? How do you not feel “less than” when you realized your friends got something bigger and better that year?
As I grew up, I struggled with always comparing myself to others. I came off as the confident, loud, goofy kid that could get along with just about anyone. When it came to sports, I doubted my abilities and pushed myself harder than one should — just to seek validation from coaches and teammates.
The truth is, nothing was ever good enough because I was looking for validation in the wrong places.
I thought the social pressure to look and act a certain way would go away after finishing high school or college. But I’ve learned the temptation to compare yourself to others never goes away.
Especially now, with the added pressure of social media.
Social Media: Connecting or Destroying?
Have you noticed that people will only share their highlights on social media? A new job promotion, a new house, engagements, pregnancy, an exciting vacation, the list goes on. You’ll rarely see anyone posting about their failing business or if they’re a single parent struggling to make ends meet.
You don’t see these types of posts because, of course, no one likes to talk about their “failures.” We want to be perceived as successful and having figured out life.
Unfortunately, when you’re constantly seeing only people’s successes on social media, it becomes hard not to compare your life to theirs.
My Social Media Journey
I grew up with social media. I started my first social media account in 2005, when I was still in elementary school. As I recall, I wasn’t old enough to start a social media account, but I lied about my age.
Everything was still new and no one understood what social media would become or the consequences it would bring.
I didn’t take social media seriously until 2009, when I made my first Twitter. I was all of 12 years old. This twitter now sits inactive with over 77,000 followers, but it helped me become who I am today. Through this twitter, I met one of my best friends 10 years ago.
Now, that best friend and I try to see each other – in person – as often as possible, even though we live in different states. We’ve become adults since meeting in our teens, sharing life’s experiences along the way. Now, my friend’s engaged and I’m going to be one of her bridesmaids on her special day!
My social media acumen taught me I had the knack to get people’s attention, which steered me toward my college major: public relations. It’s also how I got me my first job out of college.
The Power of Negative Comments
In November 2019, I started at Lee Health as a social media coordinator. I had the coolest job ever. I interviewed families, took photos of patients whose journeys inspired us, and shared their good news with our community.
Part of my job also involved managing more than 26 social media accounts. I responded to people’s comments, answered private messages, and shared important updates with the community.
When COVID-19 affected our area, I operated behind the scenes on social media and websites. I was responsible for relaying accurate and critical information from Lee Health leadership and, guided by our infection control disease experts, answering our community’s questions.
But, honestly, on some days there were many comments that affected me because I took them personally. Comments such as, “Just go kill yourself!” or “The pandemic is a hoax!” or “You’re a liar!” began to eat away at me. There were many, many comments like these.
I wasn’t aware of it, but the negative comments piling up day-after-day began to affect me. Even if they weren’t necessarily directed at me, I was the one who had to read them.
As time went on, I found myself becoming unhappy with my daily life, even with all these amazing things at work happening amid the pandemic. Somehow, I was miserable.
You know the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? That’s the biggest lie of all time. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but eventually the bruising goes away and your body will heal. But hurtful words stick in your mind like a tattoo on your skin. It’s like being branded.
What people say (or type, actually,) can be hurtful. If you wouldn’t say it to a roomful of strangers, you probably shouldn’t say it online. Behind every account, there’s a live person trying to do their best.
I was on social media constantly during the worst of the pandemic, when hundreds of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were being admitted to our hospitals, seemingly around the clock. Overachiever that I am, I couldn’t go five minutes before refreshing our social media accounts yet again to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I became addicted to checking my phone and felt my stress levels rise with each update.
On my non-work, private media accounts, my self-esteem began to wane. I became self-conscious about my personal photos and the number of “Likes” they received. I began deleting photos from years ago that I thought now embarrassed me: “My hair looks awful in that picture.” “My body looks so bad in this one.” And so on. I began to devalue myself in my comments, my pictures, and my postings.
Without realizing it, I was judging myself harshly, unfairly, and hurtfully.
It got to the point where I started feeling depressed and my anxiety would spike every time I got on social media. I started thinking I had to post in order to make my life more appealing and exciting than it was. I started prioritizing social media and getting the perfect photo instead of enjoying the moment in real life. On top of that? I felt more alone than ever before, even though I was receiving hundreds of likes.
I used to love social media as a way to immediately connect with my friends and family members, some of whom live thousands of miles away, even overseas.
But being on social media began to start feeling more like a competition of who could show they have the best life. I realized that I was done feeling this way and that it was time to figure out where I got my self-worth from.
Was it really from social media?
What I’ve learned: Enjoy life as it happens
When I looked in the mirror during this time, I saw someone I didn’t want to be. I knew it was because I got so caught up in comparing my life to others that I forget to just LIVE.
Sometimes you just need to put your phone down and enjoy that beautiful sunset. Your friends and followers have seen a beautiful sunset before; they don’t care about that sunset, not really.
If you’re going to post something on social media, post it because YOU want to. Don’t post it for someone else. Post it because it made you feel a certain way and if it gets 2 “likes,” who cares! You posted because you liked it. You don’t need anyone’s validation but your own.
I’ve learned that:
- Comparing myself to others will never make me happy.
- Seeing someone else’s successes doesn’t take away from anything I’ve accomplished.
- Being proud of my accomplishments while being happy for other people’s successes, has brought me peace of mind.
My hard-earned wisdom has released much “manufactured” negative energy. I’m more positive throughout the day and can enjoy life without thinking I need to know what other people are doing.
Some tips for
- Post what you want on social media, but don’t do it for validation: Do it for yourself. On my Instagram account, I turned off my “Likes” and I’ve never felt so free.
- Don’t compare yourself to others on social media because social media is not the full reality, it’s only the highlights.
- On social media, you might see a lot of people getting things or accomplishing things “quicker” than you, as if there is some kind of timeline or checklist we are all following. But just because people get things doesn’t mean accomplishments are not possible for you. Your timeline will never be the same as theirs.
- Learn to be happy for other people and celebrate their accomplishments. In turn, doing so will make you happier and more confident in yourself.
- Take a deep breath, focus on yourself and learn to be happy for your family, friends, co-workers and peers.
- Don’t worry about FOMO (fear of missing out). Don’t get caught up in thinking you’re missing out on certain things or thinking that people are living a better life than you are at that very moment. Such thinking can impact your self-esteem, trigger anxiety, and fuel even greater social media use because you’ll start trying to make your life more admirable than it is.
- And, if you or someone else thinks their life is better than yours, then be happy for them! What matters is the quality of your life. The more you praise and celebrate the life of others, the more there will be more in your life to celebrate.
- Validation has to come from within. Stop looking for it in the wrong places—especially social media.
So, log-off and love on. And be kind.
Alyssa Young is a senior project manager at Lee Health and previously worked as Lee Health's social media coordinator.