Is Instagram Ruining Your Life? Here’s What To Do About It.
Confession: My name is Casey Beros and I am an Insta-failure. It’s not about the number of followers or likes (both minimal, for the record) but the way engaging with social media makes me feel. I never have anything good to post, obsess over whether people will like whatever I put up (around once a month because it’s all I can stomach), convince myself I look like a vacuous a**hole if the picture features me or the caption doesn’t make me look humble AND humorous, and then panic when it doesn’t clock enough likes within a certain time frame.
I quickly surmise that there’s a direct correlation between the performance of the post and how much people like me and spend the rest of the day feeling like I should go and eat worms. If I sound like a whining 16 year old girl with #firstworldproblems, that’s a pretty apt description of how I feel during those moments, facing me with the conundrum of WHY I’m (occasionally) sharing this carefully curated presentation of my life, and how contradictory it is that I care so much people don’t seem to ‘like’ it more. I enjoy scrolling aimlessly through other people’s lives as much as the next person – so I get the appeal – but there are a few things to think about in relation to our relationships with these larger-than-life platforms.
Consider if it’s defining (or decreasing) your selfie-worth
Positive Psychologist Dr Tim Sharp says people with healthy self-esteem base it on internal constructs, and it’s where the shiny external nature of social media can get us into trouble.
“Self worth is usually about having good values, living life according to them and feeling like we’re doing the right things,” Dr Sharp explains. “Not many of us achieve that – we often use a method of social comparison instead and tend to compare ‘up’ rather than ‘down’. And unfortunately no matter how well we’re doing, there’s always going to be someone more beautiful, wealthy, intelligent or successful than we are.”
With the explosion of social media and our increasing reliance on it, research into the phenomenon is starting to take shape. The reward centres in our brains light up like Christmas in the same way as they do with addictions to cigarettes, alcohol and chocolate when we feel validated by a large number of likes on one of our pictures, and a link has been identified between increased social media time and risk of depression.
Is comparison thieving you of joy?
It appears to me that for adults at least, the main issue with social media isn’t the sharing itself but being invested in the results. Dr Sharp says wanting to be liked isn’t a new phenomenon, from an evolutionary perspective it’s always been the case.
“In some cultures and certainly in the animal kingdom individuals who aren’t liked are often outcast from their tribe and their survival can be threatened,” he explains. “When something we post isn’t well received, it’s easy to buy into that feeling of ‘I’m no good, people don’t like me’ and if we let that take hold it can be quite depressing. With that can come self loathing, self destructive behaviour and even serious mental health problems.”
Dr Sharp says it’s normal to care what other people think, but the stronger our self-esteem is, the less impact trivial pursuits like social media have.
“People with healthy self esteem will be able to ask themselves – am I a good person, do I do the right thing, am I polite – whatever their values are – and as long as they align, they’re usually OK to weather the sometimes negative feelings social media can invoke,” he explains. “They don’t pay too much attention to how many followers or likes they have, because they know how they feel in the real world is far more important.”
Are you losing your mind(fulness)?
Yeah, I know. It’s a little escapism, a way to pass the time on the bus/treadmill/lunch break, right? But while we star in our own reality shows and feverishly watch everyone else’s, we’re missing out on real connection – a critical component of happiness.
“You look around on public transport or out at restaurants and people are all on their phones,” says Dr Sharp. “We’ve lost the art of doing nothing, of sitting and reflecting. We need meditative time of nothingness or we don’t live as good a life from a psychological perspective.
“Stay off your phone during conversations and in meetings and try to get off in the evenings with ‘turn off’ time at least an hour before you want to go to sleep,” he adds. “Keep things in perspective, especially if your self-esteem isn’t as strong as it should be and build up your strengths in other areas according to your values. Likes and followers don’t dictate whether or not you’re a likeable person in the real world.”
Casey is an established health journalist, producer, TV presenter and wellbeing glutton/expert.