I was lying in bed on a Thursday night recently in my apartment while my five roommates were out at the bar. I had been invited, encouraged even, to go out with them, but I was in a low, and wasn’t in the frame of mind to socialize and make small talk. As the hours went by I found myself scrolling through the same three social media apps, and I could feel the little energy I had being consumed from me even more. I was filling my negative space with the seemingly positive lives of others, comparing myself to those who were having a much better time than I was.
I often like to think of myself as having an acute sense of self awareness. Through running a website about mental health, I am constantly learning about new things to be aware of with my depression and incorporating them to better myself and improve my lifestyle.
But the truth is I still fall for some tricks that my depression plays on me. Tricks that make me question concrete parts of my life, engage in negative coping mechanisms, and make a few poor decisions every once in awhile.
Recently I realized that the way I use social media is one of those poor decisions I make regarding my mental health.
Now I’m not saying that social media caused my depression that night my friends all went out to the bar. According to a study conducted on Facebook use and depression, there is no direct relation between social media use and depression. But what I can say, without a doubt, is that the way I was using it while depressed made my symptoms worse.
The study supports this, as the way social media is used can affect how we feel. The main argument in the study is that when Facebook is used as a tool for personal surveillance, envious tendencies can occur, ultimately leading to depressive symptoms.
I didn’t feel envious, did I? I was just seeing what other people were doing. I was just scrolling through observing funny tweets and pictures from the bar and reading a conversation between the two love birds while I did…
Surveillance is defined as time spent on social media seeing what other people are doing and comparing it back to what you are not doing. While I may have not been consciously comparing myself with friends, I think part of me knows that I was wishing I was capable of having as much fun as they were.
I continued to feel worse, questioning why I wasn’t able to keep it together enough to go out with my friends. Because of these new doubts, I started to think that their lives were always like this – exciting and fun-filled, while inversely thinking mine was dull and bland.
A recent Huffington Post article tells the story of a woman named Sydney who experienced hardships during her freshman year adjusting to college life with her anxiety disorder. She described how she began to struggle to distinguish between “fact and fiction” and constantly compared herself to others when using different forms of social media, including Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
“Instagram and Snapchat make me hyper aware of the activities I wasn’t invited to partake in, and less involved in the activities that are actually in front of me,” Sydney writes. “Comparing myself to others is blatantly unhealthy….it makes me question my place in life.”
When social media platforms are used as surveillance and lead us to compare ourselves with others, we start accepting the lives people are uploading as truth. Individuals who consistently use Facebook are more likely to agree that others have better lives. This mindset can be dangerous for our mental health.
When we publish updates and statuses about ourselves, we tend to post only the positive things that happen in our lives, very rarely do we post the negatives that occur. So when someone is fighting something like depression or anxiety, comparing the times they’re struggling to lives seen on online profiles that appear “perfect” can make someone more afraid to speak up.
Because if everyone else is doing okay, we should be good enough to handle this ourselves, right?
But why do we only post the positive things from their lives? This could be based on the way we are “rewarded” for posting. On Instagram, Twitter, and until recently Facebook, posts are awarded with “likes”. Typically, positive and humorous posts get more “likes” than those that are sad or negative.
We’ve been conditioned to post the positive parts of our lives. We almost do it subconsciously. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that people’s lives are more complicated than their Facebook feeds suggest, especially for people like me who deal with the feelings of inadequacy that come with depression. All it takes is a depressive episode to leave me helplessly scrolling through feeds and concluding that my life is terrible and I’m not doing enough.
Not only is posting positively encouraged, but we need to post enough so that we feel satisfied that people know we are doing something. Apps like Snapchat plant the idea in our head that we need to share our life and every incredible moment in it to have a form of validation. We take videos of the concert we’re attending, post pictures of the food we eat, and make sure we snapchat every funny thing that happens when we’re out with friends. We need to let other people know we do things. We need the validation.
We need to let other people know we’re alive.
But if you have depression, feeling alive can often be a very difficult thing to do. Depression makes us feel like we already aren’t doing enough. It whispers in our ear that we are a failure, that our loved ones don’t love us, and that our existence is meaningless.
But we do matter.
And we don’t need to prove every day that we are happy (whether we are or not) through social media.
Our mental health is important. And the truth is everyone really isn’t as okay as their Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter suggest. While this may seem obvious, it is important to note that our guard can be substantially lowered when dealing with the effects of a mental health condition. Especially those of us who are already fighting a constant battle like I am with depression. Because that’s what happened to me.
I spent so many nights, already in a depressive state, scrolling aimlessly through social media apps and wondering why I couldn’t hold myself together like everyone else. I still do it sometimes. But now I’m constantly trying to remind myself that this is not the whole picture. Social media is often a positive tool to unite us all, but don’t let its representations of only the best parts of our lives convince you that you don’t fit in the reality it has created on the days you feel at your worst.
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
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