Social Isolation and Comparison
As the months ruled by COVID-19 stretch into the fall, many of you may be feeling the weight that comes from having minimal contact with friends and family. While social media can provide a space to connect with the people you care about, it can also be a source of guilt, shame, and stress for several women.
One article by Dr. Rob Whitley states that the more people use social media, the more likely they are to develop a decreased sense of self-esteem. Additionally, more frequent social media usage has been linked to a higher likelihood of developing a mental illness and can cause sleep deprivation. Though most of us are aware that social media only presents the best side of someone’s life, we still regularly compare ourselves to the edited versions of others.
This comparison is troubling for a number of reasons, the primary one being the impact on one’s mental state. Studies show that increased time spent comparing oneself to idealized images on the internet can lead to several mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men.
Two critical factors of fighting mental illness are connection and community. Deep, meaningful relationships make people feel loved, valued, and supported – helping them see potential in themselves that may otherwise remain unrealized. Unfortunately for us in 2020, the people we once turned to for support are now inaccessible due to health code restrictions.
As more businesses and schools transition from being in person to going remote, more people are turning to social media to connect with those they usually see in person. In doing so, individuals are inadvertently getting sucked into the world of idealized images and unrealistic lives, increasing their chances of developing a mental illness.
According to the American Psychological Association, women are at a higher risk for eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Additionally, women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men.
This is interesting to consider, as women are also more likely to spend longer on social media than their male counterparts. Does this mean the two – mental illness in women and social media – are directly linked? Not necessarily, but it should make us pause to consider how social media is affecting us individually. One shared characteristic of eating disorders, anxiety, and depression is that each involves feelings of helplessness or a loss of control.
This is especially important to pay attention to during this season, as COVID-19 has upended many lives, forcing us to give up on once certain plans.
Two critical factors of fighting mental illness are connection and community
I was only a month and a half away from graduating when the pandemic shut down my university. The post-graduation plans that I had worked so painstakingly to make fell apart weekly as COVID-19 claimed more victims and more businesses shut down. Meanwhile, on social media, I followed people who seemed relatively unaffected by the outbreak, getting engaged, finding jobs, and making new life plans. At the same time, I felt stuck in an inescapable tide of uncertainty.
During this time, I ended up reaching out to some friends and mentors who encouraged me to stop comparing myself and instead focus on the good in my life that remained untouched by the pandemic. However, this was a hard task to do when I was constantly comparing myself to people on the internet. It took some time for me to realize the connection.
However, once I deleted some apps off my phone, I was able to better concentrate on being grateful for what I had. I began seeking ways to assert agency in my life by creating daily rhythms, such as drinking coffee and journaling on my porch every morning.
Taking Steps To Improve Your Mental Health
Call a friend. Seek gratitude. Facetime your family. Find ways to pursue your goals. Live Your Dream could be a great place to jumpstart this process, providing you with the tools to get agency over your academic and career aspirations. Delete those apps – or at least take a break – and give yourself some space to do what you love. Take little, active steps towards living the life you want instead of comparing yourself to others.
As author Saul Bellow once said: “Whoever wants to reach a distant goal must take small steps.” You may not be where others are, but that doesn’t mean that you need to give up on your own journey towards accomplishing your dreams.
Kelly Parks is a recent graduate from Wheaton College with plans to continue her education at the University of St. Andrews for a master’s degree in Victorian Literature. Having studied both psychology and English in undergrad, Kelly is passionate about mental health advocacy, women’s rights, and good writing in general. In her free time, Kelly likes to run, read, and paint fun plants and animals which she posts on her instagram account @kellyparks.art.