The hidden lure to keep up with the Joneses sneaks up on us in a seemingly harmless way: on social media. Many people find themselves suffering from social media anxiety created by measuring themselves against other people. Here’s why social media is more likely to cause anxiety—and how to defeat it.
Why Social Media Makes You Unhappy
Social media seems like a great way to keep in touch with old friends and faraway family members. You can easily follow your favorite artists and TV shows. On the surface, it seems like innocent fun. But numerous studies have shown that social media—particularly Facebook—makes you much more likely to be unhappy. It’s proportionate to the amount you use it: the more time spent on social media, the more depressive symptoms you’re likely to have.
Social media makes us unhappy in several ways. One way is that we’re more likely to compare ourselves to others. When we compare ourselves to others, it’s hard not to see ourselves as coming up short. Facebook and other social media also make cyber-bullying more likely to occur, though this problem is greatest among younger participants. Finally, social media is more often a substitute for in-person interaction, the lack of which leaves us feeling lonely.
Why Social Media Presents a False Image
Facebook and other social media sites are often criticized for showing only the “highlight reels” of users’ lives. After all, there’s an unspoken code that you don’t share your worries about bills or your suspicion that your spouse is cheating on social media. To some degree, most Facebook users are carefully curating the positive images of themselves and their lives. You may take 15 selfies before finding one that makes your face look slimmer. Similarly, if someone tags you in a photo, you may “un-tag” yourself if the picture is unflattering.
These meticulously crafted images are airbrushed at best, completely fake at worst. The problem is that everyone else is doing the same thing. When the whole world is full of “the Joneses,” it’s hard to keep up.
You may envy your Facebook friend’s vacation to Dubai but may not realize she paid for it by credit card and won’t pay it off for years. The Facebook friend whose husband is always buying her flowers is being abused and the flowers are the latest apology. In short, we have no way of knowing the real story behind the photos and status updates. Everyone’s life is more complex than it appears online. Social media gives us a superficial glimpse into only the details someone else wants to share. This isn’t a very intimate interaction and probably isn’t even accurate. Keeping up with the Joneses is always a recipe for unhappiness, but it’s even more damaging when it’s based on a limited view.
Can You Use Social Media in a Healthy Way?
Maybe you’re convinced that Facebook and other forms of social media are unhealthy. But if you still enjoy it, is there a healthier way to use it? That depends on you. Some people can use Facebook without giving into social media anxiety. The key is using it in moderation and taking it with a grain of salt. However, some people are more vulnerable to unhealthy Facebook use. If you are lonely or already have tendencies toward depression, social media can make that worse. Experiment with your use and keep a journal to see how you feel after spending time on Facebook. Cut back on your weekly Facebook use to see if there’s a sweet spot where you still enjoy the updates without becoming consumed by them.
We all need to feel like we have friends and a sense of community. The pace of modern life often makes it difficult to maintain friendships so Facebook can feel like a good alternative. It’s important to remember that technology can never fully replace face-to-face contact.