At a time when sharing our lives with the world on social media is the norm, the pressure to appear happy and successful is increasingly huge. But how is this affecting our ability to love ourselves?
At times it may feel like the people around us have the most incredibly exciting lives. A constant feed of our friends’ news is available instantly at the tap of a screen, and we’re more connected with celebrities than ever through their carefully selected personal photographs and innermost thoughts. The key phrase here is, of course, ‘carefully selected‘, as we probably know from our own social media habits that most of us tend to pick and choose what we share. Whilst we might post excitedly about the first day at our dream job, for example, we won’t tell our followers how hopeless we felt during the slog of failed interviews that led us there. We see the lives of others through a haze of edits and filters, comparing our outtakes to everyone else’s highlights reel; and it may be that those sharing most boastfully have the most to keep hidden.
Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth on Flickr)
I remember being so upset on my last day of high school (6 and a half years ago – as if!), because I had this vision of losing touch with all of my friends, as would have been the case just a few years prior when social media didn’t exist. I soon realised, however, that despite moving to the other end of the country for uni, I would still be able to keep in touch with all of my friends and family. This was a wonderful thing for me, but it surely goes both ways, and the idea of a ‘fresh start‘ is far less realistic in an age where we are so well connected. Helping friends through break ups has shown me how much more difficult it is to move on from relationships too – a horrible experience as it is, but made so much worse when information about what they’re doing and who they’re seeing is so easy to access. It can only be feeding our need to create the illusion of a perfect life online, perhaps forgetting to look after our actual needs in the process.
In a world where everything changes so rapidly, it can be difficult to hold on to the things that really mean something. When you’re so focused on showing everyone what a great time you’re having, it’s easy to forget to actually enjoy yourself. When you can’t escape the people you no longer want in your life, it’s important to be thankful for those you do. If you’re distracted by what you think you should be achieving, you won’t recognise what you have already accomplished. We are exposed to a huge amount of information every day – both positive and negative – but take it all with a pinch of salt, and remember to be mindful of what you’re comparing yourself to. After all, there’s nothing to say that any of it is truthful, and if it is, it’s more than likely a ‘fairy tale’ version of the full story.
Social media is a funny little thing, but I do consider it to be a positive tool if you know how to use it. We ‘know’ so many people (well, their online personas), and there are so many online communities that it can be a brilliant way to combat loneliness and find like-minded people. Whether it’s an intense passion for novelty shoelaces or a recently diagnosed illness for which we want reassurance and support, we can connect with and speak to people who feel the same way. Comedian and writer Sarah Millican created a Twitter hashtag to connect people who are alone or lonely on Christmas Day, allowing them to share stories, ask for help, and feel like they are together at what is often a very difficult time of year. The #JoinIn campaign now has an incredible following, and offers an overwhelming network of support to so many people every year. Over on Instagram, the #bodypositivity hashtag encourages us to love our real bodies, whatever the shape or size, and artist Veronica Dearly shares comics reminding us that, in reality, none of us are perfect and we should embrace our flaws – even laugh at them!
Veronica Dearly (@veronicadearly on Instagram)
So how can we practice Self Care on Social Media?
1. Don’t treat online presences as ‘reality’, and try to avoid comparing yourself to others online. Your like count or number of ‘friends’ does not reflect your worth, and you can never be sure of anyone else’s full story.
2. Take some time to consider your own social media usage and reflect on how it makes you feel. Try to work out how you could make this more positive, and put the steps into action.
3. Switch off for a little while each day. I personally like to spend my commute getting lost in a book rather than scrolling through social media, but even downloading something to watch on iPlayer or Netflix will help.
4. Fill your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feed with things that make you happy. ‘Like’ pages relating to your hobby, or things you enjoy watching (I get lost in @SweetAmbs’ beautiful cookie decorating videos – they are so relaxing!)
5. Be present. If you’re having a cup of tea with your Mum, focus on that and put your phone away. Having lunch with your squad? Sure, take a couple of pictures, but perhaps wait until afterwards to share them with the world.
6. Remind yourself how positive Social Media can be by reconnecting with an old friend, or creating a messenger group where your family can all keep in touch.
7. Have a purge! It feels a bit brutal sometimes, but do you REALLY need that girl you made friends with in a nightclub toilet who constantly moans about her boyfriend on Facebook? Probably not. Surround yourself (online and offline) with the people you love and care about instead.
This is a subject that I find so interesting, and there’s so much more that I want to talk about. I’m thinking of doing a little series, possibly also exploring other ways in which the digital age is affecting our mental health. I’d love to know if you have any thoughts or stories to share, so let’s have a chat in the comments!