"I’m fine with who I see in the mirror most days but when I try to present that image to the world on social media I get overly cautious and hypercritical of my appearance."
The sentiment expressed by 23-year-old Joseph may seem familiar. It's a feeling experienced by many people as they try to navigate the social side of the digital world. Social media has become a fixture in the lives of many people in the Caribbean; having a social media presence is almost synonymous with being a modern human being in 2018. Instead of exchanging contact numbers or business cards, people are now exchanging social media handles. The importance of social media capital is evidenced by a slew of apps for boosting social media following. Many have fake followers – and there are online courses for managing and growing social media reach and impact.
For many, their social media presence captures their day-to-day life, while for many others, it represents their personal brand: a representation of how they want to show up in the world, what they want to be known for, and how they want to be seen.
Social media, because of its nature as curated packages of content, has come with a number of potential negative impacts on users. These affect the psychology of many people globally, and the Caribbean is no exception. Social media use – and addiction, in some instances – has been linked to growing incidences of depression and anxiety.
Clinical psychologist Jodi Gonsalves said, “The pictures posted by people create a façade, and there is a selective self-presentation on social media. This can affect how you view yourself and how others see you.”
Gonsalves said, for instance, those who follow may envy people on fabulous vacations, or photos with their partner, looking flawless in their swimsuits – having no idea that this person may have taken 1,000 pictures, which then may have been edited using Photoshop. People must be reminded that this is selective sharing and presentation.
If the viewer constantly makes comparisons between self and what is seen on social media, she said, the result can be anxiety and, or depression for adolescents and young adults, who are also more prone to being deceived by predators –there are instances every day where nude photos for example, are shared. These, Gonsalves said, may then be spread, or posted on websites by the predator, which will have a devastating impact on the victim and his or her mental health.
She said there are instances where people do become addicted to websites and social media platforms.
“The more someone uses a site, the more it may have an impact on their sense of well-being. When the user receives a lot of positive feedback on their profile, it increases their self-esteem and sense of well-being.
“And if they receive negative feedback or no feedback at all, it may decrease the level of self-esteem and well-being.”
The thoughts expressed earlier by social media user, Joseph is an example. His full response to a question posted on Instagram was:
"Social media has diminished my self-esteem and has made me rely too heavily on others for validation. I’m fine with who I see in the mirror most days but when I try to present that image to the world on social media I get overly cautious and hypercritical of my appearance. Social media makes me feel ugly."
Public health practitioner Caroline Ravello said she has come across indications of social media affecting mental health, but in relatively small numbers. She said, however, in her day-to-day life, she has come across a number of people, many of them close to her, who have expressed self-esteem challenges due to social media use.
Ravello said even older people experience a hit to their self-esteem when they share content they consider meaningful that does not get the same number of likes, if any at all when compared to posts seen as vain, vapid or meaningless. Likes act as a way of measuring positive feedback to posts and content interaction.
She said she has also had to remind herself social media is a curation of the best moments for many and not a true reflection of life.
For people who already struggle with depression and anxiety, excessive social media use is likely to worsen feelings of anxiety and depression.
Ravello said she decided to go against the tide by posting some of her negative feelings. In spite of receiving comments discouraging her decision to share her sad experiences online, she received far more responses commending her willingness to be vulnerable and honest on social media. She said many people opened up to her in turn with their own experiences, saying her posts inspired them to confront their own struggles and made them feel less alone.
There are a number of strategies which have been noted to work for many who have dealt with anxiety and depression, whatever the cause. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America listed the following tips as useful coping strategies for anxiety and depression:
- Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
- Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
- Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn't possible, be proud of however close you get.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
- Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.