It’s Psychology Week and this year the focus is on Thriving in the Digital Age. That is, how to be a balanced user of technology so that it can form part of a happy and healthy lifestyle.
According to the Australian Psychological Society, Australian adults spend over two hours a day using social media while many young people can find themselves ‘constantly connected’ due to fear of missing out (FOMO). The more time spent online has been linked to higher levels of depression, but more important than time spent online, is the way in which that time is spent.
People use social media because it has a number of benefits, including a sense of connection with others (near or far). But on the flip-side, social media offers various opportunities to make comparisons with others, which can be destructive for ones self-esteem.
How social comparisons can be harmful
Those of us raised in the modern Western world would have been taught from a young age that it is not okay to be average. We are taught that we must feel above average in order to be valued and worthy. Logically, it is impossible for us all to be above average, so what does that mean then for how ‘good’ we feel about ourselves?
Often, attempts to raise self-esteem (i.e. feel ‘good’ about ourselves), results in narcissistic and self-absorbed behaviour. People develop a tendency to think of themselves as superior to others, while ignoring their own shortcomings. For example, they regard themselves as smarter, more attractive, more successful, and they do this by putting others down.
The problem with self-esteem is that it is completely dependent on one’s latest success or failure – so it is constantly fluctuating. There is always going to be someone smarter, more attractive, more successful… Then what?
As soon as these feelings of superiority slip (and they, of course, will), a person’s sense of worth comes crashing down. This causes individuals to disconnect or withdraw from others, so that others won’t see them as unworthy as they see themselves. This only perpetuates feelings of depression and increases opportunity for social comparison.
What can I do?
If you find yourself disconnecting from those around you despite spending more time ‘connected’ to social media, remind yourself why you’re on social media in the first place. I’m guessing, like most people, it’s because you want to feel connected to the people around you and the world in general.
Here are some ways to increase human connection on social media:
1. Notice judgments and let them go
You may notice yourself making negative judgments about what other people post online – notice this. Ask yourself, “Is this judgment helpful?” It’s natural to have negative thoughts so don’t beat up on yourself if you do, but get curious with what your mind throws at you. Then, let it go.
2. Focus on what you have in common with others
Rather than focusing on how you are different, try to notice what your similarities are. Perhaps you share an interest, have similar life experiences or have friends in common. This will bring you closer to others and make you feel less withdrawn.
3. Connect offline
There is nothing wrong with using social media, but try not to rely on it for meeting all of your social needs. It can be a great way to connect in the first instance, but then take the connection offline (if this is available) and spend quality time with others.
4. Remember, quality not quantity
You might have over 1000 ‘friends’ and still feel incredibly lonely, and you could also have very few close friends/family and still feel highly connected. Social connection is more about a subjective feeling of connection not the number of ‘friends’ you have. Focus on quality when it comes to relationships.
5. Seek support
If you’re experiencing frequent negative thoughts, loneliness or feel disconnected from others, talk with your health professional. They can help you figure out what’s making you feel this way, and work with you on building skills to feel more connected.
- Australians are spending a lot of time on social media, so it is important to manage how that time is spent
- Social media offers opportunity for human connection, but it can also facilitate social comparisons
- Social comparisons can be harmful for one’s sense of self-worth
- There are healthy ways to connect with others – on and offline