Social Media, TV & Your Mental Health: Are They Friends or Foes?
By Andrea Serie
Remember in the early days of TV when there was no such thing as a problem that couldn’t be solved in 30 minutes? Everyone’s parents were married, financially stable and seemingly happy. Slowly, the perfect sitcom families had divorced cousins or a homosexual neighbor or there was an episode about the teacher who was secretly an alcoholic. Gradually, the main characters became “real people” with “real problems.” So our Sunday nights are now filled with characters we can relate to, cry with and occasionally give us anxiety because their problems are more overwhelming than our own (Think HBO’s The Affair). Instead of pondering why our lives don’t look as perfect as the Keatons (the Family Ties family for anyone not born yet in the 80s), TV can actually provide comfort that we are not alone in our struggles. Families are dysfunctional. Life can be disappointing. This has been the great progress of television.
So instead of measuring ourselves against fake TV characters, we can now compare ourselves to everyone we’ve ever known and how their lives look under a Valencia Instagram filter. We’re essentially living everyday at our high school reunion.
According to Forbes, social media can cause people to feel both depressed and envious because we are constantly measuring our lives against the perceived happiness and success of the lives of the people in our network. Most people are only posting their wins, not their disappointments.
The authors of one study, looking at jealousy and other negative feelings while using Facebook, wrote that “This magnitude of envy incidents taking place on FB alone is astounding, providing evidence that FB offers a breeding ground for invidious feelings.” They add that it can become a vicious cycle: feeling jealous can make a person want to make his or her own life look better, and post jealousy-inducing posts of their own, in an endless circle of one-upping and feeling jealous.
According to Theodore Roosevelt, Comparison is the thief of joy (you know you’ve seen this meme a thousand times). Which begs the question, are we living in a time when we would be satisfied with our current lives, if someone else’s life didn’t seem better? Would you appreciate your day at the beach in Breezy Point, if you didn’t see your friend post their vacation in Malibu?
According to a study by UK disability charity Scope, of 1500 Facebook and Twitter users surveyed, 62 percent reported feeling inadequate and 60 percent reported feelings of jealousy from comparing themselves to other users.
So if playing the judgment game is making us feel so bad, why do we continue to post and scroll? The answer is social media can be addicting. We think it will make us feel better and we develop a habit of needing to feel connected, hoping to feel less alone. The good news is that social media when utilized for the right reasons can be a positive. It can connect us to people we don’t have an opportunity to see due to location; create networking opportunities (I got my current job through FB!); and shouldn’t we be rooting for our friends when they hit a milestone in their life?
The tide is turning and we have just begun to take baby steps toward being truthful, which will eventually lead to more positive feelings around social media. With the powerful #MeToo movement gaining tremendous attention; celebrities such as Lady Gaga being open and honest about her pain and suffering with fibromyalgia; people battling illness are forming FB groups to exchange information and support; and posts on various platforms about the disappointment and shame around miscarriage …genuine conversations are happening more and more.
Baby boomers frequently ask, why would you want to put all your problems on display for the whole world to see? This is an old-world mentality traced backed to the European immigrants who came to the US in the early 1900s. The theory that imperfections are weakness and a strong united front needs to be presented by the family to the community. As most things have changed over the past 100 years, this thought process is slowly evolving. Once this way of thinking becomes a part of our collective past, there is great potential for all of us as a people.
We will eventually break down the walls and see past the filters and when that happens social media will look like TV. We will find comfort in other people’s challenges because they are our challenges too. We will learn from our virtual communities, just as people have learned from character failures and triumphs on TV. We will feel less alone because the world around us both in entertainment and social media will be honest and realistic.