Saturday, October 20, 2018

Is Instagram putting pressure on life's milestones?

Scrolling through my Instagram feed has become more of an obsessive routine than a form of entertainment or relaxing down time. I seem to waste countless hours each day scrolling through the endless stream of posts, liking pictures I often end up loathing because 'why isn't that me'. I have such a love hate relationship with Instagram and the power it has over my happiness.

I have been reflecting, occasionally self-pitying as of late and I know I shouldn't be. I am healthy, I have an incredibly close network of friends and family and I have a graduate job that is actually providing me with a wage so that I can do fun things when the weekend rolls around. But for some reason, there is a constant niggling inside of me, a feeling that goes into overdrive when I open Instagram - where are all my milestones?

Why is Instagram bringing us down?
Firstly, I think it is important to establish why Instagram brings us down, despite being used as a platform to spread positivity. It took me a while to really understand why I was always feeling down after a session scrolling through the gram.

Instagram successfully tricks us into thinking we are not working hard enough towards our goals, purely on the basis that others are getting there before us. It even manages to influence how we see the goals we have achieved. I have often reached a goal and then suddenly felt as though I needed to start tackling the next venture, with little thought about what I had just successfully accomplished. The hype of a new success is so fleeting, because we are part of a generation so dependent on 'the next big thing'.

Another inescapable issue is that everything is heightened on social media. Relationships look perfect, appearances are flawless, lives are hassle-free. We are continually bombarded with photo's and Instagram stories documenting edited snippets of our everyday lives that look perfect. And because we only see the edits, we don't see the struggle behind the hustle and the end results.

The 'Instagram Ick' Explained
Despite being completely obsessed with Instagram, I know it affects my mood. I have learnt that if I don't give myself a regular reality check and remind myself that Instagram is not a reflection of real life, I will get worked up by it.

The Instagram Ick is essentially the resulting feeling you experience after a period of time on the app. Symptoms include, feeling anxious, lonely, self-loathing about your physical appearance and/or the life you are living, jealousy, FOMO and stress. The Instagram Ick affects our day to day life, harming our sleep quality, our mood and our self-esteem.

Those are just a sample of some of the damaging affects Instagram has on your psyche. It came as no surprise to me that Instagram is considered the most likely social media platform to cause depression, according to a UK wide study conducted by the Royal Society of Public Health. This image focused social media platform will undoubtedly feed your insecurities and catalyse any feelings of inadequacy you may have once felt before you saw people's latest pictures on the gram.

The Instagram High
Instagram has become a quick confidence high, that I find myself taking often. The likes provide me with enough of a confidence boost to last me a couple of hours, sometimes, if it is a well received post, I can feel the high for an entire day. When the post begins to loose its lustre and becomes just another image on the grid, I find myself plummeting into a low. The  drug begins to wear off and I no longer feel the same. I begin to look for new photo's to post, lining up my pictures in a preview app so I can keep my Instagram addiction temporarily under control. Is this constructed reality really a reflection of my life? No, it isn't.

Are we all to blame?
I am always so saddened when people make assumptions about my own life, as if it is 'perfect'. It has come up in conversation a few times before and I have always felt like I have done them an injustice. It's not nice knowing that I could be the reason why someone feels down about the way they look that day, when I carelessly posted a posed OOTD, or that I made them feel as though their life appears less exciting because I decided to share a travel snap.

I only use this as an example because I compare my life that way and I'm certain that I'm not the only one who does it too. I constantly save and 'bookmark' things that I aim to do, go, wear, buy, achieve. Does it put enormous amounts of pressure on myself to do those things in good time? Hell yes! Do we realise the ripple effect we are having on people's self esteem? Unfortunately, no.

Why are we never satisfied?
Chasing happiness only leads to feelings of disappointment. The key is to savour those moments of joy you are already experiencing, recognise that you are reaching your own milestones at your own pace and learning to feel satisfied where you are in that present moment. I know I am in the guilty camp here when it comes to analysing what other people are doing in their lives and never feeling satisfied, so if you can relate to this, you are not alone.

