How to Tell Society to Back Off in the Digital Era

This is how you can prevent social (media) pressure.

Posted Oct 27, 2017

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People have always had to deal with outer pressure, whether it’s from family, friends, co-workers, or acquaintances. But, social media has intensified this pressure. Now, with all the different platforms, we are constantly in each other's business. And when someone doesn't post regularly, society takes it as a "red flag."

Social pressure is a part of human development. But aggravates as we enter adulthood. It all starts with marriage expectations. Then, it's when you'll have kids. Then, when you'll have the second child (and God forbid that it's the same gender as the first one!). In which case, when will the girl or boy come along? Which school? Which college? When are the grandkids coming along? And on and on. It's a never-ending cycle.

However, it seems as though social media has turned the heat up for many of these people. With social media, we gain access to the 24/7 of others. What they do, where they eat, who they hang out with, etc. This can make people believe they have VIP access into each other's lives.

Not only this, but we are being constantly exposed to other people’s social media life. Yet, it’s so difficult to remember that what we see on social media is edited. It’s pre-thought. It’s filtered, literally and metaphorically. So, how exactly can we establish a limit in our real-life interactions when our digital lives have unclear boundaries?

Understand social media

Scott B. Kaufman, the host of The Psychology Podcast, had a really interesting episode a few weeks ago, titled "Popularity and Likability." In it, Kaufman interviewed Mitch Prinstein, clinical child and adolescent psychologist and expert on popularity. Not only did Prinstein offer valuable insights on adolescence and likability but also a lot of interesting ideas surrounding social media.

According to Prinstein, social media has come to fill a need that mankind wasn’t even aware it had. This need to know about everyone’s life, and this need to constantly post about your own. Social media has shed light on "a status-seeking phenomenon."

One of the main reasons that millennials experience such high levels of anxiety and depression is due to the constant comparison they self-inflict when browsing through social media. When they browse through picture after picture claiming "fitness inspiration" or "relationship goals," their brains are automatically taking in these edited photos as "normal."

However, when we can understand that social media offers a filtered version of people’s real lives, we are better able to cope with the social (media) pressure. When we understand that a picture doesn’t represent the entirety of their daily lives, but only a small, controlled and filtered fraction that people have carefully selected to let their followers see, anxiety consequently decreases.  

Practice self-awareness

Self-awareness is important in all aspects of our lives, but in social media it seems to have an even bigger role. Before, we used to say "think before you talk," now we have to say "think before you post." And that thinking process is what self-awareness is about.

Self-awareness must be enforced in two important aspects. The first one, when we become aware of our closed one's potential triggers and actively seek ways to avoid posting about these. And, the second one, when we can question our reactions to other people’s digital lives.

Being able to ask oneself important questions such as: why does it bother me that my friends travel so often and I don’t? Why does it annoy me when my aunt shares yet another religious video? Why do I get angry over my college roommate’s rants?

An important self-discovery happens when we open ourselves to asking these questions. We are being curious about our mental states and we are willing to take accountability for our own feelings. I can guarantee that answering those questions will reveal much more about yourself, than about the person who you find annoying. 

Set online and offline boundaries

As we increase our self-awareness, we are more able to actively set boundaries. And, in this case, it’s important to set both online and offline boundaries. But, what do these look like? How are they different?

An online boundary can include anything from blocking a person from social media if this person is constantly meddling with your own mental health. Or, turning off notifications on Facebook, so you’re not able to see what they post if they’re constantly sharing information you don’t agree with or find irritating. Or, shut down your account for a few days; I’ve heard of people who have found this alternative quite revealing.

In contrast, an offline boundary has to do with real life. And it can be something as simple as not looking at your phone during sensitive dates or times where your emotions can be triggered. Or, declining to attend a get-together, in order to protect your mental health from those intrusive inquiries.

The reality is, social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And, it has plenty of positive aspects. But, the important thing to remember, as with anything in life, is that the key is balance. Balancing your own mental health with your social life. Balancing your digital persona with your real-life self. Balancing your inner pressures with your outer pressures.

Balance, self-awareness, self-care, and self-love can be the best allies when going up against the monster that social media has become.

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