I’ve noticed that articles about the pressures of social media often focus on children, teenagers and young people. Of course, this makes a great deal of sense because we all know that young people spend a lot of time on social media. But I strongly believe that it affects older people too and as someone who is definitely counted as an ‘older’ person, as I was born way back in the mid-20th century, I am confident in this belief. I preface with this because I always felt that I could be judged ill-equipped to express opinions on this subject and felt almost embarrassed to admit that I too was so personally affected by social media.
There have been multiple studies that have found a strong link between heavy social media usage and an increased risk of depression, anxiety and loneliness. Furthermore, I believe that even those people who are lighter social media users experience negative emotions such as inadequacy about their life or appearance. I believe myself to be fairly well grounded and aware of these potential issues and dangers around social media; however, my own personal experience with Instagram has shown me how easy it is to gain an unrealistic view of others’ lives and, as a result. to feel envious, left out and lonely. I have often looked at peoples’ clothes, bodies, holidays, houses, gardens, families (I could go on forever here) and thought how lucky they are. Their lives often make me feel dissatisfied and let-down, despite the fact that I am aware that they are only sharing a part of their lives.
Reflecting on my own usage of social media, I always thought that it was important to post positive and ‘best life’ experiences as these were events that I wanted to remember and to share with others, almost like an old-fashioned photo album with all the best photos carefully chosen and mounted for posterity. However, as time has gone by, I began to realise that I was editing my life to look as if it was perfect – lots of beautiful sunsets, beach walks, lunches with family and friends, weekend breaks, etc. Is my life really full of these things? Well, I would like it to be, but to be brutally honest, a lot of it is spent working, sitting at my laptop, watching TV and doing chores.
So, do I want people to see this other unremarkable side of my life? Well, it’s not that I don’t want them to see it, but I just don’t feel it’s very interesting or important and so I tend to gloss over it. But the more I have thought about this, the more I begin to realise that I am curating my life and creating an outer shell which is not totally truthful. Furthermore, I am always fascinated by learning about others’ real lives on social media, whether they are people I actually know or those who I call my ‘virtual friends’. Being able to see what is really going on for them makes them more relatable and more three dimensional and just more interesting. I have become more aware of the real lives of others and not just their ‘best lives’. I am privileged to be able to share in others’ struggles with ill-health, raising a family, working lives, body concerns and mental health struggles. I have learned so much from others sharing these issues and I am truly grateful to them for doing so.
Let’s be honest, does my carefully curated social media life come across as one dimensional and boring? YES!!! I actually think it does, and it reminds me of my own personal process of becoming more honest, open and vulnerable with others. I am so up for this on a personal level, but writing this, I realise how hard I find it to show my messy life on social media. I think the idea of posting my real life brings up real fears of both judgement and pity from others. This is despite the evidence that I have seen for myself that I start to feel closer to others who share their vulnerability. It also reminds me how difficult I find it to ask for help and somehow the prospect of revealing my true self on social media brings with it fears that others will see that I may sometimes need help and support.
I’m really hoping that the process of writing and publishing this blog will help me to change my own personal perspective on life through social media and will continue to help me with my own personal growth and change. Being able to connect is the very essence of being a human being and sharing and talking about things makes them easier and lighter, so let’s make a pact to share all areas of our lives – especially the messy and difficult bits!