If you’re on social media, you know what it’s like to compare yourself to others. It’s a sad but honest truth that social media allows us to keep up with other people’s lives, which often means pinning their online best next to our real-life worst.
The problem only worsens in the summer when it feels as if everyone is off on some glamorous vacation, soaking in the sun, and you’re the only one left behind in boring air-conditioned reality.
Since most of us only post about the good times, it’s easy to idealize someone’s life based on their social media account and end up feeling less than satisfied about our own.
Being able to see everything our peers are doing can lead us to feel major FOMO (fear of missing out) — even if we’re doing something fun in the moment too. It’s a prime example of the negative impact social media can have on our mental health, and how it can make you feel isolated.
Even when you are doing something fun or glamorous during the summer, it’s all too tempting to focus on what you can post to prove to others that you, too, are doing great — instead of just enjoying the moment.
So whether you’re watching other people’s lives or trying to show off your own, it’s easy to get caught up in this toxic mentality.
As Kate Happle, head of an international life coaching company, tells Healthline, “The simplest of experiences can be a pleasure when we fully immerse ourselves in them, and the most exciting adventures can be lost when we choose to view them only from the potential perspective of our followers.”
As the impulse to share each part of your summer rages, this message is more important than ever.
Here’s what you should remember about being on social media this summer to avoid this toxic mindset and focus on enjoying your own life.
Social media rarely reflects the here and now — instead, it projects a constantly exciting life, which simply doesn’t exist.
Reality is a lot more messy and complicated.
“I see firsthand the dangers of people over posting and consuming social media in the summer. Even days where I spend the entire day running boring errands and doing chores, I post a photo of us on the beach,” Amber Faust, an influencer, tells Healthline.
“I, like most social media influencers, have an entire Dropbox folder full of images that look like we are doing something fun that day,” she adds.
At the end of the day, you only post what you want others to see, when you want them to see it.
You have no idea if a person posted that enviable photo when they were actually moping around the house feeling sad about their ex or anxious about starting school. They could’ve also posted that photo while having a great time. The point is, you have no idea what’s going on behind the digital facade, so try not to jump to conclusions.
Odds are that person who you see living life to the fullest on Instagram spends as much time chilling on the couch watching Netflix as you — seriously!
On the same note, remind yourself that social media often only showcases the good — not the bad or the ugly.
“Particularly over the summer, social media will be full of tanned families at wonderful locations who look like they’re having lots of fun. They won’t be posting images of the arguments, queues, exhaustion, insect bites, and screaming children,” Dr. Clare Morrison, GP and medical advisor at MedExpress, tells Healthline.
“If you compare yourself to others based on their social media postings, you will feel inadequate and inferior by comparison. This could damage your confidence and self-esteem, potentially making you feel depressed and resentful,” she says.
So remember that what others post is not proof that they’re happy or living a good life — that’s something you decide for yourself off your phone.
Sure, some people may post candidly about their bad or messy moments too, but it’s still only a glimpse of what’s actually going on. A single photo or 15-second video can’t capture the complexities of life.
Social media is a filtered, edited, and curated version of reality.
It’s no secret that social media can be detrimental to our mental health.
Take a 2018 study which found that participants who reduced their social media usage to 30 minutes a day reported having overall improved well-being, with a noticeable decrease in depression and loneliness.
On top of that, their anxiety and FOMO decreased too.
While everyone gets FOMO at some point, the more time you spend analyzing other people’s “perfect” lives on social media, the easier it is to feel.
“I often see people with FOMO about what they see online, who fail to realize that they’re creating their own ‘MO’ by focusing more on the experience they project to the world than the one they are having,” Happle says.
Not to mention, the stuff you feel like you’re “missing out on” may be events you’d never actually go to in real life.
Social media allows us to peer into other people’s lives and see what they’re up to — whether it’s our best friend, or an acquaintance, or a random model across the world. So when you feel left out, think about the actual reason you aren’t there in real life — it probably makes a lot more sense.
Instead of enjoying the moment or looking forward to your own adventures, you end up scrolling through edited images on Instagram, which can lead you to feel like nothing you do measures up.
