“Jane Doe wants to be your friend on Facebook.” Well, that wasn’t the actual name, but it was the message that greeted me in my inbox this morning.
I don’t remember who Jane is. I’d like to think that we had a meaningful personal encounter somewhere, that she shares like-minded opinions about the importance of self-care, or that she wants to get to know me better…but I just don’t know. My mind begins working overtime. Hmmm…
Did I ever have an actual conversation with Jane, or did she find me online? Did she fill out a detox form at my table at the last event? Did she come into my Park Avenue Center for Wellbeing? Is she a “blast from my past”? Or was my name suggested to her automatically because we have some friends in common?
We’ve read plenty about the benefits of using social media to connect with others. However, recently news reports have discussed a wellness downside to social networking—effects much more serious than my litany of questions prompted by Jane Doe’s friend request. It’s called “Facebook depression.”
For some teenagers, Facebook has become a false measure of esteem within social circles. One doctor in a study stated that when teens see that their friends have more social network contacts than they do, “they may assume that, ‘They don’t like me. There’s something wrong with me. I’m not good enough,’ just like they would in a real peer group.” This view has become so widespread among young people that doctors fear their Facebook use can lead to anxiety and depression—or even to thoughts of suicide.
So what about us adults? Do we fall into similar self-defeating traps by placing too much importance on social media? Many of us enjoy the benefits of belonging to sites where we can share our latest thoughts and discoveries and post news about our families, businesses, and events.
With all the options out there for making virtual connections, both for personal and business purposes, there’s little doubt that Facebook depression is not limited to impressionable teens. Sites like Facebook can increase a perceived need to connect with others, which can add up to more pressure and/or stress in even a rational, emotionally stable adult’s life. Some of us might feel “less than”—inadequate in some way—or conclude that our personal and business success just doesn’t measure up. These are among the false, misleading thoughts I’ve heard expressed by adults:
- “Having fewer connections than others means I am less popular or less respected.” Result: a sense of disconnection.
- “Everyone’s life seems to be a constant party or stream of lively events—except mine.” Result: feeling isolated.
- “My status as a professional can be measured by others’ responses.” Result: fear of being judged.
- “My attempts to connect with others are ignored.” Result: a sense of rejection.
- “I’m uneasy sharing my thoughts and think that others are sometimes too forthcoming.” Result: frustration.
- “I’m spending too much time on social media, and more important tasks are taking a backseat.” Result: feeling overwhelmed.
While those negative thoughts and results are powerful, they aren’t based on solid fact. Let’s take a step back and get a fuller picture.
- Do others have higher numbers than you do? Sure. But modern competition over digital connections is no healthier than popularity contests were in high school—and no more useful to engage in.
- Is what you see on Facebook a true, accurate picture of everyday life? Chances are, it isn’t. Don’t think that everyone else in your network is having nothing but good times. Those who are always upbeat may simply have a philosophy of not dwelling on (or posting about) the negatives in their worlds.
- Do social media sites cause you feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, or inadequacy? Perhaps you should take this opportunity to investigate the source of underlying low self-esteem and unhappiness.
And if all else fails, there’s always another option: Turn off the computer.
The realm of social media has benefits, but remember, sites like Facebook shouldn’t take the place of life. It’s vital to make real connections in the physical world.