How social media may fuel depression

July 16, 2016

Have you ever played the social media comparison game? If you have, you are not alone. Most people at one time or another have gotten caught up in what I call a “comparathon”, where they measure the success of their lives against others based on what they see in posts on various social media. Often times, people feel they don’t measure up to the seemingly full and happy lives of others, which can cause changes in mood. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of social media (as well as the positive, so there are pros and cons), especially with people who already live with anxiety and depression. Add in a physically limiting health condition (such as dystonia, which I live with) and it can be exponentially worse for some.

For many, due to the inability to be as comfortably mobile as they once were, much of their interaction with the world is through social media; the place where there are pictures and videos of their friends living as if they don’t have a worry in the world. You may even see people with health challenges similar to yours who are living what appears to be a pretty normal life and involved in more activities than you. This can further aggravate depression because you feel like you are missing out on everything, but there is good news…

…what we all know but often forget is that the lives that many people display on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., don’t tell the whole story. It is a microscopic view of their lives. For some people it IS as exciting and fun as they illustrate. For many others, it isn’t as fun and easy going as we interpret. Everyone has challenges, some of whom hide them very well and only show the fun things in their lives. This gives others a skewed perception of reality.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of very happy people living their lives, having a ball, and portraying it on social media exactly as it is, but there are also many who give this appearance when it doesn’t exist. For many, social media is an escape from their own painful reality.

Behind many of the “happy” images, we don’t see or hear about financial problems, marriages breaking up, kids struggling in school or into drugs and alcohol, health issues, depression, stress, anxiety, worry, fear…the list is endless. Many people who seem to have the perfect life often live with the same things that haunt the rest of us. We are not alone in any of our worries or concerns by a long shot. If you are human, you have issues…simple as that. Do your best to get rid of any envy you may have. You are just as worthy as anyone else.

Further, if you spend a lot of time on support group sites where people talk about all the problems they are having, this can cause you to worry more about how your health issue might progress. We may also take on the burden of others due to our empathetic nature. This being the case, balance your time on social media and the outside world.

As a health and wellness coach, I work with people who have chronic health conditions, anxiety, depression, weight issues, etc., and many of them become more unhappy and unhealthy because of what they see on social media. Even the people I work with who don’t have “problems” become more depressed by some of what they see. So, it is not just people who have limiting health conditions that are negatively impacted. Social media induced depression can affect anyone. It is especially challenging in the winter months when people are stuck indoors and for those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which causes a shift in moods.

With all of this in mind, the next time you are looking at pictures and videos of others on social media and feeling depressed about your life because it isn’t you in those images, remember that this is just a small window into their lives. For most, there are challenges behind all the “happy” smiles so please do not view everything you see on social media as the whole story. In fact, you may be happier than the people you perceive as “living the life.”

HOWEVER, to contradict everything I just said since my focus is primarily on the negative impact of social media, I suggest practicing “letting go”, if you will. Be happy for others and all the things they are doing in their lives and sharing with us; acknowledge them for the fun moments they enjoy. This is a much healthier way to process what you see. Sharing in each other’s happiness and joy will help us all feel better. Even if what is displayed isn’t the whole story, big deal; share in the happy moments because we all have them. Just keep things in perspective so you don’t get too down when you decide to compare your life with someone else.

Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone suffering with any life challenge. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, and volunteers for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, for WEGO Health as a patient expert panelist, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network. To learn more about Tom’s coaching practice and get a copy of his book, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.

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