It is undeniable that social media has completely changed the way we interact with others. It used to be that we would find out what was going on with our friends and family when we took the time to write a letter or e-mail, pick up the phone, or meet up for lunch or a coffee. Now, we can get updates from a number of people in a matter of minutes complete with photos of smiling people and beautiful places.
All the posting, liking, and commenting is pretty cool, but what does it mean for our mental health?
We have to keep in mind that social media shows us snapshots of moments in others’ lives, moments that they have chosen to share. They are the happy and well-behaved kids, the delicious meal made from scratch, the adorable pet curled up for a nap. What can happen is that followers assume that these moments are always there, that there are no times when others are less than blissful.
Then, the comparisons start, right? We think, “Wow…my kids just poured shampoo in the dishwasher, I had Raisin Bran for dinner, and my cat shredded my couch to bits. What am I doing wrong? What do they know that I don’t?” Quite a sucker punch to our mental health.
The perceived lack of measuring up can definitely make our wellness take a hit and lead to low self-esteem, stress, and anxiety.
But, we need to take the time to think about what others aren’t posting. If we aren’t posting the Raisin Bran dinner, they likely aren’t either. And their kids and pets likely run wild just as ours do. Social media personas can be very different from everyday life and we need to avoid making assumptions about others and ourselves based on what we see on what may be carefully crafted profiles. So, we can be happy for others’ happy moments and smile at what we see without feeling like we’re less than them.
Also, we can’t mistake social media likes and comments for real social connection.
Having a support system means having people we can trust and talk to about not just the great moments but also our challenges and struggles. That doesn’t mean that we need to be close friends with everyone on our social media, but it does mean that we need to ensure that we are connecting with people on a personal level and talking about more than just what fits into 140 characters.
Sure, a phone call or visit will take up more time than simply scanning your social media feed, but it is vital time extremely well spent. It’s not all about convenience – it’s about real connection.
Respond to concerning social media posts
When we see people putting so many details of their lives out there on social media, we may tend to skim posts and not give them the true attention they deserve. Don’t assume that someone who’s usually upbeat saying something like “Awful day – feeling so low” is just social media posturing.
Take the time to offer more than just an encouraging comment. Reach out personally and say something like, “I was concerned about your post. Tell me about how you’re feeling.” And then listen – really listen, show empathy, and see if there is anything you can do to help. Maybe meeting up for a cup of tea or walk would be helpful, or perhaps you could suggest some local resources for more help.
Social media and wellness don’t need to be mutually exclusive. We just need to keep it in perspective and put real life ahead of clicks and shares.
Want to learn more about mental health and how to support others? Check out a Mental Health First Aid course here.