Have you ever had a shadow cast over your day after reading a post on social media? You’re not alone. A UK poll of Facebook and Twitter users found the sites fed anxiety and made people feel inadequate.
More recently, a survey of 6000 Kiwis published in the New Zealand Journal of Psychology showed introverted Facebook users had a low feeling of belonging: the “social rich get richer, but the poor get poorer”, as one of the report’s authors put it.
If your social media habits are getting you down, here’s what you need to know.
Social media can affect your wellbeing
In New Zealand 2.5 million people access Facebook each month, and 1.9 million of us access it daily. And there’s a big upside to social media use, says Ian Hickie, professor of psychiatry. “Our mental health is much better when we’re connected: relationships, family and friends are all vital to our wellbeing.”
Yet as Facebook usage has increased during this decade, so have reports about its potentially damaging effect on our psyche.
Studies show if you devote a daily chunk of time to gaze at friends’ posts, you might start making upwards social comparisons, believing the grass is always greener on everyone else’s side of the fence.
“You may experience a sense of discontentment or lack in your own life,” says psychologist Jocelyn Brewer, founder of Digital Nutrition, a website that promotes healthy relationships with technology.
“When you’re viewing others’ lives through the lens of social media, we only see a selective and sometimes highly contrived version of what they wish to project,” she says. Hickie adds: “If you’re already feeling vulnerable in any way when you log on, you might start thinking, ‘I’m all alone, I feel left out, everyone’s lives are so much more interesting than mine’.”
How you can keep your social media envy in check
Keep things in perspective
Remember that an individual’s personal circumstances are not always what they seem. Studies show that people portray themselves on social media to be much happier than they really are. “People don’t log every family argument, every disappointment, all the struggles of everyday life,” Hickie points out.
Take a mindful approach
“Before you check in, stop and ask yourself what you’re looking for, and how you’re going to manage the information you’re going to see,” advises Brewer. “Be present when you’re on Facebook rather than scrolling mindlessly and then having negative feelings intrude into your thoughts.”
Be an active rather than a passive user
Experts have found that the more you use Facebook as a surveillance tool, the greater your risk of triggering feelings of envy. So don’t just go onto social media to see what other people are doing – post your own photos and share your own news.
Flip the script
Brewer suggests: “If you notice someone else got 71 happy birthday wishes and you got 15, ask yourself, ‘Were they 15 people who wrote lovely, genuine comments? Were they people who, in an emergency, you could ring up and ask to come and help you?’ Look at how influential they are in your life instead of looking at the numbers.”
If you find yourself over-thinking the stories behind friends’ posts, stop and take positive action, Hickie advises. Switching off your device and going for a walk is a good start.
Find a positive message
“If you’re feeling a lack or a gap in your own life when you look at friends’ posts, it could be a catalyst to reconnect with your goals and values,” says Brewer.
Create a safe space
If you notice that posts from certain people in your network tend to trigger negative feelings, disable their notifications (go to their timeline, click on the drop-down menu on the ‘friends’ button and untick ‘get notifications’), or simply unfollow them for a while. Unfollowing isn’t as dramatic as ‘unfriending’ and after a breather you can always bring them back into your feed – they will never know the difference.
Use a reminder
If you have developed a chronic habit of mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds, download a screensaver that urges such cautions as ‘There’s nothing to see here’ and ‘Do you really need to check?’ Find them at digitalnutrition.com.au.
Focus on your real-life relationships
Sharing genuine experiences with friends and family will remind you what being truly connected is all about. As Hickie says, “If the message you’re getting from your envy of others is that you need to get out there and participate, that’s a good message.”
Words: Bonnie Vaughan
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