Why Does Social Media Upset Us And What Can We Do?

It seems hard to accept that our lives are not perfect. That anything less than excellence is not only acceptable, but much more realistic. Spend just a few minutes on instagram, and it seems everyone is eating the perfect lunch, wearing the perfect outfit, and living with the perfect family. Everyone except you of course. We don’t have sympathy for those who are having a hard time, or doing something less than excellent as a result. 

And who can blame those picture-perfect instagram models for posting their perfect pictures on Instagram. I certainly prefer to look at attractive people and nice, eye-catching images. The rest of the world is dull and grey, so seeing someone else look bright adds color to the moment, if nothing else. I am also aware what the food I cook actually looks like—usually a cooked version of whatever I put in—so someone arranging their meal nicely is also a welcome sight for sore eyes. 

There’s a lot of things that are inarguably good about social media too. I have made meaningful connections in growing pockets of supportive online communities with so many wonderful people. To me, the social aspect of social media seems to be working just fine. The media part? Not so much. 

Acknowledging the problem 

We’ve gotten to the point where the attitude of hiding problems in favor of a perfect picture is feeding into the already global mental health problem. As a result, we have people who look like shining examples of happy humans breaking down, and even ending their own lives. Business woman and renown designer Kate Spade comes to mind. 

Talking about something such as depression marks you as “attention seeking.” As though unhappiness is a burden that can be passed down. Never mind that, by definition, all social media posts are all attention seeking. So much so, that we get overwhelmed giving that attention as often as our feeds refresh.   

I have often found myself mindlessly scrolling, not even thinking about which posts I am hitting ‘like’ on. Other times I get sucked in and feel like am actively involved in other people’s personal lives. Sometimes even those of strangers. All without regarding how all of this makes me feel until I start feeling crummy, as social comparison takes hold. 

If I am feeling ok, I don’t mind seeing prettier-than-life things, in fact, I often feel they inspire me. However, if I am a bit down on myself, the fire gets worse from the added coal of upward comparison. Is that anyone else’s fault? Not exactly, but I feel it’s important to note how hard it is to climb out of the fire blazing as high as it is. I compare myself enough to people in real life, that confronting more things I am bad at online becomes downright exhausting. And according to some research, I know I am not the only one. 

Understand the time that goes into each post 

Sure, I know that the person taking a picture of their dinner should be enjoying the moment, savoring the flavor of the meal, not spending time lining up the shot until the food gets cold. I have seen it before, fork in one hand, perhaps sitting in front of a date, looking only at a phone screen while thinking about funny hashtags as their image uploads.  

Will the meal really be enjoyed more by the people viewing the picture? On the other end, it usually takes me about 3 seconds to look at the image before I keep scrolling. Meanwhile, that person has spent precious time posting it, focusing on what others will think. 

I know all of this, so why do I still get envious? 

 I forget that what I find interesting has been carefully curated, constructed to display the image that person wants to put out to the world. 

On the surface I know that the picture of someone’s expensive dinner was super staged. I can also imagine how silly they looked as they waited to take a bite until the incredible photo-op was complete. they stopped eating, just to snap a shot for people to see instead of being there, present in the moment. Yet, I cannot stop my mind from wondering why I am not the one enjoying time outside with my friends (whom the poster seems to have endless amounts of, by the way).  

I try to refocus and remember. 

Know that this is just a moment 

Ever been in the middle of an argument when someone asked to take a photo of the group? Ever spent a ridiculous amount of time picking out an outfit, only to spill sauce on it right before someone took a shot? You have stopped whatever it was you were occupied with to smile for the camera. You may have even hugged someone you don’t enjoy spending time with for insta. In that fleeting moment, everything appears to be perfect.  

That’s the moment that will appear in people’s feeds. That is what you are seeing in yours. 

Stay in your lane 

Social media might make us feel bad about ourselves, but we’ve noted that it also brings a lot of good into the world, as it's connected more people than it’s hurt. Besides, you might argue, recent long-term studies have shown that social media has little to no effect on teenagers who are constantly exposed to screens.  

Where does that leave those of us who end up feeling feel awful? What do we do?  

The only thing that works for me is grounding—reminding myself where I am, who I am and what truly matters to me in that moment. You can name 3 things surrounding you, or think of three things you did well that day, or just take a moment to look around yourself. You are one person, with only so much time and attention to offer the world.  

It might also be time to clean up your feed and leave only accounts which have a positive impact on your mental state, whomever that might be.  

But the one key is to remember to stay in your lane. Focus on you. Nothing upward of who you need to be, nothing downward of what you fear you will become. Think about where you are in that moment. You. Just be you. Whatever that might be in that moment.