Instagram & Self Esteem are not Mutually Exclusive

It seems the word ‘social’ in social media, is perhaps not as sociable as it suggests. If you are anything like me, and/or are just someone who likes to engage with their social media frequently, you may (at times), feel even more isolated and lonely than before you popped onto the so called ‘sociable’ outlet.

I was recently talking with a few of my close girlfriends, some of whom are what those my age would consider to be ‘Insta famous’.

‘Whenever I go on my Instagram lately, I just start to feel super shitty and depressed. Like why can’t I be her?”

God she honestly lives the best life ever. Her car. Her boyfriend. Her multiple trips overseas.”

You get my drift.

What was my immediate reaction you may ask? Pretty much: yeah SAME. Instagram is an incredible tool, that allows us to connect with people, explore new and exciting sites and places, and can aid personal development on multiple levels. As we are all very aware as of late, A LOT of people also choose to make a living off of their heavily populated Instagram platform.

So where am I going with this? And doesn’t it seem a bit critical of me to accuse and bash the very social media platform that I love and use daily? Sure, it would be. If that was what I was looking to do. But that ain’t my goal… and the use of social media is an extremely tool in our world today. It is also however, an incredibly manipulative and complicated platform that should be used carefully. And lets be honest: the images that we see are often far from reality.

Speaking from personal experience, it is extremely easy to get sucked into a distorted version of reality when we base daily perceptions and judgements of people – on what we see online. I am sure you have all been there too. An hour and a half goes by, and suddenly you find yourself scrolling through your brothers, wife’s, sisters, boyfriend’s, best friends travel page. WOW!

Falling into this mindless trap, generally starts with a little harmless curiosity (or boredom… or a combination of the two). We scroll through an endless stream of beautiful images, we engage with other peoples versions of their beautiful life – all of which provides momentum for these elongated periods of what I like to call ‘The Insta Stalk’.

So where does the problem lie you may ask? Well, for me personally – the problem begins when this curiosity morphs into jealousy, comparisons and envy. I am only human, and sometimes a little too much time online looking at others lives most definitely makes me question the way I live mine. I want to live where she lives! I wish I could look like that in a crop top! How can I earn enough money to travel as much as she does? I want her bod!

I would be lying is I said that this process didn’t effect me. I would be lying if I was to say that I NEVER compare myself to others online. So yes… here I am, just like a lot of you I’m sure, and I too – sometimes fall into the trap of making Instagram and my self-esteem mutually exclusive. What I have realised however, is that its human nature to produce a cognitive flow of thoughts in our brains, based on things around us. This flow leads to a comparative process, where by our lives become negative, and others becomes seemingly more positive. Ultimately – you end up feeling shit.

Sound like you? You been here too? Well ya know what – thats ok. Because you ain’t alone. And the first step to combat this, is becoming aware of our actions.

Fighting the negative side effects of social media can be achieved when we understand and acknowledge the pattern of how it works. The way I choose to do this, is to begin on a personal level. Step one: understanding and realising how social media works. Realise its strengths and weaknesses. In order to do this… think about the last time that you posted a bad picture of yourself? When was the last time you posted something and thought… shit, I look bad in this one – but oh well! I’m going to take a wild guess and say NEVER.

Instagram is indeed, a highlight reel of our lives. It highlights how happy we are, how many holidays we take a year, who we are currently dating, where we are in the world…. how much fun we are having. The way we carefully construct our image, is based upon the images and themes that we WANT people to see! Therefore, what we must all realise evidently, is that Instagram is not in fact – reality, and can therefore not be used as a source of comparrison.

What you also must know is: Multiple studies have suggested a direct link between Instagram and Mental Illness problems. It has also been suggested, that due to these unregistered comparisons of lifestyle that individuals make online – Instagram has been rated the number one most-problematic application on your smart device in causing depression and anxiety.

But hold up, hold up… its not all negative vibes. I am by no means suggesting that you leave Instagram and segregate yourself from the things you love to see online. I am simply suggesting however, my step two: questioning why you feel the way you do, after seeing a certain image online.

The perspective and approach that we take to viewing images online – heavily impacts our mood before and after viewing the content. Hence, when images are viewed with the relevant understanding that these images represent a visual fantasy of what people ‘want’ us to see, they have much less negative effects on ones mood.

After realising these things, I have also discovered my new found ability to pose personal questions to myself. What is it about this particular image that made me jealous in the first place? Was I jealous of what they have accomplished, what they are being praised for? In realising the root of my comparisons and my jealousy – I have also uncovered my own values and goals (sometimes coming to terms with the things that I REALLY do or don’t want to do).

Try converting your comparrison from anger and self-hate, into a positive self motivator. I like to think of it like this – another persons success can provide clarity for what you want. Personally for me, I see people being super successful in their own self-developed enterprise, and take inspiration from this to better myself. 

If its someone else’s body goals or fitness lifestyle that you choose to compare too – realise that what you are seeing is only a snippet of their reality. You are also, incredibly unique – and you will never be like them or have their lifestyle/fitness regime/body characteristics. This is most definitely something I learnt the hard way. If they have a great body or great abs – thats super awesome. If you want to use this as motivation to get in shape – thats awesome too. All I am suggesting is that you ensure you are true to you – and are not endeavouring to transform into someone else idea of perfection. You won’t be like them, and you most certainly won’t be as perfect as they ‘appear’ to be.

From a personal level, I want you to know that this process isn’t easy. It is however, something that those of our generation have to deal with, and I by no means have completely nailed the whole ‘no comparisons’ way of life. Currently, I am beginning to realise just how manipulative and contrived Instagram can be – and as a result, will always endeavour to be the most honest version of myself online. Times of late, have also shown me just how controlled and contrived images online can be – and have seen that those who seem the most ‘happy’ and ‘carefree’… are often the ones struggling most.

Instagram is not complete reality, no matter how hard you try to believe it is. Sure people can be authentic, and believe me when I say that I try my very best to be real online. In fact, its something I pride my account on. However, the nature of social media outlets mean that what you see will never be completely real, and someone else’s idea of their ‘perfect’ body, fitness regime, lifestyle, career, family dynamic, etc… may very well be the complete opposite of yours. And thats ok. It’s ok to be different and its ok to be you.

I believe that we should all attempt to lead by example, and representing yourself on Instagram should be about being exactly who you are. Its contagious… the more you do it, the more real people you will attract.

Just something to think about… Lotsa Love x

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