Do you ever find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media? Perhaps you reach that point where your thumbs are sore and your eyes are tired from the blue light. In this day and age, many of us have been there. Our phones and social media are an integral part of society and of our daily activities. Find yourself sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room? Social media. Sitting on public transport for your morning commute? Social media. Waiting for a friend to show up at dinner? Social media.

Our phones are an easy first grab when we have nothing else imminent to do. It can be fun to see what everyone else is up to and share your special moments. However, we sometimes fail to consume social media mindfully, which can have a profound impact on your mental health.

Social Media Comparison: Why Do We Compare Ourselves?

Social media and its impact are widely discussed in the public forum. Social media has infiltrated practically every facet of our lives. Some people barely use the restroom without posting about it.

Plenty of people preach the concept that social media is a highlight reel; it is incomparable to the realities of day-to-day life. However, we do not always fully grasp this concept. Perhaps that is because we do not understand the implications of viewing and internalizing those highlights as if they are the norm.

One psychology theory that helps illustrate how social media affects us is social comparison theory. Developed by Leon Festinger in 1954, it suggests that people develop concepts of their social and personal worth, in part, through comparison to others.

We compare ourselves to others constantly. Attractiveness, wealth, and intelligence are just a few of the areas in which people evaluate how they fare as compared to those around them. This may seem intuitive, but let us consider the way in which social media broadens the scope of those to which we compare ourselves. A pool of maybe fifty to one hundred peers is multiplied exponentially, even infinitely, when social media is introduced.

Scrolling through social media is about as routine as a morning cup of coffee for a lot of people. What is easy to forget is that social media serves as people’s highlight reel. People present the idealized version of their lives online. They post celebrations, vacations, and memories that showcase the highs. When you come across these posts during your average day or even your worst day, it is really difficult not to yearn for what someone else seems to have.

Social comparison theory suggests that there are two types of comparisons: upward and downward. With downward comparisons, we believe that we are better than someone in some capacity. You have something they do not or you do something better. These can actually be beneficial for one’s self esteem. However, they are the least common type of comparison.

In upward comparisons, we perceive ourselves as inferior to what we see. We believe that we are lacking something comparatively. In most cases, people practice upward comparison more frequently, which can hurt our self-esteem and mental well-being. These comparisons are usually evident in social media comparison.


Comparing Ourselves to Social Media’s Skewed Reality

Common trends of upward comparison are especially harmful online because what you are comparing yourself to on social media is not always even real. A lot of social media content is perfectly curated.

Airbrush, Facetune, and photoshop exist to fabricate perfection. They make the impossible possible. Of course, this lends itself to physical perfection, and we often harp on ourselves for falling short of beauty standards that are actively unrealistic. It is one of the reasons we associate social media with negative body image. There are ways to curb those associations and we elaborate in our blog post about social media to improve body image.

Bodies and beauty are not the only unrealistic or fabricated standards on social media. People have feigned entire vacations online… successfully! When you are navigating social media, at first glance, you cannot necessarily discern what is real or fake. Thus, we compare ourselves all the same.


How Can You Control The Impact of Social Media Comparison?

Persistent thoughts of being “less than” foster all or none thinking that can make you believe you either have something or you do not. Upward social media comparison can convince us that if our life is not picture-perfect, it must be bad. They can provoke what we consider inadequacies and vulnerabilities, which likely contributes to the association between social media and depression. However, it is not too far gone. Social media is not ALL negative.

  • Set a time limit on social media!

There is a correlation between the amount of time spent on social media and the negative emotion it elicits. The more time we spend scrolling, the worse we feel. Creating a cap for the time you spend on social media is one measure you can take to protect your headspace while intaking social media.

  • Follow influencers with intention.

Social media algorithms and feeds are specially curated. They usually intend to influence you to buy something or subscribe to the content of a particular influencer. However, you control who you follow! Seek out accounts with positive and mindful content. Scrolling need not be mindless. Some great accounts to follow can be found on our blog post about social media to improve body image .

  • Practice cognitive restructuring.

When you catch yourself falling into a spiral of upward comparison, challenge yourself to reframe. Instead of focusing on a lack of extravagant trips in your own life, commend yourself for taking the time to rest and be productive. Travel or vacation is not always what we need. Everyone’s needs and opportunities are different and yours are valid.

  • Take pause.

If you are feeling anxious or down, sometimes social media might not seem the obvious cause, but when you pause and step back/review some of the content you’ve been intaking, it may be contributing. It is always okay to take a step back and unfollow someone, block a certain thread, or take a break from social media entirely.

Social media can be tough to navigate. Social comparisons are often imminent across its platforms, and this can be hard on our mental health. However, It is an easy pastime, and it is likely not going anywhere anytime soon. It also is a great way to keep up with friends, family, news, and trends. It is simply important to be mindful of our social media usage and to stay kind to ourselves.

If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with any of our Atlanta psychologists you are welcome to book now.We have recently moved into our new Buckhead location and are accepting new clients both in person and virtually.


Thank you to Mia Pearce, Best Within You Therapy & Wellness Intern, and Dr. Laura Riss, Best Within You Therapy & Wellness licensed psychologist for this article.