Think for a moment to what your life was like before social media. Do you even remember? The pictures we took at sleep away camp looked very different than the selfies some teens are posting today. While some aspects of social media can be great, there seems to be a catch to keeping up with apps like Facebook and Instagram — and for some, it's coming at the expense of our emotional wellness. Here are 7 signs social media is making you feel bad, according to experts.
For some people, social media is used as a tool to promote business or to keep in touch with friends and family who don't live close by. Personally, I've loved staying in touch with friends who live half way around the world. I've seen their kids grow up, I'm able to video chat with them, our kids are able to see each other and know the other exists through video or messenger, all because of social media. I've been able to build an online community and brand online that has actually increased my income, just because of social media. It's an amazing tool, if you're using it correctly. I checked in with Dr. Taryn Myers, a psychologist who studies the effects of media — including social media — on things like body image disturbance, as well as internet safety advocate and author of the book Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, Sue Scheff, and women's empowerment coach, mindfulness expert and yoga instructor Elizabth Su to see what the experts say about social media and its affect on happiness. I also polled other moms to see what their biggest struggles were... and their responses were all too relatable.
1. Comparison Is Killing Your Joy
So many of us can get sucked into comparing our lives to others that we see on social media. How many times have you scrolled through your newsfeed after a really crappy day and the first thing you see is a skinny and tan mom with her perfect husband and beautiful kids on vacation to a place you've always wanted to go but haven't been able to afford? We've all been there — even that "perfect" mom with the "perfect" marriage and "perfect" kids. (Yes, even she has been there.) "People tend to put their 'best lives' on social media and often do not post about the negative things in their lives, meaning we can end up assuming everyone is doing better than we are," Dr. Myers says. Recognizing that everyone is human and goes through ups and downs, just like us, can help keep our mind in check when we start comparing. Su wants to remind women that social media acts as a "highlight reel," and not a realistic representation of what life is actually like for that person.
"Keeping up with the Joneses (virtually speaking) can be emotionally stressful as well as create unnecessary anxiety," Scheff says, and she's right. It is unnecessary. But, Su points out, "It's almost impossible not to compare yourself to others on social media. A simple scroll through Instagram can send you straight into a vortex of not feeling 'good enough'."
To combat these negative feelings, Scheff says, "developing digital resilience" is key. Some of the ways we can do this are by taking time to unplug and remembering that online life does not equal real life. So give yourself some grace and maybe a little reality check because much of what you see online is just one, small, tiny moment in time.
2. It's Easy For You To Get Sucked Into The Drama
Before you buy into that next drama-filled news story, apply your critical thinking skills and determine if what you're buying into is in fact fake news. A lot of social media is low quality news from unreliable sources, or juicy information that you just can't help but consume, like drama-filled celeb gossip. Or perhaps even worse, if you're one of those people who can't help but check-up on that one person that you shouldn't be checking up on, Scheff says, "maybe it’s time to put that past behind you." She suggests using your "block features" — they are there for a reason, after all. Doing this can really help you move forward in life.
3. You're Experiencing Mom Guilt
Some moms say that social media actually triggers their mom guilt because other moms are seemingly doing "more" and make it look effortless.
"Seeing all of the over-the-top parties or weekend activities makes me feel like I’m not doing enough for my kids," Lauren, 37, says.
"[But] when I take a minute to reflect, I know [my kids] are happy. In fact, [they're] probably happier to not be on-the-go all the time (and to not have an overly stressed mom trying to plan extravagant things), but it still makes me doubt myself every time I see a petting zoo for a third birthday party and I’m having pizza with his grandparents. Don’t even get me started about creative lunch boxes — cheese sandwiches cut in triangles instead of squares is as fancy as I get. Bento boxes? I’m lucky if I can remember to pack lunch, let alone fill one of those."
I think most moms can relate. We all want to do the best for our kids, and sometimes social media can make us question whether or not we're doing "enough". Scheff gives some great advice and says, when it comes to these people, "you can unfollow them — they aren’t notified, especially if it makes you feel bad about your own life." If blocking someone is too extreme for you, try to see if you can silence their posts or adjust your settings so their content isn't showing up in your newsfeed.
4. You Get Annoyed Every Time You Log On
Another clue that social media may be impacting your mood and emotional wellbeing is if you're constantly irritated, annoyed or feel angry, anxious or upset when you log on. For a lot of people, social media can be a trigger for these negative emotions.
"If you find yourself feeling anxious, upset, unhappy, annoyed, or any other negative emotion either while looking through social media or directly afterwards, take note of that," Dr. Myers says.
If this sounds like you, it might be time for a social media detox. Personally, I do these regularly by un-installing all of my social media apps and intentionally focus on connecting with people in real life by nourishing my important relationships, connecting with people offline and reconnecting with old friends face-to-face. It's the perfect reset when social media is creates too much noise and distraction.
5. It's Killing Your Relationships
Things like politics and religion are usually not topics that should be brought up at the dinner table — and for good reason. So, maybe these sensitive subjects should also be kept off social media as well. Emily, 40, says she struggles with people broadcasting their political opinions and says what makes her feel bad are "family and friends that post harsh political statements that surprise me and make me think less of them." These types of posts can definitely create some strained relationships.
"Spending more time offline with your real-life friends can help give you a healthier perspective online," Scheff says.
Even if you don't completely agree with someone's political opinions, that doesn't mean you can't appreciate some things about them as a person. If this person is in your family, it's still possible to enjoy them offline. Dr. Myers agrees and says, "In terms of relationships, it can be even more important to take a time out from social media if you feel it is getting in the way."
6. You Feel Increasingly Isolated
While there are many positives to staying connected through social media, there's also something isolating about having so many digital connections, especially if your real-life connections are lacking.
"Social media preys on people's insecurities, anxiety, and deep-rooted desire to belong," Su says. In fact, she continues by siting an interesting study and says, "Research shows that excessive social media use can negatively impact people’s lives by lowering conscientiousness, increasing narcissism, decreasing real-life community engagement, and causing strain in relationships." Scheff agrees: "High social media use has been linked to symptoms of depression, including feelings of unhappiness, restlessness, and loneliness."
7. You're Losing Touch With Your Self-Esteem
There's enough out there already that can make even the most confident people question themselves and social media seems to highlight that in a big way.
"If social media is making you feel bad about your body in particular, my recent research is showing that if you make yourself think of one positive thing about yourself, and maybe even post about it on social media, that improves mood and self-esteem in the moment" Dr. Myers says.
Scheff points out research from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, which studied the effects of lack of sleep, cyber harassment, poor body image, and low self-esteem. All four experiences have one thing in common — they're connected to frequent social media use. If you're noticing that social media is making you feel bad about yourself, show yourself a little kindness and take a step back. It'll always be there when you're ready to log back on. And who knows, maybe after some time without it, you might not even want to.