“What’s dangerous about it is that you can have plenty of your own wonderful plans, but the quick access that social media provides to all of the things that you’re not doing can contribute to some incredibly difficult thoughts and feelings,” Victoria Tarbell, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Healthline.
“More time on social media equates to less time in your real world. It’s easy to see how less time living your own life can contribute to these same difficult thoughts and feelings,” Tarbell says.
One way to combat this is to try to reserve social media time for when you aren’t really doing anything — for example, while commuting or chilling between errands.
Pay attention to your surroundings when you use it: Are you on Instagram while out to dinner with friends or family? Watching people’s stories when you’re supposed to be watching a movie with your boo? Living in the moment can help you appreciate your own life and the people in it.
Pay attention to how social media makes you feel.
If it’s enjoyable and you genuinely love seeing what others are posting, that’s great. But if you feel like social media leaves you with feelings of anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness, it may be time to reevaluate who you follow or how much time you spend on these apps.
Summer can be an especially tough time for many reasons. The increase in photos of people in bathing suits or showing skin which emerge across social media in the summer can be a big issue.
“This leaves those who struggle with body image, especially adolescent females, at risk of feeling bad about their own bodies.” Kate Huether, MD, tells Healthline.
Of course, everyone has the right to post a photo that makes them feel beautiful, no matter what they’re wearing. But if a picture is triggering to you, unfollowing or muting someone is also completely fair.
If you come across a photo that makes you feel inadequate or uncomfortable about your own body, try to keep in mind that it’s still a filtered version of reality.
Social media allows people to post the best photo from a series of options and edit it until it suits their preferences. Doing things like zooming in and comparing parts of someone’s body to yours will have nothing but a negative impact on your mental well-being.
Either way, it’s never healthy to compare your body to another person’s.
“Those who struggle with self-esteem and managing confidence relative to their physicality and aesthetics are more vulnerable this time of year to feel anxious or concerned about their appearance,” Jor-El Caraballo, a mental health professional and co-founder of Viva Wellness, tells Healthline.
Unless your job directly requires you to spend time on social media, there’s no excuse as to why you can’t take a social media break during the summer, especially when you’re on vacation.
“You don’t have to delete your accounts, but maybe start by not having your phone with you at all times or temporarily deleting some triggering apps,” Tarbell says. “Once you feel a bit more clear and connected to yourself, rather than your phone, chances are that you’ll be more attuned to the people, places, and things that truly make you happy.”
Remember: You don’t have to document what you’re doing to prove you’re having a good time.
If you’re having more trouble deleting your social media apps than you expected, understand that social media is actually addictive.
“Social media addiction is not very different from any other addiction like drugs and alcohol. When a person gets attention on social media, whether it’s through likes, messages, or comments, they experience those positive feelings. But that feeling is temporary and you have to chase that continuously,” Dr. Sal Raichbach, PsyD, at Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Healthline.
“When you get that attention, a neurotransmitter called dopamine responsible for happiness and well-being is released in the brain. It is the same brain chemical that is released when a person uses drugs, which is why some people check their social accounts compulsively,” he says.
Overcoming the need for that feeling can be challenging but, to start, you can be honest with yourself about what accounts are having a poor impact on your self-esteem.
“A good strategy to be more mindful is to ask oneself: ‘How does this post or account make me feel?’ Of course, setting some limits on time online is good to help manage that,” Caraballo says. Again, once you do that, go ahead and click the unfollow or mute button.
You don’t owe it to anyone to see posts that are making you feel bad in any way.
Social media can be a great way to keep up with friends and family and cherish your own memories. But during the summer, it can become problematic when you start focusing on all the fun others are having and lose sight of your own life.
So be mindful of how it makes you feel and remember that what you see on social media is not real life.
Whether you take a full-on break from social media or not, keep in mind that summer only lasts a few months. Don’t let it pass you by while you’re looking at your phone watching other people enjoy it.
Sarah Fielding is a New York City-based writer. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, Insider, Men’s Health, HuffPost, Nylon, and OZY where she covers social justice, mental health, health, travel, relationships, entertainment, fashion, and food.