Social media can be a blessing. For many, it offers an instant burst of belonging – uplifting your mood with only the click of a button or the sharing of a post. Just as easily, though, it can do just the opposite. In Mindfulness for Women, Vidyamala Burch and Claire Irvin explore how social media can lead to an unhealthy obsession with comparing our lives to those around us.
There is no doubt that the sense of being über-connected that social media offers can be addictive. It’s a new world to be part of, a ‘scene’, a platform that, on its best days, can be liberating and empowering, offering you a voice and a new way to feel good about yourself. It provides enhanced social ‘capital’ that satisfies the innate human need to belong.
But there is, inevitably, a price to pay for all this digital freedom, and research shows that it can also make you less satisfied with your life. If for any reason you feel shunned or ignored, quickly that sense of belonging can be turned on its head and act to lower your self-esteem. On less-than-positive days, other people’s activity can make you feel you’re not quite matching up: you’re not popular enough, slim enough, successful enough. As much as it can help us validate opinion, social media can also be harsh and judgmental, a micro-climate of the externalised world we live in, where what we are doing, wearing, looking, listening to, saying is more important than how we are feeling, what we are connecting to or our sense of self.
‘We’ can all too easily become an amalgamation of other people’s judgments. Our boss. Our friends. Our family. Strangers. And when we judge other people – if we think she is too loud/fat/selfish – what does this say about us? We must therefore be x, y and z, too. Are we really going on that fad diet because we want to lose ten pounds or because we think we should?
If we take time out early on in our working lives to have a family, we’re somehow giving up and letting the side down. If we wait until later in life to have children – or, shock horror, decide not to have them at all – we are selfish and self-absorbed. If we go back to work as a new mum, is it because we want to or because we’re scared of what will happen to our career if we don’t? Do we honestly care or are we more worried about what other mums will think of us if we do? Or what work colleagues will think if we don’t?
Are we really the only people who can organise play dates, family routines, a city break . . . ? Does it really matter? And why do we even care, when just one glance at the news, at the papers, or at Twitter is an often humbling reminder of what is going on in the wider world. Wars, famine, deprivation, inequality and abuse – all of which can make us feel, at best, depressed and, at worst, helpless.
But there is hope. And there is help – within each and every one of us . . . welcome to mindfulness.
No matter who we are, or what stage of life we are at, we all long for similar things; to be happy, connected with others, in touch with a sense of calm and peace, vital, alive and joyful. And we long to be able to ride out the tough patches that hit all of us from time to time with some degree of grace and dignity.