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Social Media - What You See Is Often Not What You Get!

Updated on January 11, 2019
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LJ Wright is a fully qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and has been working in the mental health field for the past 6 years.

Social media and mental health

Whilst social media provides a multitude of benefits (both professionally + personally) it can also cause us to fall into illusions about how wonderful life is meant to be and what we must strive to obtain in a highly competitive world.

Likes. Posts. Comments. Group chats. Our phones continually ping when at work, school, on trains, in restaurants, first thing in the morning until last thing at night. It is no secret that recent studies have correlated social media use with increased levels of depression and anxiety, setting us up to fail with unrealistic social comparison standards. In addition, young people and adolescents are most at risk (BBC, 2015). It is no wonder that social media impacts negatively on its users due to the unnecessary posting of ‘selfies’ and post-workout gym photos. The direct (or sometimes indirect) body comparison leads to feelings of inadequacy and body-conscious anxiety, pummeling confidence and self-esteem into the ground.

Is social posting everything it seems?

Of course, social media is not all bad news. Personally, it has enabled me to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, hear about local events that correlate with my interests and ultimately, it can cause me to laugh at the odd viral video that is sweeping across the world. I found that like everything though, my social media apps had to be used in moderation.

For a long time, social media has made me feel discontent with my life. I was caught in a vicious circle of complaining that I hated social media, that silly animal videos began to bore me and that I was tired of seeing everyone away in Thailand, buying cars and getting married. It made me feel as if I was not 'exciting' enough, too afraid to quit a job and go 'live the classic traveller’s Instagram dream.' Continually seeing pictures of peoples’ meals, their recent job promotions or public relationship declarations of love slowly started to chip away at me, causing me to feel annoyance, frustration and a deep desire to switch off from all social media accounts all together.

Except I couldn’t.

Why? Because of the social expectation – I rely on social media to keep in touch with friends, receive information about upcoming social events and to retain friendships in social circles by sending funny videos to one another. Secondly, it was obvious that I was addicted to a degree. I would mindlessly scroll through my phone when watching a film, waiting on someone in a restaurant or to avoid awkward conversations on trains.

However, one day, this all changed. When I met up with friends, I heard of their financial worries, that their relationship was at breaking point and that they were suffering from mental health issues and struggled with anxiety. “But you just bought a house and a car? You just posted a photo that he was the best boyfriend when he took you on a spa weekend? But you always post photos saying that everything is wonderful?” Of course I would never voice these thoughts, but in my mind, something was clearly not correlating between what they portrayed on social media and the information they were divulging to me.

I then made the decision to conduct a behavioural experiment on myself. “I wonder how you would feel if you didn’t always go on your phone?” I challenged myself. I began to wonder why I wasted so much time watching other peoples’ warped perceptions of having a great life, whilst it left me feeling discontent and agitated. I missed the feeling of just sitting on a train, of just watching passers by, or of just learning to be alone without a phone.

I was surprised to actually not be tempted by the use of social media. I associated clicking on the app with the soon impending mixed emotions of fear-of-missing-out and restlessness. I enjoyed waking up in the morning and not checking my phone before I had even let my feet touch the floor. I began to notice little glints of life happening around me, such as the colours in a bird’s feathers, or the aroma of coffee before being poured. My senses were heightened to the world around me, free from being dampened out by the annoying clicking of my nails against my iPhone screen.

Reduced app usage = feeling liberated
Reduced app usage = feeling liberated

I also was told that my way of being was more relaxed and I appeared more content. This helped me to feel happier, optimistic and focused on my own self and goals. I questioned why I had spent so long being unhappy on social media for large proportions of my day, because obviously people will only post about things that they want you to see and read. No one will exactly post how they are feeling, that their relationship is on the rocks or that they are struggling with debt as a result of various exotic holidays in a short space of time. I became free from the chains of keeping up with everyone around me, and it felt GREAT. No longer did I have to post photos to feel as if my life was just as interesting as everyone elses’ lives.

Ironically, I sometimes feel like within society, we are all striving to live outside of the norms by such a degree that we are all merging into the same individuals with pictures around Australian beaches, or using the same hashtags like #ballin’ #chill and #summer in order to conform to something bigger than us all – this almost existential need to belong to everyone else that is doing these same activities a few months or years before or behind us.

Just like a bird in water, everything looks smooth sailing from where we see it.  However, we rarely see the real story under the surface.
Just like a bird in water, everything looks smooth sailing from where we see it. However, we rarely see the real story under the surface.

Feeling free

Cutting down my app usage and the subsequent new-found burst of motivation helped me to re-focus on myself. I bought a music book and started working my way through songs on the piano. I went out on long walks and began to enjoy taking photos of nature and scenery. So rather than spending hours following images of others, why don’t we try and re-align our goals by taking time away from our phones and into the world around us?

If we try and challenge ourselves, we will no longer be a fool to those false perceptions

© 2019 LJWrightWords


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