Especially at this time of year, when you log onto social media you are faced with beautiful pictures of everything going so perfectly in others’ life. Recently I have seen everything from Christmas trees, picture-perfect kids, pets with Santa, plates of food, and decorations that sometimes make my efforts look sad in comparison. If it is not holiday season, it is usually exotic vacations, new homes, birth announcements, promotions, and the list could go on. What are your thoughts when you see all this? Often, people tend to compare to their own situation. Wow, he must be a great supervisor because he got a promotion! How does she stay so thin? Recently I thought, I wish my decorations and my house looked so clean. She must be a supermom, she works, takes care of her kids, and has her entire beautiful house decorated!?”
These comparisons play out often, but when someone is in a period of self-doubt, depression, or anxiety, seeing all these images and information can intensify the negative thought process. The automatic thoughts in our brains turn negative and often against ourselves, and the person becomes stuck in the cycle. We start using what are called thinking errors, which may be all or nothing thinking, mind reading, personalization, disqualifying the positive, and there are plenty more. It can be hard to get oneself out of this cycle, which is often where therapy can help!
If you are affected by all of these pictures and posts and find yourself doing the comparing, pause for a minute and try to think through the facts. People are only posting the good things. LinkedIn never says your buddy got laid off today, send him a frown face. Or, when people are struggling with their child, most likely they are not posting to everyone about it, or only post the moment where everything is seemingly working out. I know for me, the times I post are when my son or dog looks cute or I want to tell everyone some news (positive of course). I don’t post about the times that are challenging and neither does almost anyone else! We tend to fill in our own narrative of how wonderful everyone else’s life is and then get stuck comparing again and feeling bad about ourselves.
I have a few friends and clients who have gone off social media as a trial or maybe gone off Facebook and Instagram, but stayed on LinkedIn. Their responses have been overwhelmingly positive. People have shared they feel happier, less weighed down, more positive, and have found they compare themselves to others less. This one is going to be hard to believe because there is always a fear of missing out, but people told me they actually do not miss it! They have more availability to spend their time doing meaningful, enjoyable things, and can be more mindful in their present life.
I read once that the only true comparison is comparing your current state to your younger self. This has always stuck with me and I think it is very accurate. For example, when I was in undergrad I majored in psychology and legal studies and I wanted to get a job in the human services field. If I compare that version of myself to now, I did just that. After completing a four-year degree, the thought of grad school seemed impossible, but comparing to now, I found it much easier because I focused in on what I wanted to do, which was provide therapy! Or I had many self-doubts and insecurities surface for me when I first became a mother. If I compare myself as a mother now to myself as a new mother, I can see how much more confident, patient, and supportive I am.
Comparing to others is not a healthy practice and you can get caught in the negative thought process. Next time you find yourself comparing or feeling that pressure from social media, know there is a reason why and that you can do something about it! Be brave! You may find you can reduce the depression and anxiety by making healthier choices for you, which may mean uninstalling (or at least hiding) a few apps that are fuel for unhealthy thought processes.