Compare and Despair
Are Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. ruining our mental health? There is a lot of research to suggest that social media is affecting our mental health (although it has been acknowledged that said studies are flawed). The conclusion from an article in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that:
“...Facebook use does not promote well-being and that individual social media users might do well to curtail their use of social media and focus instead on real-world relationships.”
Someone recently used the phrase “compare and despair” during a group therapy session on managing unrealistic expectations we have of ourselves. That phrase really resonated with me because I often find myself comparing myself to others and having some feelings of shame, envy and general despair when I do.
When I check social media and see everyone has a perfect job, takes fantastic vacations, and are perfect parents with perfect children who can even have perfect tantrums. All this does is stirs up envy and lead to resentment and, well, despair. My life seems like shit compared to others, and I just start to ruminate down the rabbit hole of reflection and regret. I could delete my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts (I’m too old for Snapchat), but I really have no good way to catch up and find out what is going on with those from my past and present.
Granted we all know that what is posted has been curated. I rarely post photos of my son and only when I know I can maximize my “likes.” I’ll post a few photos from our spring break trip to show just how excellent our vacation to Cabo San Lucas is, with no indication that our spring break trip was actually pretty crappy. But even knowing that, I still scroll through and compare and despair when I learn, through LinkedIn, that someone I went to law school with is up for an appointed judgeship, or see pictures on Facebook, of a friend, with an ideal legal job, on her annual trip to some European country with her beautiful family.
I also find myself comparing and despairing when I see the man begging and holding a “Hungry as Fuck” sign on the exit ramp. Or when I drive by the homeless shelter and see the large groups of families getting a meal and a place to sleep for the night. I drive by in my luxury SUV on the way back to my condo on a 33rd floor overlooking the lakefront after dropping my son off at a fantastic private school we were fortunate enough to get him into. Although I will not take most of the credit for our financial stability, I am in a position where we are not living paycheck to paycheck, unlike how I grew up. We have the luxury of being picky about how to earn a living and not have to rely on government assistance, also unlike how I grew up.
So I can now drive around in my air-conditioned car on an 85-degree day passing by people with literally nothing and still can have active thoughts of wanting to kill myself. I can still wake up in the morning and have a fridge full of food and still have active ideas of wanting to jump off the balcony. How can I be depressed and have such self-hate when I have so much in comparison to people who undoubtedly may not be happy with the cards they were given, but will play them out anyway?
The compare and contrast game is real, and to me, it can be dangerous. I could just decide to disengage from the digital world and the real world, which I sometimes do by either not checking my media accounts or leaving the house. I have started using radical acceptance as a coping skill against this desire to continually feel the need to compare and contrast my life with others. Radical acceptance allows me to acknowledge these automatic thoughts and emotions, but not feel the urge to engage said emotions. I can have the emotion of envy without allowing my behaviors and mood to be influenced by that very intense emotion.
It’d also help if I took the advice of the researchers and started cultivating “real world” friendships that are not based on filters and “thumbs up.”
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about the author
My name is Dana Johnson and I am the creator of the Mood Check-In blog.