We live in a modern society where technology surrounds us every second of the day. Our cell phones remain in our hands throughout the day, sit next to our beds at night, and most kids these days don’t know what to do without the phone in their hands. Video games have replaced going outside, and social media has risen to be a substitute for face-to-face contact with other humans. As one of the last generations to remember their childhood not surrounded by technology, I’m constantly surprised with today’s modern kids.
With the rise in technology, social media sites have obviously come to run a lot of people’s lives. When I was in high school Myspace was the thing. It was fun to customize your profile wall and add music. In 2008, Facebook became the next big thing. Twitter followed right behind, and now there are several social media platforms that many people are addicted to. But have you ever thought about how these platforms affect our mental health?
This subject has come up a lot for me recently, whether it’s on Twitter or talking with friends over tea, and I am quick to absolutely agree that it affects our mental health. I see it every where I turn, and I experience it for myself as well. Social media is easily a nightmare for several adolescents growing up today. If you’re a teenage girl, you’re being pressured to conform to whatever ideals are the new norm. Bullying has increased because social media is the easiest way to bully someone while having a boundary separating you physically. It used to be you get bullied only at school, but you would come home and have a break. These days, it’s a constant thing for those who are bullied. People can do it anonymously or they can do it outright. Online bullying has led to suicide among a variety of age groups for various reasons.
Social media also invites us to see how other people’s lives “appear” to be. I say “appear” because you can easily share the best parts of your life online, but you can hide the worst. However, it doesn’t make it easier.
I had tea with two friends yesterday, and we discussed this. My one friend brought up how social media pressures you to “keep up with the Joneses” (and I don’t mean the movie…but you should also watch that movie because it’s hilarious, and Gal Gadot is a goddess, but I digress). I feel this is where my current experience with social media sits. I’ll be turning 26 in January. I can’t help, but compare myself to my peers. A lot of people I know who are roughly my age have gotten married, had kids, and are even buying houses. I can’t help, but think I’m still living with my brother for financial reasons, I’m essentially the cat lady, and the few relationships I have will probably be the only ones I have because interacting with new people gives me panic attacks. I intentionally avoid situations where I’m going to be surrounded by people, so how do you meet someone like that?
As I’ve gotten older, this has become more and more of an issue for me, and Facebook is the root of these issues. Every time I log on, I see pictures of babies, houses, spouses, boyfriends, etc. I feel like I’m missing out in life because I see all of these things. Even watching my peers get professional jobs or continue to graduate school depresses me because I’m not in that position in my life. Of course, for all I know these peers are in horrible marriages, struggling with financial issues, have out of control kids, and are absolutely miserable with their life. One can only hope that’s the case when I scroll through Facebook. No, let me scratch that out. I hope for the best for everyone I know. I genuinely hope they’re not suffering, and I hope they’re happy where they’re at.
Comparing ourselves to others is a big no-no. It’s the easiest, quickest way to drop from being 100 percent happy to negative 50 percent depressed. It’s something that isn’t unique to me, which Brené Brown opened my eyes to in The Gifts of Imperfection. I highly recommend this book. It opened my eyes to a lot of things. We always compare ourselves to others, even if we don’t realize it. We compare ourselves to others to make sure we’re conforming to what the “right” way to dress is or whatever it may be. For me, simply walking down the bike trail where I live is an easy way for me to realize I’m comparing myself to others; I’m seeking validation for others for the stupidest reasons. Social media, Facebook in particular, is very bad at helping this happen.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve logged on and gotten extremely depressed for comparing myself to my peers. For example, this past Friday through Monday evening I was perfectly happy. Something extraordinary happened to me on Friday that left a permanent smile on my face. However, after getting home from therapy Monday evening I found myself staring at Facebook in tears for the stupidest reasons.
When my depression begins hitting, I isolate myself from those around me. When I was in school, it was easier to open up to people because I was always around people. My friends who I trusted enough to open up to were nearby. My mentor was just down the hall. As an alum, I have therapy once a week. Everyone I can reach out to is through social media or texting. I’ve had a really good friend become one of my trusted friends to open up to recently, who never lets me feel like what I feel or say is silly. Others I truly believe I have simply worn out. I feel like I exhaust everyone around me. I can reach out, and I’m ignored or pushed aside. This hit hard for me on Monday. My friends I would usually reach out to haven’t been speaking to me, so naturally my mind gets itself in trouble by thinking. Thinking leads to depression. Depression leads to wanting to reach out. The few times that I have, my feelings have been brushed aside as unimportant. I absolutely miss being out with people, especially seeing friends I don’t usually see. Being isolated without them seems to have made a real negative effect on me. Being told how unimportant those feelings are made things only get worse.
Aside from comparing myself with others, social media feeds on the current political climate. I have a strange balance on my social media where Facebook is terrifyingly pro-Trump and Twitter is very anti-Trump. I try to stay out of politics because it angers me to see how people talk, but these two platforms drive my emotions around like a roller coaster. My family is pro-Trump supporters, despite the fact most of them didn’t bother to vote. They’re close-minded. They’re homophobic and racist. I came out as bisexual, and many of them believe this is a sin and yadda yadda yadda. I can log onto Twitter and see very anti-Trump posts that anger me over what he is currently doing. Don’t even get me started on his last statement about Puerto Rico. I don’t want to get hateful. In general, these two platforms push my emotions back and forth so much I spiral downward faster than I would without them.
Granted, there are positives to social media. I don’t want to leave those out. I have been able to stay in touch with friends and family from my hometown through Facebook. I share my artwork on multiple groups on Facebook, and I can share it on Twitter. I’m amazed, astounded, ready to fall over my chair (and sometimes I do) when the celebrities I draw respond to them. I can’t tell you how much that brings me happiness when my artwork is seen, commented on, and shared. Art has always been an important coping mechanism in my life, and the knowledge it makes someone else smile makes me happy. And growing up, things like this wouldn’t have even been possible.
Through Twitter, I have met a lot of people I always keep in touch with. I met a very good friend through Twitter. Ironically, she only lives a couple of hours from me in West Virginia. I’ve met people who appreciate my interests, support me, and encourage me to keep trying or keep doing.
When Yahoo was an important platform, especially for online games, I met a whole group of people from around the world who I talked to constantly when I was 15. It’s been 10 years, and I still regularly talk with one of them who has grown into my big brother.
I think these days it’s important to understand how social media affects you, and how much you use it. I have noticed how Facebook affects me, so I tend to stay off of it during most of my evenings home. I have noticed how much I’ve enjoyed reaching out and supporting people on Twitter, so I’ve become very active on it. I also recognize when there social media is causing me too much trouble, so I know to take a step back. I think this is the most important thing to understand about yourself. Comparing yourself to others is something you have to practice. Bullying in general is something we, as a society, need to fix and stop. What you get out of social media is entirely up to you, and it’s important to know what you want and how to react to the negative things you come across.
I’m open to other people’s take on social media. I would love to hear what you think on it.