Caught in the social comparison trap? Beware of its mental health impact

Social media can be a trap! You may be having a smooth day, working your way through the day’s tasks, until you pick your smartphone and scroll through a feed full of party and vacation pictures from your friends. There goes your peace of mind, leaving you in a state of wondering and wandering about how and why is the grass greener on the other side! Social comparison, especially in today’s digitally connected world, is inevitable, but we ought to draw the line before it begins to affect our mental health.

Women with svelte figures, men with chiseled physiques, designer clothes and jewelery, foreign vacations, birthday celebrations, baby shower, pregnancy shoots, foodie tales, romantic escapades or proposals, there’s lots on social media that becomes an unconscious, aspirational lifestyle for people. It can make people think of their haves and have-nots, leading to side effects of social comparison.

Social comparisons and mental health

While the social media world only seems to be growing with increasing access across all age groups and strata of people, you should not let your mind harbour social comparison.

“With the popularity of multiple social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc, research on its use and adverse impact is also more advanced,” life coach Sheetal Shaparia tells Health Shots.

social media use
Stop comparing your life with others? Image courtesy: Shutterstcok

Younger people are using more social media platforms as compared to older generations. It provides many opportunities to learn, connect, share and interact with others. However, it can go downhill very quickly.

According to a 2021 study, conducted by a University of Florida professor and published in Journal of Communication Technology, more frequent upward comparisons reduced positive feelings, leading social media users to feel worse about themselves. These people also felt a sense of deflated self-esteem.

“It is a basic human tendency to compare ourselves with others and derive a sense of self, no matter how misplaced it is. Interactive platforms like Facebook or Snapchat, compared to follow-type platforms (Twitter and Instagram), are likely to cause a more negative self-image. This is because the people you follow and interact with are mostly people you might know. This makes comparing yourself with people more personal,” adds Shaparia.

Somehow, other people seem more good-looking, have a better time, lead a better quality of life or seem to travel more.

“This has had devastating consequences on one’s mental health. Most notably, self-image, body image, and depression,” explains the expert.

body image
Avoid chasing how other people look. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How can social comparison affect mental health?

The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is as real in social media as in real life. And this fear that others are having a better time or are more successful or happier than you, impacts mental health.

Here are a few ways mental health can be affected by social comparison, according to Sheetal Shaparia:

1. Depression:

Seeing posts and feeling envy or comparing yourself to others can worsen depression.

2. Overall well-being:

Active users of social media platforms are known to exhibit a lower sense of self and poor self-worth and are more likely to suffer from depression.

3. Body image:

Let’s face it, someone will always look better, have a better body and seem healthier. We judge others according to our perception of beauty. Comparing oneself negatively with others is rising, particularly among younger people. It is very common among social media users across all genders, and this is directly linked with poor self-esteem.

4. Cyberbullying:

It can happen for any reason; body image, looks, accent, skin colour, use of certain words, geographic location, etc. These are sensitive times, and people take offence at anything. Unfortunately, with the increase of users, more people are subjected to very harsh cases of cyberbullying. Many people hide behind their keyboards and comment on whatever they want to, but their actions can have devastating consequences.

cyber bullying
Cyberbullying can harmful. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5. Eating disorders:

The more time you spend on social media, the more you will see the content by users or influencers with idealised body types.

This has led to an increase in eating disorders among young users. They are trying to achieve their desired body goals through dieting or cleansing rituals as embraced by social media influencers.

Tips to avoid letting social media content affect you

It is impossible to expect people not to use social media or limit their exposure. However, its impact can be managed by keeping a few things in mind.

* Know that posts on social media are not true indicators of real life.

* You must be aware of posts and people that harm your mental peace. If you have identified these triggers, you might consider unfriending or unfollowing these accounts.

* Stay positive and focus on those accounts and people who inspire you, and be grateful for it.

* You can also try limiting your time on social media and focus your energy on learning a new skill, making friends in real life, giving back to society, etc.

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