Snap. Post. And wait. Wait for the comments, the likes, the reposts. In today’s digital age, social interaction has been taken to a whole new level. Growing up in a generation that uses social media as a major mode of communication has shown me how much people rely on the validation of others to give them confidence and satisfaction. Social media allows people to share parts of their lives with the world and receive feedback on their content, which is essentially feedback on their lives. This can be all fun and games until someone becomes reliant on the approval of others and it affects their self-esteem and sense of well-being.
Social networking sites rapidly gained popularity over the past two decades. Sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have become platforms for billions of people to connect by sharing ideas, news, videos, pictures, and other parts of their lives with others. Statistics show that in 2020, over 3.8 billion people were using social media and it is projected that by 2025, this number will increase to over 4.4 billion.
With the increase of social media usage, however, studies show that there has also been an increase in depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Additionally, suicide rates have increased by 30% over the past 20 years. The younger population specifically currently has up to 20% experiencing mental illness worldwide.
One study examined the link between using Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world, and people’s subjective sense of well-being. They found that Facebook usage affects how satisfied people are with their lives. The more someone used Facebook, the more likely they were to have a decline in their emotional well-being.
Many experts believe that the link between social media use and our mental state and self-esteem may stem from something called the “comparison trap.” Psychologist Leon Festinger, who suggests the social comparison theory, explains that it is human nature to measure yourself against others. This is what motivates people to grow and become better in different areas. However, comparing yourself to others can also cause you to feel substandard or depressed when you see that you do not measure up.
Social media gives people the platform to portray their ideal selves. This makes social media a highlight reel of everyone’s lives and puts social comparison on steroids. The problem is that people compare themselves to what they see, the constant enjoyment and good that other people are having, and they forget that every person has both high and low parts of their lives.
Additionally, it is part of human behavior to seek positive feedback to “ascertain normative standards of behavior.” Much of social media is receiving responses and comments on your posts. Therefore, in addition to only seeing the best part of other people’s lives, people are also relying on the feedback of others to determine how good their own lives are. Dr. Suzana Flores, author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives, explains that “when adults compare themselves to their Facebook friends’ “ideal” profiles, their self-esteem may become affected. Because teens tend to place a lot more weight on how they are perceived by their peers, whenever they do not get enough likes – or even worse, when their friends share negative comments on their posts – they’re even more susceptible to self-doubt and even depression.”
As a student in my 20s, I can understand the necessity of social media both in personal life and in the professional workforce. I agree that there are countless ways that social media impacts our world in a positive way. People are able to network and provide young people entering the workforce the opportunity to branch out and make the connections needed to succeed in their field. Additionally, social media also allows for people to advocate for what is important to them and provides a platform to voice changes that need to be made. Social media is also great for staying connected with friends and family members, as well as meeting new people who have similar interests and ideologies.
However, as a graduate student of occupational therapy, I understand how anything an individual experiences can impact their entire being, including their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Ludwig von Bertalanffy explains this concept in his general systems theory. A person is a holistic being and if one part of them is unbalanced, it will affect their ability to function properly. Therefore, if someone becomes too reliant on the opinion of others (often strangers when it comes to social media) to determine their own self-worth, it affects not just their self-esteem, but their whole ability to function properly.
Social media is an integral part of our world and it is not going away; however, there are precautions you can take that will limit some of the negative consequences. Firstly, only follow the people that give you positive vibes. If they bother you or cause you to feel down, unfollow them or block them from coming up in your feed. Secondly, you should try and limit the amount of time spent on social media. Although it is easy to spend hours scrolling through your feed, but, as one study found, limiting your social media usage to 30 minutes a day increases your overall well-being. This can be done by turning off the notifications on your phone or setting a timer for yourself while on social media. Finally, just being aware of how social media can affect you gives you a new perspective when looking at someone else’s “highlight reel.”
Social media is a vital part of today’s digital society. It is the way we communicate, self-express, and share ideas with other people, both friends and strangers alike. While it is fun using social media as a window into other people’s lives, we must be aware that only seeing the picture-perfect world of others is affecting our self-esteem and emotional well-being. Like all good things in life, social media should be used with mindfulness and moderation, which will lead to a healthier, happier life.