Two months ago, Facebook hit its one billionth user. Is it coincidence that 1.4 billion adults are considered overweight by the World Health Organization? Now that roughly 1/6th of the WORLD is eeriely connected through social media, what kind of toll is it taking on the physical and emotional health of our society?
It’s ironic, actually. Many of us venture into this virtual world every day because it gives us a sense of belonging, but new research shows that all this computer time we’re logging is actually making us feel more alienated and self-conscious. An article recently published in Psychology Today says this new fascination with constantly posting photos, videos and webcams is prompting an increase in self awareness, and that’s not great for any of us.
“These objects [photos, videos] cause us to view ourselves as we think others are viewing us.” Instead of living life, we’re becoming our own documentarians, but we’re skewing our own stories. By only posting flattering pictures, some with celebrities or influential people, or from fascinating places that make our “friends” green with envy, it’s only natural to start comparing our lives to society’s new standards, rather than focusing on our own, authentic selves. This is especially true for women, who, according to a new Swedish study, tend to feel less happy and content with their lives after prolonged Facebook usage.
Spending between 3-7 hours a day not only on Facebook, but Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, when we could be working out or interacting with real human beings about the reality of the lives we are living, is a growing problem. A new study of 350 students from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland found that the more time they spent on Facebook, the less time they spent exercising, with an increasing tendency to opt out of team sports.
A study out of the Michigan Cardiovascular Center (and countless others) goes so far as to blame the growing epidemic of obesity in young people on this new sedentary lifestyle. Duh. As the Internet gets even more mobile, there is a surge in the demand for treadmill desks, designed to get people out of their chairs and moving without missing even a Facebook post. But that still doesn’t do anything to alter the way we look at, or project ourselves. Whether you’re sitting or walking your way into cyber-space on any of the number of growing social media platforms, we’re starting to see that being voyeurs into other people’s more glamorous, fun and exciting lives is actually preventing us from living our own.
So, is it possible to keep your sanity and your Facebook profile? Here are 3 things to remember as you live more and more of your life online.
1. Pretending your life is perfect does not make it perfect. When you change your profile picture to the one that makes you look 15 pounds lighter, it does not make you 15 pounds lighter. Comments about how attractive you are do not make you more attractive. A study by the University of Stamford found that when teen girls carefully select overly thin images of themselves to post on Facebook (or worse, many are even photoshopping their own pictures), it helps to perpetuate unhealthy and unrealistic appearance goals.
2. A Profile is Never the Whole Truth. College students who scroll through their Facebook feeds often are convinced their friends are leading far better lives than they are. That’s the bottom line from a new study titled “Misery has more company than people think”, which found that most people do not post the real truth about the lives they are living on their news feeds. Facebook has become more of a highlight reel when, in reality, life is more like a series of bloopers we don’t want anyone to know about! Remember that there is always more to the story than a picture from the beach or a check-in at a fancy club. While most of us have at least one over-sharer in our repertoire of “friends”, let’s not forget that these are the folks who are peeking enviously at your life, and not really living their own.
3. Social Media Breaks are Imperative for Good Health. As someone who loves social media and posts daily updates for many of my 20,000+ friends I haven’t yet met, shutting off the computer and getting out in nature helps me see the insanity that has become my busy life. Sometimes, you just need a weekend off from Facebook and Twitter to check in with your true self and stop thinking everyone else has it better than you do. Take Tammi Fuller: She’s an Emmy Award winning TV producer who created Campowerment, a weekend camp for stressed-out power people to “run away from home”, where computers and cellphones are banned and playing outside is required.
“An amazing thing happens when we can totally unplug and talk face to face, and come to realize that no one’s life is any easier than ours” says Fuller. “Most of our ‘campers’ tell us they didn’t think they could live without technology, or leave their families for 3 days, but something very strange happens when they do. As they unwind, they become calmer, more patient, and grateful for the lives they are living, warts and all.” Create your own “social rehab” for 48 hours once a month. Go to the park without sharing pictures of your kids, go out to dinner without snapping an Instagram of your meal. You may just find yourself living in the moment and enjoying every moment of it!
Here’s to a prosperous and fulfilling 2014!!
Originally published on Forbes