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by Tom Seaman, BS, CPC

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How social media may fuel depression

Posted on April 3, 2016 at 5:30 PM

How social media may fuel depression

 

Have you ever played the social media comparison game? If you have, you are not alone. Most people at one time or another have gotten caught up in what I call a “comparathon”, where they measure the success of their lives against others based on what they see in posts on various social media. Often times, people feel they don’t measure up to the seemingly full and happy lives of others, which can cause changes in mood. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of social media (as well as the positive, so there are pros and cons), especially with people who already live with anxiety and depression. Add in a physically limiting health condition (such as dystonia, which I live with) and it can be exponentially worse for some.


For many, due to the inability to be as comfortably mobile as they once were, much of their interaction with the world is through social media; the place where there are pictures and videos of their friends living as if they don’t have a worry in the world. You may even see people with health challenges similar to yours who are living what appears to be a pretty normal life and involved in more activities than you. This can further aggravate depression because you feel like you are missing out on everything, but there is good news…


…what we all know but often forget is that the lives that many people display on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., don’t tell the whole story. It is a microscopic view of their lives. For some people it IS as exciting and fun as they illustrate. For many others, it isn’t as fun and easy going as we interpret. Everyone has challenges, some of whom hide them very well and only show the fun things in their lives. This gives others a skewed perception of reality.


Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of very happy people living their lives, having a ball, and portraying it on social media exactly as it is, but there are also many who give this appearance when it doesn’t exist. For many, social media is an escape from their own painful reality.

 


Behind many of the “happy” images, we don’t see or hear about financial problems, marriages breaking up, kids struggling in school or into drugs and alcohol, health issues, depression, stress, anxiety, worry, fear…the list is endless. Many people who seem to have the perfect life often live with the same things that haunt the rest of us. We are not alone in any of our worries or concerns by a long shot. If you are human, you have issues…simple as that. Do your best to get rid of any envy you may have. You are just as worthy as anyone else.


Further, if you spend a lot of time on support group sites where people talk about all the problems they are having, this can cause you to worry more about how your health issue might progress. We may also take on the burden of others due to our empathetic nature. This being the case, balance your time on social media and the outside world.

 

As a health and wellness coach, I work with people who have chronic health conditions, anxiety, depression, weight issues, etc., and many of them become more unhappy and unhealthy because of what they see on social media. Even the people I work with who don’t have “problems” become more depressed by some of what they see. So, it is not just people who have limiting health conditions that are negatively impacted. Social media induced depression can affect anyone. It is especially challenging in the winter months when people are stuck indoors and for those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which causes a shift in moods.


With all of this in mind, the next time you are looking at pictures and videos of others on social media and feeling depressed about your life because it isn’t you in those images, remember that this is just a small window into their lives. For most, there are challenges behind all the “happy” smiles so please do not view everything you see on social media as the whole story. In fact, you may be happier than the people you perceive as “living the life.”


HOWEVER, to contradict everything I just said since my focus is primarily on the negative impact of social media, I suggest practicing “letting go”, if you will. Be happy for others and all the things they are doing in their lives and sharing with us; acknowledge them for the fun moments they enjoy. This is a much healthier way to process what you see. Sharing in each other’s happiness and joy will help us all feel better. Even if what is displayed isn’t the whole story, big deal; share in the happy moments because we all have them. Just keep things in perspective so you don’t get too down when you decide to compare your life with someone else.

 



Tom Seaman is a dystonia awareness advocate and certified professional life coach in the area of health and wellness. He is also the author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone living with any life challenge. To learn more about Tom and get a copy of his book, visit www.diagnosisdystonia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Dystoniabook1

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4 Comments

Reply Heather Barnes
6:57 PM on April 6, 2016 
This is so helpful, thank-you!
Reply Tom Seaman
1:10 PM on April 5, 2016 
Kim Pierson says...
Hi Kim, I know the feeling all too well. For a long time I avoided many things because of the reminders. For me, avoidance made things worse. I had to engage in the world if I wanted to live in the world and feel as much like the old me... or comfortable with the new me... as possible. I learned that I have to engage with more balance. Each day I work at getting back to the me I want to be with that same determination you mentioned. One day at a time... patience is one of the many lessons dystonia teaches me every day.. a much needed lesson for which I am so grateful.

Husband and I were just talking about how much time I spend on social media since Dystonia. Seeing old friends lives as they travel, enjoying social events and feeling left out. My neurologist said while doing injections and changing meds "I'm treating another Dystonia patient that works as a realtor". When leaving and since then I wanted to scream "Fix me like you did her ". Comparing our pain, our desire to do the things that once was is disheartening and only fueled my dreams of working again, being able to have a normal day with no pain. Some of the groups tends to fuel this as well. Scared but determined to give up social media for a short time. Thought I was in the stage of acceptance of having dystonia yet finding a recent picture of myself has fueled depression and bitterness that needs to be worked on. Determined to accept and LIVE again.
Reply Kim Pierson
11:02 AM on April 5, 2016 
Husband and I were just talking about how much time I spend on social media since Dystonia. Seeing old friends lives as they travel, enjoying social events and feeling left out. My neurologist said while doing injections and changing meds "I'm treating another Dystonia patient that works as a realtor". When leaving and since then I wanted to scream "Fix me like you did her ". Comparing our pain, our desire to do the things that once was is disheartening and only fueled my dreams of working again, being able to have a normal day with no pain. Some of the groups tends to fuel this as well. Scared but determined to give up social media for a short time. Thought I was in the stage of acceptance of having dystonia yet finding a recent picture of myself has fueled depression and bitterness that needs to be worked on. Determined to accept and LIVE again.
Reply Michelle Luke-Schwinger
3:09 AM on April 5, 2016 
I call Facebook "fake book" because it's often a highlight reel of people's lives. If someone's life seem "perfect", I try to remember it's a thin slices of their reality.