Thursday

How to prevent Social Media Depression


For the most part, I like social media. I think we are lucky to live in this age of unprecedented connectedness. When used appropriately, social media can be an incredibly powerful tool to give voices to people who might otherwise not be heard. Or simply to connect with like-minded people across the planet.

But. Social Media is making people depressed. Or at least negatively affecting their mood and wellbeing. We now have more and more data to back this up. (here's a good review on the topic).

I have definitely gone through phases where I overuse social media (ahem: Instagram) and it results in me feeling depleted, and simply put, down on myself.
It's so easy to lose perspective of real life when you scroll through all those seemingly happy shiny people's feeds, and in comparison, your own life can seem rather boring.

So what can a person do? How can we prevent social media depression?
Obviously, not going on social media in the first place would do the trick. But for a lot of people, that's not a realistic or desirable solution.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately.
And I think we can learn to survive in this age social media if we continuously remind ourselves of a few fundamental truths about human nature:

TRUTH #1:
PICTURES DO NOT ACCURATELY REPRESENT A PERSON'S LIFE

People post carefully curated, highly edited/filtered photos of themselves and their lives on social media, which can give the illusion of perfection.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Most people want to show the best version of themselves to the world. This is why we dress nicely, put on make-up, brush our hair, etc.

But with the incredible photo editing apps available these days, you can make yourself (and your life) appear way better than it is. And when everyone is doing this, especially when viewed by someone emotionally vulnerable, it has the potential to create a false understanding of what is normal ("the grand social media illusion").

I love this picture. But it doesn't show the whole truth.
My son was cold & miserable and whined most of the time.
Pictures are deceiving.

TRUTH #2:
NO ONE'S LIFE IS PERFECT. NO ONE!

The perfect life does not exist. Everyone has problems.

Social media makes some people depressed because of the way they interpret what they are seeing on it. People draw false conclusions about other people's pictures/lives and then make it mean something equally false about their own lives.

  • That gorgeous couple in the sunset who live in an eternal state of romance.  They don't.
  • That family with five perfect kids who have it all together and never lose their temper.  They don't.
  • That girl with the amazing wardrobe and perfect face who is completely flawless.  She isn't.
  • The ones with the gorgeous houses, and cars, and wealth, who literally have it all.  They don't.
As a family physician, I am privy to some very personal information. And let me tell you, everyone has problems! Even the seemingly "perfect" ones. I remember being completely blown away by this when I first started practicing. So many people's emotional lives do not match what you see on the surface.
I remember naively thinking: how could this woman be depressed when she has everything?! She has the perfect life, she has no excuse! Well it just doesn't work like that. (Obviously!)

You can be rich and depressed. You can be skinny and depressed. You can be pretty and depressed. You can have 500K followers on social media and still be depressed.
Everyone knows this, of course, but it is easy to forget.


how to prevent social media depression

TRUTH #3:
COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY

Ok so maybe this isn't always true, but on social media it's a heavy hitter.

At it's best, comparison can be a tool to inspire you. To motivate you to make positive changes in your life. But more often than not, comparison leads to feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.

(Ugh - jealousy is such a yucky feeling to have - I hate when I catch myself feeling that way!)

We scroll though social media for whatever length of time, and leave feeling bad about ourselves. Whether it's about our bodies, the way we dress, our lifestyles, where we live, whatever.

Usually we are sitting at home wasting an hour or more of our precious free time on our devices, looking at pictures of other people getting out and doing fun things. And then we feel bad about just being on our couches and not getting out and doing fun things ourselves. It's a vicious cycle!

If you want to survive in the age of social media, in my opinion, you need to stop comparing yourself to others.
How does one do that? With a lot of practise!

If you catch your mind going down a negative comparison cycle, or feeling unwanted jealousy creeping in, here's what I do:

  • Stop and acknowledge the feelings. Name them! Tell yourself - "this is jealousy", "this is envy",  etc. Naming and acknowledging emotions is a very powerful tool.
  • Once you've named the negative emotion, you can choose if you want to keep feeling it or not.
  • Remind yourself of what you do have. Remind yourself of what is good about your own life. Honest gratitude and being thankful for what you have will always help you feel better.

TRUTH #4
TRUE HAPPINESS DOES NOT COME FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES


It's human nature to want to be "liked" and accepted and popular. It feels amazing when our posts get a lot of attention and positive feedback.
But we need to be careful here. Anything external that produces a temporary "high" is potentially addictive.

People can actually become dependent on social media attention and validation for their happiness, and this is a precarious situation to be in. Because when the reverse happens (when you lose followers, when you get "un-friended",  or when your post gets little attention), then the source of your happiness is gone and you feel empty.

External sources of happiness are not constant, and they are usually not in your control.  In other words, you can't count on them. So it's a much better idea to gather your happiness from your own internal sources.

For more reading on cultivating those internal sources of happiness, read this and this and this.

* A little side note about dealing with those negative feelings that come from being unfriended/unfollowed... 
Think about a peach: 
You can be the most succulent, most perfect peach in the world, but there is always going to be someone out there who just doesn't like peaches.
It's not the peach's fault, and it's not that person's fault either. Just the way it is.
You cannot please everybody. Fact of life! Just keep on being the beautiful peach that you are!



So what's the bottom line?

  • limit your time on social media to make time for real life
  • remember to keep things in perspective. Constantly remind yourself that the photos you are seeing are edited and curated and staged, and that there are real people behind those photos with real people problems.
  • remember that true happiness does not come from external sources
  • And finally, choose kindness. Always. When you are commenting, with your opinions, and with yourself. There is way too much negativity and hostility on social media. Choose to be kind.
  • Here's another great piece on this topic with additional tips.

I'd love to hear your comments here. Does social media ever get to you? If not, what are your tricks?!

25 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this. I have been thinking of this a lot myself. I love that you took the time to make these really useful suggestions. I have been all over the place when it comes to the online world these past few months especially. It's not easy to navigate - but people like you online make it one of the reasons I keep coming back to see what people have been up to. My favourite reason.

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    Replies
    1. That is so kind of you to say, Jan. I was feeling a little nervous about blogging again, and it is so nice to wake up to supportive words like this from someone like you!
      These are the kinds of positive connections that are possible to make through social media - the ones that build you up and bring you joy - that make me remember why I love social media in the first place :)

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  2. Also, I've been loving your creativity and photos on your Instagram!

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    1. I feel the same way about you and all your creative contributions to the online world - I always have!

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  3. I love this! I try to keep Instagram as a highlight reel (we follow each other! I'm June_Nipper) I mostly just post photos of places I've been at some point in the last four years, but recently I posted about how I'd been to a concert and how amazing it was. It really was amazing but what I didn't mention was the fact that I got no sleep because I had a panic attack in the middle of the night! I guess that's how I keep things in perspective: thinking of all the things I don't share and assuming that others are the same way.
    Thanks for writing this. It's such an important thing to talk about.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lauren! Thank you so much.
      And that's a really great tip - being conscious of the fact that you aren't showing "the whole truth" yourself and that more than likely everyone else is doing this too!
      xoxo

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  4. Yes to everything you said! Such a slippery slope. My rational self gets that people aren't portraying their real lives or the whole truth, but in the moment, I find it hard not to compare. For me, time away from social media (and my phone in general) keeps me sane (well, somewhat!).
    xoxo

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    Replies
    1. I get tripped up with it all sometimes too. Too often, actually. I'm really working at putting the phone away for longer stretches of time... but so far, I haven't been overly successful at that part ;)
      Xo

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  5. This was a great post, and echoed everything that I think about social media. I am a late bloomer when it comes to technology and I held out for a long time, just got a cell phone for the first time last year.I just see how people are so into their devices that it made me sad at everything they were missing in the real world. In public, when people are on their own, they mostly all have their noses buried in their devices. I like to sit and watch the world unfold around me, watch people, wonder about them, or admire a view. I rarely use social media for myself but I do enjoy blogs and Instagram accounts that inspire me.I am not a facebook fan at all. I usually turn off any news, as it's usually depressing and I will definitely hear about any major happenings from someone else. I just try to be inspired by what I see and read, knowing full well that nobody is perfect, including myself. I think that to give yourself a little shot of beauty everyday is a good thing, to read someone's positive words, to see photos of gorgeous flowers when it is raining outside, or to get an idea for a new paint colour. I don't feel jealous, I feel excited and happy. I am not able to travel myself, so doing this vicariously through someone's Instagram is wonderful! We just have to remember we still live in a real and tangible world and enjoy every little amazing scrap we can from it. Interesting that being a doctor you have a whole other perspective on the subject.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful input, Wendy. I love your outlook on this. You inspire me!
      xo

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  7. Welcome back to blogging, Vanessa! Totally agree with this post. I started a teaching Instagram account last August, and the whole process has been so overwhelming. There's a whole world of teacher bloggers/instagramers that I knew nothing about. I joined it to get inspiration and share ideas, but I have to take a break from it every once and while because it gets way too easy to try to compare myself to them. Love your tips for staying grounded in this crazy social media world!

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    1. Thanks, Nicole. I can imagine what that whole other online "teacher world" is like - there's the same thing for doctors. And for doctor-mothers. It's great to find like-minded people, but sometimes it's hard to keep a realistic perspective! xoxo

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