Is social media anxiety getting you down these says? We investigate and find ample proof.
In case no one told you, it’s ok if you ate cereal out of the box during the lockdown. Last weekend I made cupcakes for the very first time. It was a big day for me, so obviously my (not so) minor feat had to go up on Instagram. Right? But as soon as I logged on to share my news, I saw a friend’s post of her cupcakes — in my mind, my homemade DIY Oreo cupcakes paled in comparison to her treats that looked like they belonged in a patisserie. I decided to post mine later.
It got me thinking. This was definitely not the first time since entering quarantine that I felt like others seemed to be doing so much better than me. And I know I’m not the only one. Many friends attested to feeling like they weren’t making the most of their self-isolation because of what everyone else on their Instagram feed was up to.
It’s true that we were ‘doing it for the gram’ long before the coronavirus pandemic locked us in our homes for a period of indefinite confinement. Had the world not been on pause right now, our summer feeds would be teeming with pictures of exotic holidays and snippets from that newly opened restaurant where it’s (apparently) impossible to score a table. Only now, the action has moved to home ground — so suddenly, it’s all about the picture-perfect view from your balcony or that beautifully laid out dining table with an extravagant spread in your best china. Social media in quarantine a Gen-Z approved practice.
Overnight, almost everyone seems to have become a master chef, a fitness aficionado or a self-taught musician. There are those who are learning new languages online, others who are brushing up their skills with digital courses and yet others who have even managed to start run-from-home businesses in the midst of it all. And while it’s great to pursue a long-dusted passion (or perhaps discover a latent one) during this time, it also unintentionally builds pressure on those who just want to get through the pandemic without having to partake in another 21-day challenge or whip up banana bread. Or have we moved on to sourdough starters and galettes now? I can’t seem to keep up.
The truth is, no matter how many ‘this is a pandemic, not a productivity contest’ posts we share; subliminally, we won’t hate the unofficial quarantine overachiever crown either. I’m guilty of oversharing during the early days of the lockdown myself. I posted screenshots from my Zoom workout and tried to capture a double tap-worthy sunset from my terrace. I even made Instagram-friendly alphabet-shaped tandoori rotis (inspired by Reese Witherspoon’s personalised pancakes on Little Fires Everywhere)!
But the novelty only lasted a few days. Soon enough, I found myself wondering where everyone else was getting the time (and motivation) to wake up early, dress up, set up a cute WFH desk, read, bake, stream that new hit show, workout, and curate photographic evidence of it all. I, on the other hand, was patting myself on the back for not snoozing my alarm on that one-odd day.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no social media hater. For one, I don’t know what I would do without my daily meme quota and those downright hilarious Bollywood movie roasts. Social media in quarantine and especially, Instagram can also be a great source of news, information and recipes if you know where to look. But the downside is that many seem insistent on looking at self-isolation through rose-tinted camera lenses. And left without the external distractions we normally granted ourselves, the rest of us are increasingly tuning in to social media to keep our minds busy. Though we may not always like what see.
Clinical psychologist Prachi S Vaish conducted and published a study in the Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing in 2014 that found a clear relationship between the hours spent on the Internet (social media) and the use of Tension Reduction coping style, an avoidance style that relies upon external aids to relieve psychological tension. A certain analysis can be picked up for the current obsession of social media in quarantine.
“We turn to social media because of its ‘hooking’ properties of offering something that grabs attention for every few seconds, every time we scroll. But here’s the clincher – a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2017 found that the more time spent using social media, the greater the symptoms of dispositional anxiety, and greater the odds of having social media anxiety disorder,” she said. Vaish explains that what starts out as a distraction technique, becomes a vicious mood cycle. What we consume, makes us more anxious, leading to mood swings and irritability.
So, how do we keep this Insta-induced anxiety at bay? I’d say this: We are already behind closed doors, don’t spend all your time hiding behind a screen as well. Cherish the hours spent offline, now more than ever before. My screen time, as my phone informs me, has gone up by 12% this week and I’m consciously trying to cut down on that. Mute or unfollow pages that are making you feel bad about yourself. Find other ways to occupy yourself when you feel the familiar urge to pick up your phone again.
It will be a struggle to resist the charms of listlessly thumbing through the vortex of pictures that await you, but you’ll be glad you didn’t give in. If you have the luxury of being able to switch off your phone for a little digital detox, what are you even waiting for? And the next time you’re beating yourself up over a seemingly less-than-perfect post, don’t. Someone out there is probably glad that you kept it real.