Social media, or even a casual run-in with an old friend or classmate, can trigger feelings of inadequacy. It’s happened to me—and it turns out that I’m not alone.
Researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered that Facebook use triggers envy in some users, and that those feelings can lead to depression.
I found myself in a deep funk one morning after I came across a social media post of an old college friend. I clicked the link and began skimming through a page full of images and stories from her life—a beautiful home she and her handsome husband purchased in San Francisco, pictures of their travels, her exciting work, and their picturesque life together. By the time I got to the end of the gallery, I felt depressed.
I spent the rest of the morning being unpleasant to my partner, sulking at my own ringless finger and the rented house I lived in, which now appeared to me as a too small. Even the dog was keeping her distance.
Several hours later when I had recovered, I marveled at the intensity of the experience. How could images of a friend’s wonderful life have caused such intense feelings of dissatisfaction in my own?
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. In this world of human interactions, it’s only natural to try and relate. But when relating turns into comparison and leaves you feeling sad, you need some tools to straighten yourself up and come back home to inner peace.
Count Your Blessings
Making a gratitude list is like triage for envy, anxiety, and jealousy. It works when you’re in acute pain and it works fast. When you find yourself sullen and sulking, grab a pen and paper, and write down five things in your life that you are grateful for—even in this moment. No experience is too small.
Look at Those You Love
Sometimes it takes looking at the faces of those around you to see your own worth. If you can, look into the eyes of someone who loves you. Let your pet or your partner’s affectionate gaze remind you of how special you really are. And if you’re alone, get out there and smile at strangers or gaze at your own wonderful self in the mirror. Look deep into your eyes and know how worthy you truly are.
Get Curious About Your Experience
Unpleasant emotions often contain valuable information. When you’ve calmed down a bit, consider the why behind your feelings. When I looked at my friend’s photo gallery, I didn’t feel envious because I wanted to be her, but there were elements in what I saw that I wanted more of in my own life.
Her pictures were so creative. It was clear that time was taken to make everything beautiful. When I had some distance from my emotional reaction, I realized that I was craving more beauty in my surroundings. Taking your feelings of frustration, sadness, or inadequacy and turning them into usable information is one of the most productive actions you can take.
Don’t Compare Your Insides to Someone Else’s Outsides
The self that we present, especially on social media, is not the real deal. Although sometimes it can feel like everyone else in the world is getting promotions, taking fabulous trips, and meeting the Dalai Lama—all with perfect hair—it’s simply not the case.
Our social media selves are a highly curated version of reality, and oftentimes, it’s only the beautiful, shiny parts that get shared. Everyone has their share of challenges, letdowns, and sadness. Everyone. No one escapes living in this world without getting his or her knees scraped up a bit. The next time you compare yourself to the perfect depictions of life portrayed on social media, take a deep breath and remember that things are not always as they seem.