Social media and self-esteem

How to be active on social media without it bringing you down
Social media can help us cultivate friendships and reduce loneliness. But sometimes we let it make us feel bad about ourselves. Comparing ourselves to others is natural. But it can also make us feel less fun, attractive, and successful, especially when we’re comparing ourselves to a filtered, idealized window into others’ experiences. That can be hard on one’s self-esteem. It can also impact our life satisfaction.There are ways to engage with social media that don’t feel unhealthy.

According to an article in The New York Times, a 2018 York University in Toronto study found that “young adult women using social media often compare their appearance with that of their female peers and think negative thoughts about their own bodies.”

A survey by Northeastern University’s online magazine, Experience, found that two-thirds of respondents experienced “pangs of social media envy in the previous month” while scrolling through their feeds. The biggest triggers included posts about vacation and travel, lifestyle, and money or wealth.

According to Experience, lots of us envy others’ social media posts. But feelings of envy can isolate people instead of bringing us closer.

“We nurse our hurts and grudges in private,” the Experience article states. “But we won’t conquer social media envy until we can publicly acknowledge all the ways it affects us.”

What are some concrete steps we can take to keep social media in perspective?

Curate your Facebook follows

Another article in The Times suggests we take a look at who we are following on Facebook. We can change what Facebook shows us by following only certain people. It’s OK to unfollow anyone who doesn’t spark joy, and they’ll never have to know. (It’s not the same as unfriending.) This has something of a ripple effect. It keeps you from seeing arguments between people you don’t know, and it shows you more of what you’re likely to enjoy, appreciate and interact with positively.

Improve Your Instagram

Selecting what you expose yourself to is even easier on Instagram. Simply follow people, hashtags, or brands you enjoy, without mixing in ones that stir up feelings of inadequacy. For Twitter, the author suggests tuning out anyone who brings you down. Because Twitter is an open platform, it can be a breeding ground for strong opinions. Curating your feed may take more than a few minutes. You can unfollow accounts that gain your attention with controversy and ridicule, and follow more uplifting accounts or topics. You can also “mute” words that annoy you, but you have to mute each word one at a time.

Take Back Your Algorithm

Not everyone agrees that quitting social media will make you happier. Forbes quotes a University of Kentucky study that notes “there was no significant change in a person’s mood even after they quit social media for seven, 14, 21 or 28 days.” But a second study highlights that the type of usage is key. It found that, even though FoMo can indirectly and negatively affect well-being, it can also be good for well-being “if acted upon by engaging in social media in a manner that fosters social connection.”

So, if we regularly experience social media as a negative, we may be able to fix that by changing the way we engage with social media platforms. Not whether we choose to engage or not. If your online interactions make you feel more negative than positive, it might be time to make a few changes.


Here are a few ways to avoid the potential negative effects of social media.

Try using it less often. See if you notice an improvement in your mood. Consider keeping a diary, like the people in the study to help you monitor.

Identify who or what makes you feel bad. Try unfollowing those feeds or muting those words. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Concentrate on the practical. Use your social media to find information that interests you or activities you’d enjoy, etc.

Remember that social media isn’t everything. Remind yourself to engage in activities outside its walls— and maybe get outside your walls for some of those.

Be wary of online activities that don’t feel good. If it deprives you of sleep, makes you feel bad about yourself, or puts other people down, avoid it.

“Disconnect from everything long enough to see if it feeds your soul or if it’s a distraction. What’s deeply connected will always remain.” – Maryam Hasnaa

Tame your social media usage

If you feel like social media has an outsized grip on your life, it can be helpful to make adjustments.

Take social media apps off of your home screen. Put them in a folder or move them to a screen you’ll have to scroll to so it’s an extra step to get to them.

Use apps that limit social media usage or block access (temporarily, that is! We’re not silly!)

Turn off notifications, pings, etc., so you’re not distracted every time you get a “Like,” “Mention,” instant message, or text. Develop hobbies that use both your hands, like knitting, making pottery, or learning an instrument, so you’re less apt to check your phone while you enjoy doing them.

Don’t eat dinner or sleep with the phone in the room. Think of it as a treat, rather than a necessity.


Keeping it real on social media

Lots of us have felt moments of envy while viewing social media posts. But feelings of envy can isolate people instead of bringing us closer. Here are a few ways to make it real, not a highlight reel.

  1. Think about your post, before you post: What am I trying to convey with this? Will it encourage other people to feel happy too, or am I just bragging?
  2. Intersperse photos of vacations or shiny new acquisitions with ordinary posts about cooking dinner, doing yard work, or working hard at your job (unless the job itself is envy-provoking).
  3. If you post frequently, share enough highs to celebrate life, but show your down-to-earth side, too.
  4. Celebrate others’ accomplishments, too.
  5. Avoid “retouching” filters that overly improve your appearance.
  6. For every perfect-lifestyle picture, include shots that aren’t trying to portray perfection.

Sources: New York Times, Experience

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