By: Greg Harms
Over the past year or so I have heard from a number of people, both patients and non-patients, that they seem to be experiencing some symptoms of depression, or maybe anxiety. They feel blah, bored, uninterested, unsure of themselves, etc. However, they have all managed to continue functioning in their lives.
They’re not missing work, not staying in bed all day, not skipping social obligation, and some of them even manage to exercise on a regular basis. Yet, they all tell me they have this vague sense that something just isn’t right with their lives.
Without some sort of impairment, they don’t really have classic depression or anxiety, the way that mental health professionals see it. Yet, they all feel that something is wrong and want it to be better. As I have worked and talked with these people, it has become clear that much of this sense of wrongness is being fueled by our increasingly electronically connected way of life.
We see what our friends, and their friends, and their friends’ friends are doing at any given time. We see when and where they are on vacation, we hear about their promotions and raises, we see where they live and what they have acquired. It can be very easy to feel like we don’t measure up and to get discouraged.
We all have some picture inside of us of what “making it” in this life means. Ten years ago, even with the internet, we still had to rely on ourselves to create that picture and determine if we had achieved it or not. With the advent of social media, our internal pictures of “making it” have become influenced, perhaps to an unrealistic degree, by what we see other people achieving and getting.
What we don’t see is what they did to get that and whether it is deserved or not, how it is being financed, or any other number of things that might indicate that we don’t want to do what they did get it. We just see that they have it and as a result, think that we should too. On top of that, if we don’t have social media friends to share our material gains with, then we’re even worse off.
No wonder people feel sad, discouraged, uneasy, demotivated. No one can live up to the fantasies being created and perpetuated on social media.
While I would love to tell you that if you want to feel better you should get off of social media altogether, I know that’s not realistic, and you would likely stop reading right here if I did. But, I will suggest, as you compare your life to the picture of other peoples’ lives that you see on social media and compare the length of your friends list to theirs, think about what the real story might be behind what you see.
Try to dispute some of your irrational thoughts about how easy it seems to be for others to get what they (and now you) want from life. You’re not seeing the debt they’re racking up, the arguments with spouses or kids, the work demands, etc. If living up to other peoples’ material standards for success comes with all of these drawbacks, you probably don’t want it in the first place.
Think too about what it is that you really value. Are those longings for a McMansion or quarterly exotic vacations really what you want or are they what you are being made to think you want? Take some time to take stock of what is really important for you and what you want your life to stand for.
It likely is not the same as what everyone else you see on social media wants. Have the courage to forge your own path and use your own standards to determine what “making it” means for you and when you have gotten there.
Lastly, make an effort to connect more with people in real life. The good thing about social media is that it does help us stay connected with friends and loved ones that we may have gradually fallen out of touch with 20 or 30 years ago.
Don’t limit your interaction to social media though. Pick up the phone and talk for a while. Not only does that real world conversation help you to feel better, you might start finding out what’s really going on with them beyond the glitzy, glamorous photos they put on their social media pages.
Be there for someone as they work through the problems that they’re not showing others. Being a good friend is one of the best cures for depression. It gets you out of your own head and gives you a great reality check. The more you can enjoy the people in your life, the less important those social media facades become.