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The Social Media Comparison Trap

It has become very easy for us all to compare ourselves with others. We cannot escape the comparisons with family members, friends, schoolmates, co-workers, and neighbors. In addition to being compared with people in your community, school, and/or job, we have access to social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin where everyone's achievements and victories are on full display. Comparing ourselves can be healthy way of measuring where you are or as a tool for new goal setting because you admire or respect the lives of the people who are evaluating. I have seen how comparisons can become unhealthy for people because envy, jealousy, and hatred can develop. Instead of congratulating the achievements of others, you are wishing for their failures.This mindset can also lead to or worsten depression and anxiety for people because they may feel that they are not good enough or have unfulfilling lives. I will provide healthy tips to help you change your thoughts about how you compare yourself with others.

I have had patients who have struggled with comparing themselves with others on the different social media platforms. Most people tend to be happy for others when they see pictures of friends, co-workers, and/or family members having epic vacations, driving nice cars, job promotions, eating healthy, exercising, or wearing fashionable clothes.

However, there are people who can start to feel depressed about their lives when every second on their news feed they see people having the time of their lives. The unhealthy comparisons  can begin to pop up in someone's mind where they become highly critical of themselves, despise their lives, and regret the decisions they have made.  I have informed my patients who struggle with the unhealthy comparisons is that they are looking at a snapshot of one moment when the picture was taken. The person in the picture could have just had an argument with a loved one, lost their job, rented a car, took a picture at a nice angle,  or this is a vacation that helps them deal with their own life problems. The person who takes the picture may have been dealing with insecurities their whole life and taking the photos may be their way of accepting themselves. We have to learn not to create negative stories of others in our heads but positive ones where we can be genuinely happy for the people who share their life's moments on social media. 

Here are some tips that can aid you in getting out of the comparison trap:

1) If the feelings of jealousy or envy develop, try to ask what is the root cause of the feeling? Try writing in a journal to get the thoughts onto paper so you can reflect on the feelings. If you find it being too deep to explore, consider getting the assistance of a therapist who may be able to talk about your true cause of your feelings.

2) Practice being happy for others. Develop a mindset that people deserve their successes or that hard work pays off. Genuinely learn to "like" or congratulate your friends for their achievements or fun times because it is well deserved. Remember we do not always know what people are going through in their lives or had to do to get to their milestones.

3)Develop the mindset, that you can enjoy life as well. If certain adventures or products are within your financial means, go get it. You deserve to be happy as well, but not at the expense of "hating on" the progress of others.

4) If you are able to change the thoughts of jealousy and envy to admiration, consider asking the person about how they were able to plan a vacation, get certain products, set up exercise routines, diet plans, or steps for school admission/graduation or job promotion. People will surprise you on how much they want share their successes and joys so that others can experience it.

5) Compare yourself to your past. Compete with that person. You will be able to track your own progress. If you have seen where you have came from, this can be a confidence boost that you are someone capable of being successful. If you have regressed, take time to regroup and create an action plan to return to your past self. There are valuable sources available to you help you get to where you want to be. If its fashion, you can always sign up for services such as StitchFix. If you want to lose weight and get in shape, hire a trainer. If you want to be travel often, hire a travel agent. There are people in the world working to solve your problems.

6) If social media, is too much for you, consider taking a break from it or shortening the amount of time you spend on the platforms.

I hope these tips can get you on the right path to being genuinely happy for others and content with who you are. There is nothing wrong with feeling that there can be more to your life and you want to get out of your comfort zone. With the new year and decade, focus on how you can be your best version of yourself.


Dr. Ifeanyi Olele Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS, is a board-certified psychiatrist who sees adolescent and adult patients in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area at Genesis Psychiatric Solutions. Dr. Olele is a dedicated psychiatrist in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma-related stress disorders, and attention deficit disorders. Dr. Ifeanyi Olele is one of the few psychiatrists who utilizes psychotherapy (talk therapy) as part of his treatment plan.

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