Those who actively pursue happiness and the next 'big step' in their life will often find that those in-between periods where life is just happening, makes us feel low. It is as though we are unproductively waiting for our next milestone to come around. Instead, we could be using this time to show gratitude and say thank you.

Social Media in your 20s
I think social media is hard no matter what age you are. Despite Instagram launching when I was just 13, I didn't start using it until I was 15, posting random stuff without a care in the world, with no intention of showcasing my best angles or the highlights I was experiencing in my life. It was a carefree platform that didn't mean that much to me. Sidenote: If you fancy a stalk, be my guest, all the evidence is still there six years later. But, my point really is, is that before the Instagram hype, people didn't have the intense 24/7 photographic access to people's  'perfect' lives that they have access to nowadays.

It also makes me question what on earth teens these days are exposing themselves to and the undue pressure they are going through to be pristine on social media.

Although I have fun with Instagram and I work hard to keep my feed light-hearted and still aspirational, it is no surprise that it has become a competitive reel of people's milestones and successes. And I know, it sounds like perhaps I'm taking things too seriously, but I do genuinely believe that Instagram is affecting how we view ourselves as individuals. 

Social media in your twenties is particularly hard, as you're noticeably stuck between two ages. One part of me is clinging onto my teenage years for dear life, hoping that it will still be acceptable to drink cheap alcohol and wear short-short denim cut-offs from Urban Outfitters out in public. The other age I'm evolving into is making serious decisions about saving money for my 'future'.

Your 20s are already a confusing time, before you even throw social media into the mix. Some of your friends are travelling the world alone, others have settled down, bought their first home's, have serious relationships and babies on the way. But then there are others, like myself, who have no ties in their life except a full-time job.

But unfortunately as inquisitive human beings, we naturally focus on what others are doing that we are not, instead of remembering that we all do life differently.

Lucky or Unlucky in Love
Whether you are loved up or on the look out for love, you will find Instagrammer's a tough crowd to please.

I'll be honest, I've been single for three years now and in that time I've seen dating and relationship rules molding around Instagram. It's quite the mine field and it is affecting how we interact in relationships. Social media allows an intimate-access pass into people's relationships and whether we think we are participating in this Instagram forgery or not, it most certainly puts pressure on those trying to date and those in serious relationships.

Has Instagram given people permission to question where we are in our lives?
Traditionally, only family and friends could have access to the gritty details in our lives that would enable them to comment on the decisions we are making. However, with Instagram, this boundary is completely blurred and we have enough information to make assumptions about people's lives all the time, from what they wear to where they go on holiday or who they date. Rightly or wrongly we all do it subconsciously, without even realising it.

Unrealistic Expectations
Instagram also gives us unrealistic expectations on how life is supposed to pan out. I am often wondering “Hmm, this person’s life looks awesome, their pictures come out perfect every time they post, their life must be permanently perfect.” Do you ever stop and realise that all the social media accounts you are following are there on your feed because they inspire you or make you wish for something better? Well yes, because I can guarantee the majority of the people you follow on Instagram are there because you think they have something you don't (and you want to know how they got it). In moderation, this feed of inspiration can give you the motivational kick up the bum you may be needing. But after a binge, it can leave you spiralling into a vortex of self loathing. It is so unrealistic to be surrounded by people who act out these indefectible lives, but still despite having an awareness that "social media isn't real", you still set down your phone and are left with a sense of inadequacy.

I hope you can take away with you, the understanding that you are enough and your milestones are happening at their own pace for a reason. I also hope that you can take the time to be more aware when you analyse other people's lives, be it because they are two steps ahead of you, or two steps behind. We are all going to experience life differently.

And don't forget, that once in a while you should take a step back, look at all the beautiful things you have in your life and appreciate the milestone you're at, at that moment. Embraces your successes and always show gratitude. Oh and put the damn phone down once in a while - It's so good for you!

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