“Everyone else has it except me!”
This was a sentence I told my mother repeatedly in middle school. My friends, if not the entire student body, were downloading Instagram, the newly released app that would quickly become one of the largest social media platforms. My parents held their ground and told me I couldn’t have social media until I was older. At the time, I was pissed. And while I eventually downloaded it several years later, I have my parents to thank for the delay.
I don’t think anyone expected how big social media platforms would become in sharing life’s moments with each other and how detrimental it could impact our mental health. Social media, while great for connecting with others (like how I met my roommate and best friend over Instagram) can be a dark place, especially regarding mental health.
Growing up, I had the mindset of “I’ll do my own thing and not care what others think.” Social media has the tendency to alter our minds and how we perceive ourselves when millions of other people are sharing their own opinions and posts about themselves.
Since I was older when I got social media, I was educated on how to stay safe on platforms. I didn’t lack the naivete when it came to “what you post is out there forever.” When I post, I consider the possibility of a future employer coming across my page and making an assumption about who I am based on my profile. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so I’ve made sure that my Instagram page represents my genuine self.
When I eventually got Instagram, I was over the moon and posted more than normal. I didn’t know the standard was to post once every few weeks or months instead of several times a day. I wasn’t getting a lot of likes per post considering I was a newbie to the platform, but the feeling of putting myself out there was euphoric. Notifications for “likes” felt rewarding.
As time went on, I became like everyone else, posting less and less but still wanting to make sure I documented the best moments of my life which, in turn, has become a semi-downfall to social media. It can be easy to post moments of you hanging out with your friends when you may be struggling internally.
You could post a photo collection of you on a white sandy beach looking totally relaxed when you could be dealing with a recent breakup or a massive life issue, and no one would have to know. Social media has driven us to think that we can only show our happy moments by the cupful and only display our grief by the teaspoon.
In addition to concealing our woes, it’s hard to not compare your life to others. Even I still experience FOMO (fear of missing out) when I see people I graduated high school with at huge parties, fun vacations or just experiencing moments in life that I’m not. Seeing the mass amounts of likes and comments attached to posts can make us question our own self worth, a hazardous connection of social media to a popularity contest. It’s during moments like these I realize I need to shut off my phone and realize that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in life.
It wasn’t until my first digital detox that I realized how big of a hold social media had on my life. For those unaware, a digital detox is turning off your phone for a couple of days and going off the grid. Camping is the easiest way for me to detox because who has cell service in the middle of the woods?
Usually, the first few hours spark a little longing. But after a day I don’t even notice my phone isn’t attached to me. Being able to distance myself from a screen for a few days is so beneficial to my health. If a few days is too drastic, try one day, or even just a few hours. Any amount is helpful.
In a world that is heavily impacted by the internet and its multitude of posts, it can be easy to get swept up in a frenzy of comparisons and doubt. Comparing ourselves to others doesn’t lift us. It only brings us down.
You are worth more than any amount of likes on a digital screen.
Header Photo: It can be easy to compare yourself to others on social media, but it doesn’t define your self worth. (Flickr photos)
Write to Emma Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org