Picture this: You’re hanging out with some pals. Everyone decided to take a photo because that lighting is just right, so naturally, you assume prime-angle-position. The first one wasn’t good enough, the second, well that was just horrendous, but the third, now that’ll work. Here’s where the real business begins. Your fingers are flying, eyes gliding across your screen, soaking up the pixels, fine tuning that photo ‘til perfection- or as close as VSCO could get you to it. You send the edited photo around to a few friends, putting out feelers for its quality and ideas for a caption. Having finally received the responses you’d like and making sure you’re within prime-time Instagram hours for premium likes, it is time to hit share and bless some timelines. Your finger taps that sweet blue button, boom. And now we wait.
Sound familiar? Seems harmless, right? On the gram, you’re so happy, smiling ear to ear, having the time of your life. But what Instagram doesn’t see is you behind the screen, holding the phone and second guessing yourself because the likes and comments just aren’t flowing today. This is one example of the anxiety produced by social media and this simply aint it, chief.
In the digital age today, social media is king. It rules us, in some ways more than we realize. Let’s be real, almost all of us are addicted to our phones. They’re useful, helpful, and entertaining. What would we do without them? We treat them like our babies, taking care of them, terrified of dropping them, and we never dare leave them at home without us. We do our best to keep them full of energy; you can almost feel your heart start beating faster when you look down and notice your phone hanging on at a wavering one percent. We spend a significant amount of time with them every single day, and we always have them with us. Through our phones, we have created a full-on relationship with a fabricated world, and they are our portals.
In terms of this digital land, in many cases, social media is the main event. But the reality of the matter is that many of us use these platforms to try to live picture-perfect lives, only showing the best of us in those tiny squares, and we struggle with real life anxiety as a result.
The virtual world is beautiful, and our chemistry proves this to be true. Social media apps are crafted to cause your brain to release a chemical called dopamine, our “feel-good” or “reward” hormone. It is released whenever we notice we have a text message on our phones, our photo was liked, our tweets were retweeted, or our snapchat was responded to. Like a knee-jerk reaction, we reach for our phones to be entertained, to feel good, to get that dopamine whenever there is a lull in conversation or our interest. This chemical flow in our brains is one of the reasons we so easily can become addicted to our phones and is why our relationships with social media can be dangerous if we begin to form unhealthy connections to it. With so many of us spending quite some time on social media, it is important to understand how it affects us. Social media can be a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, but it can also serve as a hazard to our mental health.
We all know what it’s like, you open Instagram and only see “perfect” bodies and “perfect” lives, and the comparison game begins. We compare lives, bodies, status, personality, and so much more. And yet, we know it’s not real. Why do we feel these pressures to squeeze ourselves into a mold of “perfection” that doesn’t exist? We take a beautiful photo of us natural and we edit out every pimple, wrinkle, cellulite spot, stretch mark, stained tooth, and more. Because virtual us doesn’t have any of those things. Virtual us is always fashionable, always cool, and always happy. Virtual us isn’t us.
An app that isn’t thought of as mainstream social media is GroupMe. For everything you’re involved in, there’s a GroupMe for it. Most of its features are helpful, but why does there have to be a “like” or heart button on everything? If you don’t get any likes on your message, does it mean no one agrees with you? Does everyone who likes another message with another opinion disagree with you? And if you’re removed from the group, what did you do wrong? All of these questions can run through an anxiety-filled mind. It can feel as though others are teaming up against you. If you’ve ever felt this way, have no fear, you are not alone. Try putting your GroupMe on mute so you’re not constantly overwhelmed by the like notifications and what others have to say after you’ve sent something you’re nervous about. Only check it periodically so you can keep up with important dates and requirements for your organizations. Even though it’s hard not to read-into others messages that involve you or your friends, remember to not take it personally, your true friends won’t care about what you said in a GroupMe a week from now.
Anxiety is induced when we measure ourselves with likes and retweets. It can be hard to fight the ideas that we aren’t cute enough, cool enough, or liked enough when our photo doesn’t get as many double taps as we’d like. We need to stop comparing our insides with everyone’s outsides. With thoughts like these we warp our brains, training ourselves to yearn for things outside of our reality. And yet, we scroll on, scrolling down into a darkness only penetrated by blue light. Sometimes we don’t even notice we’re dimming our own.
Social media affects everyone who uses it in different ways, but we’re all somehow affected. The best thing is to be aware of how it affects you and to look out for yourself and your mental health. If you struggle with anxiety produced by social media, don’t worry. You’re not alone in this, and here are a few tips that can be helpful in managing this stress.
Hang up and hangout. When you’re with your friends, be present with them. You will never regret spending time with those you love, but time alone with our phones does nothing for us. You can even try deleting social media apps for a week, or even a day. Sometimes, it’s healthy and refreshing to take a break. It can be hard to disconnect, but you may be surprised how at peace you feel when you remove social media from your life for a little bit.
Another idea is to turn off your notifications. Many people have found it to be helpful to turn off their social media notifications, in order to prevent their brains from forming those dopamine connections as you watch every photo like, comment, or retweet notification pop up on your phone.
Unfollow all accounts that don’t make you feel inspired, empowered, and loving towards yourself and others. What good does it do to look at posts that make you feel negatively about yourself or others? If you’re an “explore-page” explorer on Instagram, select “see fewer posts like this” on photos that combat your self-love, to help eliminate them from your feed. On the flip side, follow accounts that inspire and empower you. This simple way of pruning your timeline can make a huge difference in the content you expose yourself to on social media and can therefore help mitigate the stress that some content and posts can cause.
Take photos for the memories, not just the gram and if you’re going to use social media, use your platform for good. These cites can be awesome to promote great causes and to raise awareness about social issues. Keep social media kind! Finally, tell one another that they’re wonderful, beautiful, and that you love them, and not just in the comments section on Instagram.
We all need to understand that the virtual reality produced by social media is not reality itself. Reality is not having a perfect day every day. Reality is being bare, raw, and exquisite- with every wrinkle, pimple, and scar. Reality is your real friends, not your followers. Reality is here and now. Look up, tune in, don’t miss it. Stop throwing out likes and start throwing around love. Because the reality of it all is that you are simply the realest. (Retweet.)