It triggers social comparison
Long before the advent of social media, psychologists like myself knew that one of the fundamental barriers to our well-being is social comparison.
It’s hard to be happy if we constantly concern ourselves with how we measure up to those around us.
When we derive a sense of worth based on how we are doing relative to others, we place our happiness in a variable that is completely beyond our control.
Within moments of logging on to social media we have instant access to the accomplishments of others, vacations, job promotions, home upgrades, and culinary creations.
It’s nearly impossible not to get swept into the cycle of comparison.
IS SOCIAL MEDIA REALLY THAT BAD FOR YOU?
For the record, social media is not inherently bad, says psychologist Dr Tim Bono, author of When Likes Aren’t Enough.
He said: ‘It can be used for a lot of wonderful things that can lead to information sharing, entertainment, and even authentic social connection.
‘But we have to be wise consumers of this media and aware of the potential risks.
‘If you find that your social media use is leading you down a path toward one or more of these six paths, I’m not suggesting that you get rid of it altogether.
‘But you may want to modify how you are using it.
‘Then you’ll get more of the benefits with fewer of the drawbacks. You’ll probably sleep better, too.’
Scrolling through the highlight reels our friends’ posts inevitably fills us with envy because of the things we now want.
Spend that time instead focusing on the good things in your life.
Taking time for gratitude has the opposite effect of social comparison—it redirects our attention to the many wonderful things we already have in our lives that already are there but that we have likely taken for granted.
People who take just a few minutes to focus on what they’re grateful for feel better about their lives overall, report more optimism about their futures, and even get sick less often.
Even though most of us know on an intellectual level that we spend too much time on social media, we nonetheless feel compelled to open up Facebook or Instagram time and again, even against our better judgment telling us to stay away.
The reason? It’s addictive.
The same neurochemistry that leads gamblers in Vegas to empty their wallets into slot machines they know are unlikely to yield the jackpot is what keeps us going back for more updates from friends and relatives we know are likely to make us feel envy from their vacation shots or anger from their political rants.
Part of what makes those behaviors so addictive is the uncertainty factor.
The engineers at Facebook know this. If every post and picture that came our way was pleasing, we would actually spend less time on it.
But because we never know if the next post is going to make us feel good or bad, we become even more motivated to keep scrolling.
Maybe the next picture or post will be make us laugh, maybe it will make us cringe. Maybe the next pull of the slot machine will hit the jackpot, maybe it will come up empty.
There’s only one way to satisfy ‘maybe’. That’s to keep going back for more.
Make it harder to keep going back. Put your phone in a place where it’s not always in arm’s reach.
Download apps that monitor or limit how much time you can spend on particular sites. Keep your social media apps buried in folders on the last screen of your phone.
Or don’t use the apps at all and make yourself log into a web browser each time you want to log on.
Those extra steps may provide the barrier you need to prevent overuse of this addictive media.