In this day and age, it becomes virtually impossible to escape social media. Online lurking offers many tantalizing options- the ability to keep up and feel connected with loved ones, getting to see what everyone is up to without the awkward high school reunion parties and tacky dress code violations. ( We are looking at you, Carol, cat hair isn’t the new black).
According to recent studies, the more time spent on social media, the more our rates of depression increase. So why is it that in the day and age of cat videos that span across the internet , the more time spent on social media would mean an increase in depression? Well, there are a few different places to look at this from. The first part is taking a look at what we are seeing. Something I will often hear of is people confiding that all they see are how much their friends and loved ones looking like they have it all. Pictures and posts about how much they are so in love with their husbands and wives, family vacations of swimming with dolphins in the Hawaiian islands, and precious pictures of snuggling children while watching the sunsets. Why can’t I have those moments, they will wonder? Why can’t I also experience that same level of wistful poetic prose on a Wednesday?
The truth is we will never feel good about ourselves if we keep comparing ourselves to a false reality. It’s akin to comparing ourselves to the pretty airbrushed photo of photshopped people on the cover of magazines- none of it is real. What we don’t see on Facebook are the posts of the husband and wife who spent an hour arguing about where to eat for dinner, which inevitably lead to an even bigger fight about how he/she is incapable of making a decision for the family. What wasn’t posted in the family album was a picture of the toddler screaming until they threw up because they suddenly didn’t want to wear their red swimming shoes. Or the more realistic status updates “Samantha is….yelling at her child to do their homework for the 100th hour tonight.”
Another aspect of online emotional deception is the lack of intimacy of the social media friendships we obtain. There is a whole neurobiology behind the face-to-face interactions we have when speaking to friends, such as mirror neurons, the release of oxytocin in a hug from a friend, and important learned social skills. Speaking of social skills- online interactions make becoming cruel to others much easier when there isn’t a live human sitting across from you. So, we absorb all the trust from making friends across the world along with the bad feelings that come from finding out unwanted truths. We feel betrayed by people who we never actually knew in the first place, despite getting an eagle eyed look into their daily lives.
Is all social media bad? Not at all- social media can be a very engaging and convenient way to keep up with friends and family ( and a great way to remember birthdays!) However, once we start taking updates, hashtags and filtered pictures as gospel for how our own reality needs to look, we are in trouble. We need to keep a realistic expectation for how actual reality is verses online fantasy.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: