The Perpetuation of a Perfect Life on Social Media
It’s difficult to say what the number one stress for university students today is because of the range of stresses that affect different people in different places. Even amongst my group of friends we all face different challenges. Ranging from financial struggles to mental health wellness to time management, the realities of university student life are difficult. To super generalize stress for post secondary students, I think the best thing to say is the biggest challenge is the struggle to keep up. Sometimes that means keeping up with bills and sometimes it means keeping up with grades, while other time it means keeping up with peers and friends, and sometimes it just means staying #woke. Each of these stresses exists on a scale and they slide from one end to the other for different people, but I’m sure if you asked almost any uni student they’d agree that these stresses are present in their lives in one way or another.
Now, when you add social media into the mix another whole level is added to this situation. Some might argue that social media creates a totally separate stress, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say social media amplifies the stresses and challenges that already exist, sometimes turning what are minor stresses into major challenges that cause bouts of depression and anxiety for young adults.
Social media has become a series of platforms for constant comparison of the self to those around us — except, they’re not actually around us, they’re on the internet and sometimes we don’t even know them. As a contributor to these platforms, social media is a great place to ‘be the best self’. It’s a place we can add and share our happy memories, exciting accomplishments, big news and future hopes. With that, that means it is not a place for sad days, losses or failures, unhappiness or the mundane. As consumers of social media content, this is the stuff we move away from. We all have that one aunt who complains a lot on Facebook right? Well you probably hide her from your timeline, right? You can’t straight up delete her (because she’s your aunt) but you do everything you can to remove the mundane complaining about everyday tasks from your line of sight. In that, all we end up consuming is the best moments of people’s days or weeks. This can contribute negatively to individual’s mental health because we begin to compare our negative moments to people’s positive moments. In reality, that is comparing apples to oranges, but social media makes all the moments oranpple… or appanges (aka orange-apples).
Social media is able to amplify this even further because you not only have access to more people’s lives, but you are able to see into more people’s lives. Before social media, you knew the great things that were happening in the lives of those in your inner circle, but it was balanced with context and holistic understanding. You also might have been aware of the good things happening in the lives of those with second degree connections to you, but there was still a human element of communication that connects you to that content. With social media today, many millennials have upwards of 1000 friends on Facebook, let alone the hundreds of followers on other platforms like Instagram, Twitter and more, meaning the degrees of separation and disconnect grows and grows. With this, whether you are close with these friends and followers or not, you are access to all the great things happening in their lives, adding to the amount of people you can compare yourself to.
Some examples I’m sure everyone has experienced: I know personally, I was feeling okay about not having a super put together plan for after graduation, but as soon as my peers (even ones I never talk to at school) started posting about all the career jobs they already had months ago for the day they graduate I started to question my own abilities. Another case I’m sure we’re all familiar with — that one person you have on social media who manages to go on grand adventures what seems like every month. Every time you see their pictures you’re left constantly questioning every spending decision you’ve ever made, but the hard-to-grapple-with reality is the school they go to is in a city where rent is half as much as yours (but that’s not part of their post or your immediate reaction).
So really, what is social media doing for young adults today? Is it keeping us involved in relevant conversation and connected to all our close friends? Or is it just adding to the pressures that already exist in the challenging lives of university students today? Is it just keeping us connected to people we don’t need to be connected to? Is social media just skewing our perceptions of reality?