Social media has become an integral part of modern life and can be hard to get away from. Although social media can be a nice way to stay updated and connected with family and friends near and far, it can also come with an emotional cost.
You are scrolling through your social media accounts and are struck by how other people are progressing in their lives. You see they are celebrating accomplishments, getting married or having children, and traveling abroad to exotic places.
You start to wonder – Why aren’t I progressing in my life in the same ways? Why don’t I have anything interesting to post about myself? Why did they get 80 likes when I only got 10?
You start feeling sad and anxious.
Does this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Many people I work with describe feeling triggered by and stressed out from their experiences using social media.
The Connection between Social Media and Mood
Research finds that social media usage can impact mood. For instance, studies find that passive scrolling on Facebook leads individuals to feel worse about themselves, and even to feel depressed. Studies have also found that limiting time on social media can improve depressive symptoms.
Researchers identify two main culprits that may explain how social media influences mood:
Social comparison – Seeing all the highlights of other people’s lives can lead you to assume that your life must be worse by comparison.
FOMO (fear of missing out) – Seeing images of people doing fun and exciting things can lead to a compulsive concern that you might miss (or have missed) an opportunity or satisfying event.
What can I do about it?
Be aware of it
The first step is to realize that social media usage can have a negative emotional impact. When experiencing this, acknowledge it.
For instance, you can say to yourself “I notice I’m feeling afraid to miss out” or “I notice I’m having the thought that my life isn’t as exciting as other people’s.” Keep in mind that your reaction is a natural and common occurrence following social media exposure.
Set limits with social media usage
Many people find themselves passively scrolling through social media without even realizing that they are doing so. Instead, strive to be mindful and intentional with your use. For instance, you could limit your use to a certain amount of time per day, or take a break from social media altogether for a period of time.
Change the way you engage with social media
Research finds that passive use of social media is connected with depression and can contribute to feelings of loneliness. On the other hand, getting social support and interacting with people can bolster mental health. Therefore, if you are going to be on social media, try to use it in a social way. Send messages, leave comments, and try to engage meaningfully with others.
Keep things in perspective
Social media has become a place where people mostly post about the very best things that are happening to them. Remember that people usually do not post about their daily stressors and ups and downs. Also, remember that the positive things people post about likely come with a host of stressors they may not share about (e.g., cute babies also come with dirty diapers and sleepless nights). Life is much more dynamic and complex than can be captured by any person’s social media presence.
We’re bad at emotional forecasting
Interestingly, research on emotional forecasting, or predicting how we’re going to feel about something, indicates that we’re not good at it. For instance, we often assume that winning the lottery would be an amazing event that would make us happier. However, research finds that about a year or two later, lottery winners are about as happy as they were before they won the lottery. Also, research finds that people are often more resilient to “bad things” happening to them (e.g., illness, disability, loss) than they expect.
Therefore, when you start to assume that people must be happier than you because good things are happening to them on social media, think again.
Do things for yourself, not “for the ‘Gram.”
Social media can be dangerous because it can lead people to do things in an effort to seek external validation from others rather than because they actually care about it personally. While doing things for praise may feel good in the moment, that feeling is short lived.
Instead, remember that you will feel happier and more fulfilled when pursuing what you genuinely care about and value. No amount of likes or shares can sustain your mood like building a life you find personally fulfilling and meaningful. Remember to use your internal compass to guide the choices rather than the pressures of social media.
Sometimes social media may bring to light things that are actually important to you. Perhaps traveling is something you want to do. Perhaps finding a long-term romantic relationship is something you value. In this case, start thinking about ways to work towards your goals.
A final word
If you are feeling stuck in patterns of FOMO and social comparison from social media use and want to talk about it, feel free to reach out for a free initial consultation.