Photo Credit: pexels
Instagram is now the social media platform of choice for influencers, especially in categories like fitness, fashion and beauty. But if you’re trying to break into one of these hot categories, beware. We’ve always suspected that trying to maintain a perfect, stylized existence online was going to cause anxiety and perhaps even mental distress. But now we have firm proof in the form of a new academic study that documents how the pressure of constantly putting out content that is engaging and interesting can lead to depression, anxiety and the loss of self-esteem.
The psychology of social media
The academic study, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, takes a closer look at how social media platforms can impact overall mental health. Quite simply, the more time you spend on Instagram, the more anxious and depressed you are going to be. Even if you are just consuming content (and not creating it), you are going to be bombarded by images of perfection. You will start to wonder if you are attractive enough, successful enough, or accomplished enough. Every thing you do in real life will seem to pale in comparison to what all the hot influencers seem to be doing. Your beach vacation on the Jersey Shore will seem depressing after you view photos and videos of all the fabulous places in the Caribbean that the top influencers are going. And your fun coffee date in Center City Philadelphia with a long-time friend will pale in comparison to a once-in-a-lifetime dinner date at a five-star celebrity chef restaurant in a city like Paris.
You get the idea here. Academics refer to this as a “confused social comparison radar.” Instead of comparing yourself to friends and like-minded individuals, you are comparing yourself to people no longer in your social milieu (i.e. people off your social radar). According to this academic study from an Australian psychology professor, the greatest mental strain is in categories like fitness, fashion and beauty, where image is everything. We all wake up somedays with the equivalent of a “bad hair day.” Just imagine how much of a panic moment that must be for a beauty influencer trying to curate the perfect image on Instagram!
Obviously, the pressure is even worse for influencers actually creating all the content. They have intense pressure to create idealized images of the “best me.” They can never just live in the moment, because they are constantly thinking of how that moment should be packaged and delivered for a social media platform like Instagram. It all leads to what has been called a “rat race lifestyle.” You are constantly being forced to purchase more, consume more, do more and earn more. And it never ends on social media.
How to avoid depression and anxiety
So what can be done to avoid all the negative mental and emotional aspects of using Instagram? The easiest way, quite simply, is to cut down your usage of the platform. If you are scrolling through images every few hours, you’re going to be much unhappier than if you limit your usage to just 1-2 times per day. And if you absolutely, positively have to crank out new content every day as a top influencer, then at least re-calibrate your social radar. Only follow people you can relate to, and remove anyone from your social media feeds who doesn’t seem to be living a realistic lifestyle.
That’s a good start if you’re looking to reduce some of the pressure of always needing to put new content out there. Just be you and don’t worry about everyone else. The life you lead in real life is perfectly OK, and you don’t need to convince anyone else that you are more fabulous than you already are.