There are many research studies that show that the more time we spend on social media, the lower our self-esteem. Why? It appears that comparing ourselves with other people isn’t good for us.
The “Facebook Life” is fake: most people only post their most flattering pix and their best experiences, e.g., “Look at our fabulous vacation, don’t you wish you could be like us?” Being bombarded with posts that seem more like public relations manipulation than simple “sharing” is bound to incite envy and jealousy, no matter how secure and happy you are. It’s easy to get depressed when your FOMO grows stronger and sadder: “Everyone is doing all this great stuff and look at my boring life”.
I quit Facebook a year ago and I am so happy about it. The people who want to stay in touch with me have found other – more personal – ways to do so. I had so many Facebook friends, but were they really friends? More like acquaintances, many of whom I barely knew.
It’s not specifically Facebook that’s the problem, although they seem to be one of the most popular, profitable and Machiavellian of the social media companies. All social media keep us deluged with information, 24 hours a day. We are swamped with data. Drowning in it. How do we find some peace and quiet in the midst of it?
Social media – like Facebook – activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” linked to pleasurable activities like sex, food, and social interaction. Social media is designed to be addictive and, like most addictions, is associated with anxiety, depression and even physical problems.
Why do we keep coming back for more of what can literally make us sick? Ironically, to try and boost our self-esteem and feel a sense of belonging. We post content and hope to get positive feedback. Unfortunately, it often backfires and we wonder: “Why didn’t I get as many likes as (name of more popular person)?” Searching for validation on the internet is, unfortunately, often a replacement for meaningful connections that aren’t there in real life.
FOMO also helps keep us “addicted” to social media. If everyone else is using social media, and we don’t, we might worry that we’ll miss jokes, connections, or invitations. However, when we look online and see we’ve not been invited to something hip and cool, it sure won’t make us feel good. Hello anxiety and depression!
Social media is powerful indeed: I read that plastic surgeons have seen a huge increase in requests from patients who want to look like their filtered Snapchat and Instagram photos.
Too much social media can also keep you always living in the future, missing out on what’s going on around you. Haven’t we all seen (or been) the people who spend more time posting selfies than actually being present with what’s going on? Instead of focusing on our experience, we’re more focused on what other people think of us…craving their approval.
Of course, social platforms have positive aspects, such as their ability to allow us to stay in touch with family and friends around the world. Unfortunately, those benefits can get lost if we lose ourselves in the process.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve seen that social media “addiction” sets us up to expect instant gratification: staying home with our phones and not going out in the post-COVID world, interacting with real people. We want to feel more loved and connected, but often end up feeling more isolated and lonely.
Rather than quit social media, why not start to monitor your use? A recent University of Pennsylvania study suggests that self-monitoring can change your emotional response to social media.
The study’s researchers looked at 143 undergraduates randomly assigned to two groups. The first set was asked to limit Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to ten minutes per platform per day, while the second was asked to continue to use their social media as usual for three weeks.
The limited group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression during those three weeks over the group that continued using social media.
I am not recommending that you quit all social media, but I do suggest that you try an experiment and remove it from your life for a short period – a day, a week, a month – and see what happens.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBTQ clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.
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