How Does Comparing Yourself To Others On Social Media Impact Your Mental Health?
For many people, social media is a significant part of life. Social media isn’t always negative. There can be a variety of advantages to social media usage. It can provide a forum to raise awareness for important issues, serve as a space to connect with other people, and even help people find mental health care or support.
However, social media use can also lead to some habits that can be detrimental to your mental health, including comparing yourself to others. Below, we’ll explore the common practice of comparing oneself to others, the effect of social media on this phenomenon, and some evidence-based strategies to reduce the tendency to compare yourself to others.
The impact of comparing yourself to others on social media
Social media platforms comparable to those people use today started to gain traction in the late 1990s. Since then, they have continued to become more and more popular. Statistics from 2021 indicate that 84% of people aged 18-29 use social media sites, whereas 81% of those aged 30-49 and 73% of individuals aged 50-64 use them. Social media usage is also common among minors. In addition to finding that social media use is common across a diverse range of people, many studies aim to find how social media may affect well-being. As for mental health and comparison on social media, research shows that:
- Negative interactions and comparisons to others on social media are related to higher levels of depression and anxiety.
- In contrast, positive interactions and social support via social media are related to lower levels of depression and anxiety.
- In one study, 87% of women and 65% of men said that they compared their bodies to those they saw when consuming social and traditional media.
- Those who use Facebook often believe that other users are happier than they are.
- Reducing social media use to 30 minutes per day may lead to lower levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. This is based on a study at Iowa State University involving 230 students. Half the students were asked to limit their social media usage to 30 minutes per day. They scored lower on anxiety, depression, and loneliness and scored higher on positive affect.
It may help to consider that comparison can sometimes be implicit. We may not have a direct realization that taking in other people’s highlight reel—or content in general—is causing us to gauge how we feel about ourselves, our appearance and lifestyle, or our progress in life. We may also see what other people are doing and experience fear of missing out, which can be comparative. You may compare yourself to people you know or those you don’t know personally, such as a celebrity or social media influencer you haven’t met. When you feel down about yourself due to comparison, it can influence several areas of your life. You may not believe you can pursue the things you want to do, or you might not feel confident in your relationships and career.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone, and there are ways to reduce the impact of social media comparisons on your mental health. Below, we’ll discuss ways to check in with yourself regarding social media usage, stop comparing yourself to others, and support your mental health.
How do I stop comparing myself to others on social media?
Below are some tips that may help you stop comparing yourself to others on social media:
1. Spend designated time offline
Sometimes, it may help to take a break from social media. You might consider creating a designated social media schedule that limits the amount of time you spend on social media per day, perhaps to half an hour in the late afternoon or early evening, or you might take a complete social media break during which you do not engage with social media at all. Some people find it helpful to take a weekend off, whereas others may benefit from weeks or months off.
2. Change or “clean out” your social media feed
Some people find it helpful to change their social media feed to make it more positive for their mind and self-image. This process may include unfollowing people you tend to compare yourself to and trying to follow a more diverse range of people, perhaps including more people who look like you or who are more authentic about their negative and positive experiences. If a social media account makes you feel bad, consider muting or unfollowing it.
3. Identify and challenge comparisons to others
To stop comparing yourself to others, it may also help to use mindfulness. It may not stop the initial thought, but when you consume social media with the acknowledgment that it might cause comparison, mindfulness may provide an opportunity to take note of these thoughts and challenge them. To challenge these thoughts, you may say something like “They don’t see all of my life, and I don’t see all of theirs” or “Social media is a highlight reel, and they might be going through something that I know nothing about.”
It can be helpful to remind yourself that we all have different lives and experiences and varied strengths and weaknesses.
4. Engage in activities that boost your self-esteem
Building self-esteem may help you challenge comparisons to others and serve as a way to support your physical and mental well-being. Activities that increase self-esteem may include identifying your strengths, using positive self-talk, and engaging in enjoyable activities that make you feel good about yourself, such as playing a sport, practicing music, making art, spending time in nature, or volunteering. Hobbies can be positive for mental health in and of themselves, so it may be beneficial if you can turn to something you enjoy.
5. Spend time with positive supporters in your life
Spending time with those who have a positive impact on your life can be helpful in a number of ways. It may not only improve your mental health but also help you spend time away from social media in some cases. On a similar note, if someone in your life puts you down or makes you feel bad about yourself, it may help to put boundaries in place.
If you don’t have positive social support in your life, support groups and other opportunities for meeting new people might be a place to start. You may even be able to find someone else in your life who would like to work on confidence and stop comparing themselves to others. If this is the case, you can support one another and uplift each other through the process.
6. Ask for help if you need it
A therapist may be able to help you challenge negative thoughts and support you in other ways so that you stop comparing yourself to others on social media. A therapist might also support you with low self-esteem, depression, relationship challenges, anxiety, difficulty spending time away from social media, and other concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-office therapy at this time, you might benefit from online therapy.
Support through online therapy
Research shows that online therapy is effective for a variety of mental health concerns. One study published in the journal Cureus demonstrated that internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) was effective for social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Also, online platforms like BetterHelp may make it easier to find a licensed mental health professional with experience in your specific areas of concern. When you join BetterHelp, you complete a short questionnaire designed to help match you with a therapist who meets your individual needs. If desired, you can switch therapists, change plans, or cancel services at any point in time. Online therapy plans are often more affordable than in-person therapy without insurance coverage, and financial aid may be available for those who need it.
How can we stop comparing ourselves with others on social media?
If you notice yourself engaging in social media comparison, you might try to limit its negative effects by unfollowing social media accounts that hurt your self-esteem, limiting your use of social media apps, or taking a break from social media altogether.
Why is comparing yourself to other people especially on social media bad for your self respect and self-esteem?
In reality, social comparison can be harmful outside of social media; however, social media is often a specially curated and highly edited highlight reel of someone’s life, leading feelings of social comparison to be much more intense. However, it can be important to remember that you are not seeing a complete picture of their life, just as they likely are not seeing a complete picture of yours.
What do you call someone who constantly compares themselves to others?
Social comparison theory describes the phenomenon of determining your worth based on how you compare to others. Social comparison can lead to increased depression symptoms, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
What is it called when you compare your life to others social media posts and feel like your life is worse?
Although social comparison can occur in “real life”, a social media post can also cause individuals to feel worse about themselves in comparison. A 2022 study analyzed the social media use of 138 undergraduate students, primarily young adults, and compared it to their levels of depression and effect on self-esteem. The results suggested a clear link between problematic social media use and and negative psychological outcomes, suggesting social comparisons to be a key cause.
Why do people compare themselves to others on Instagram?
Social media, including Instagram, can often play a large role in people’s lives, potentially making it easy to focus on the lives of others and get caught up in the comparison trap. Taking some time away from social media and spending time with friends or family in the real world can be helpful in bringing you back to the present.
Can social media mess with your sense of self?
According to a 2023 study looking at the relationship between social media and self-esteem in adolescents, high levels of social media addiction could be directly related to low self-esteem.
How do I stop comparing myself to people online?
If you’re aware that you’re engaging in online social comparison, consider trying the following:
- Unfollow accounts that are causing negative emotions
- Follow more accounts that are likely to make you feel good
- Spend less time on social media, or dedicate only certain windows to engage in social media
- Take a break from social media, whether that’s a day, a weekend, or longer
- Ask for help with you need it, from friends, family, or an online therapist
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