…the advent of social media—a turbo-charged, precision instrument for social comparison unlike anything in human history.”- Rebecca Webber, Psychology Today
Our social media feeds are a never-ending, tantalizing buffet. The stream of images can provoke any one of us to feel left out or less-than. Health journalist, Rebecca Webber, covered this “comparison trap” for Psychology Today (worth a full read!). She offers a balanced look at the issue: Some comparison is okay when it provokes inspiration, empathy, or connection. But, if we survive on others’ opinions of ourselves—for good or for bad—it can cause “depression.”
Webber illustrates how the comparison trap works:
So if you’re walking down the street and a super fit 20-something jogs by, you might instantly assess that, by comparison, you’re out of shape. Then you may note that you’re at least two decades older than the jogger and juggling the care of twin toddlers with a full-time job. You recall that you don’t have the same metabolism or time for exercise. It’s apples to string beans. The negative comparison stings less than if you were looking at another working parent.
These unbalanced comparisons can create social anxiety and deplete our self-esteem. Thankfully, there are some ways you can break the comparison trap:
- Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice
Find ways to celebrate others when they succeed. Instead of viewing their success as your loss, encourage them along the way. When you look for moments to encourage and help others, it disrupts your natural tendency to compare and contrast. This mindset shift could potentially dismantle the stress you feel on social media. Overall, the more you pour into others, you’ll find reciprocation right around the corner.
- Weep With Those Who Weep
Empathy is your weapon against comparison. Instead of desiring to be like that person (or liked by them), reflect on how you can love them. This is important, especially when our friends or family are mourning. Whether it’s a lost job, lost loved one, or just a hard day, you can be there for them and listen. But, if you’re stuck in the comparison cycle, you may miss that opportunity.
- Scroll Intentionally
Maybe the comparison trap is a tough issue for you right now. You may need some digital boundaries while you regain your footing. These could include…
- Taking a break—or fast—from your most notorious social app for a week.
- Responding with encouragement, rather than envy. When that new profile shot pops-up, like it and cheer them on.
- Moving on. If you see a post coming which will trigger that comparison trap, then keep on scrolling.
- Changing your setup. If you find your standard iPhone or Android offers too many avenues for distraction and comparison, try an alternative designed for your well-being.
Next Steps for Living Fully
Hanging in the comparison cycle will eat away at your self-esteem. And leaving it takes proactive, worthwhile work.
Ultimately, the greatest protection against falling into the comparison trap—and the best way to pull yourself out of it—is to develop and maintain a stable sense of self. That means cultivating your identity and self-esteem, nourishing relationships with people who see the real you, and staying attuned to your truest beliefs.