Podcast episode 5 Dealing with the social media comparison trap
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m a writer and teacher specialising in overthinking and overworrying. Here I share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Welcome to episode 5. In this episode I’m talking about the stories we tell ourselves as we scroll through social media and what we can do to challenge the negative thoughts that so often crop up.
First of all I’m going to say that social media is neither bad nor good, it just is. How we use and relate to it is what effects us positively or negatively.
Whether you prefer Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another social media platform it’s easy to find yourself making up stories when you read other people’s statuses or look at their photos.
We see someone’s post and instantly we make assumptions and judgements about them, their families, their lives, how happy they are. From a handful or even just one social media post we feel like we know what that person’s life is like. And because it’s human nature to be figuring out where we fit into society, we compare this person’s life that we think we know, with our own.
We’re taking what is essentially a snapshot of a life and treating it as a 24 hour fly on the wall documentary. We see a photo of a lovely, tidy kitchen with a jug of flowers on a clean and clear surface and we tell ourselves that this person’s home is beautiful, they have life completely sorted, they don’t have to deal with any of the stress and messy complications of life, and even if they did they’d be able to cope perfectly. And all because of a picture of a tidy kitchen.
Or we scroll past someone’s post describing what a brilliant time they had with their friends in a bar the previous night and instantly our story mill kicks in. The person who posted this is never lonely, they have wonderful friends who are ready and available whenever needed, they have no money worries, they aren’t too knackered to go out or have to find a babysitter, they don’t worry about how hard it might be to find a taxi home or if they’ll have a hangover, they don’t care how anyone else feels because they’re too busy having a fantastic life. We get all that from a post about a fun night out.
There’s nothing bad about these posts, people aren’t wrong to post a photo of their tidy kitchen or talk about their great evening.
We don’t know what someone’s life is really like, particularly not strangers on the internet. Even people you know well don’t share every detail of their lives so you never really know what a person is dealing with.
We make up these stories, we rush to these assumptions so quickly we may not even realise we’re doing it. But there are other signs that we can recognise. Maybe your mood changes while you’re scrolling. Perhaps there’s a tense feeling or one of sadness or dissatisfaction. You find yourself feeling fed up, wishing things were different, you feel irritated, you’re questioning yourself, your life, feeling like you don’t match up, that you’re not good enough. When you finally step away from social media your mood and how you feel about yourself may have changed enough to impact the rest of your day.
This isn’t because social media is bad or that people are wrong to post about their lives. We have no control over what anyone posts online but what we do have control over is whether we see it and how we react to it.
If someone’s posts don’t make you feel good, you can stop following them so you stop seeing their posts. If logging on to social media first thing in the morning makes you feel dissatisfied with life before the day’s even started, don’t pick up your phone until later in the day.
Paying attention to how you feel before you open the apps, and checking in with yourself while you scroll can help you to notice what impact social media is having on you. If you notice your mood is getting lower, ask yourself why that is. What posts are you seeing and what are you telling yourself about them?
Let’s go back to the earlier examples. You see a photo of a tidy kitchen, what do you know to be true about this image and what are you creating from that photo? Deep down, you know that no-one’s kitchen is permanently tidy, unless it’s a show home. You know that everyone makes mess, that everyone has challenges and stuff to deal with and that no-one’s life is perfect. You do know that. You’ve just forgotten it in the midst of the story you told yourself. Plus, if your kitchen was in immaculate condition maybe you’d want to take a photo and show the world too!
Let’s take the example of the post about a fun night out with friends. It’s great that this person has had a good time but it doesn’t mean that every waking minute of their life is one big happy party. Things may be going really well for them or they may be facing some serious difficulties, there’s no real way of knowing and whatever someone else’s life is like it doesn’t change yours. Each of us has our own life to live and it’s neither superior nor inferior to the next person’s. A post on Facebook showing a fun night out doesn’t diminish your life because that’s not your experience.
How one person lives their life and what they post on social media is up to them, that’s not within your control. What is within your control is how you live your own life and how you choose to respond to the world around you.
Here are six ways to challenge the stories you tell yourself about other people’s social media posts:
1 Notice how you feel before you log in to a social media platform and pay attention to any changes to how you feel as you’re scrolling
2 If you notice you’re feeling dissatisfied or you’re comparing yourself to the posts you’re seeing, pause for a moment and ask yourself why that is, what do you know to be true about the posts and what are you creating out of them
3 If you find that a particular person’s posts don’t make you feel good, stop following them so you no longer need to see their posts
4 Think about what time of day you use social media and what your mood is like at that time, can you link the two together?
5 When you realise that scrolling through posts isn’t making you feel good step away, take a few breaths and focus your attention on what’s real in your world right now
6 Remember that social media posts are snapshots of a person’s life, not a fly on the wall documentary
I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful. By being mindful of the stories you’re telling yourself as you scroll through social media, you can choose how you respond to what you see. You can choose to let the images wash over you, or find them inspiring, or smile at them. You can opt for being uplifted or amused or just scroll on by without another thought. You can’t control what other people post in their social media feeds but you can control whether you see it or not, and how you react to it.
Thank you for joining me for Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers. You can find the show notes and other episodes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
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I love to see how you’re enjoying Spring so do share your photos on Instagram with hashtag savourtheseasonalshift and I’m @gabrielletreanor.
Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.