The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Stop focusing on self-esteem and start working on self-compassion

4 min read
By GRACE WINFIELD Viewpoints Editor A national survey by the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health found that use of multiple social media platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults than the total amount of time they spend on social media.

Popular social media icons. (BBC)


Viewpoints Editor

There are hundreds of studies proving that high-volume social media use has a negative effect on mental health and increases depression, low self-esteem and isolation. With that, the dangerous effects social media use has on overall well-being need to be incorporated and expanded upon in today’s curriculum for teens.

Social media performs a large role in everyday life. People use it for communication, as a form of expression and when used positively, to maintain a social identity. However, as users continue to update, like and share on platforms, they don’t always recognize the effects that social media has on their perceptions of life, their relationships with others, and most importantly, their relationships with themselves.

A lot of people continue to use social media simply because they are addicted. Most researchers explain that the experience a user has when he or she receives a like or comment is the same as taking a drug. The brain releases dopamine, and the user is instantly put in a euphoric state. Users eventually become greedy for likes and comments, and when 50 likes were once enough to do the trick, it then takes 100 to reach that feeling of fulfillment. 

For many, scrolling through timelines and social feeds are a mindless action, a habit. People often check their social media in their spare time or to catch up with the latest news in the world around them. As ironic as it may seem, the more people engage in social media, the likelier it is that they will isolate themselves. 

A national survey by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health found that use of multiple social media platforms is more strongly associated with depression and anxiety among young adults than the total amount of time they spend on social media. The study found that the most active users of social media had three times the incidence of depression of those who use it the least.  While social media leads people to believe they are supported and acknowledged, it is only increasing their loneliness.

Brian Primack, director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues surveyed 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 to 32 and asked them about their usage of 11 social media platforms outside of work, as well as daily or recurring feelings of isolation.

“It turns out that the people who reported spending the most time on social media — more than two hours a day — had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites. And people who visited social media platforms most frequently, 58 visits per week or more, had more than three times the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.”

Primack does not suggest going away with all social media, but rather to limit usage, and to increase real-world interaction. 

Perhaps the most detrimental result of media-reliance is its negative effects on self-esteem and self-perception. 

“There is a lot of data that suggests when we go on social media, especially on sites where we’re looking at pictures of others, it can lead to feeling bad about our bodies,” said Dr. Miriam Liss, professor of psychological sciences. “Often these pictures are heavily edited, using Photoshop or other tools, and they’ll post their absolute best selves. Then other people on social media will look at these pictures and compare their own bodies to what they see and tend to feel worse about themselves.” What Liss explained is social comparison. Social comparison theory states that people determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others.

Essentially, this is how Instagram continues to thrive. Instagram draws in young women to compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered versions of reality, altering their perceptions of their own lives and what their lives should be completely. They begin to edit their photos as well, though Liss said this is only leads to lower self-esteem. “When you do all of these things to make yourself a perfect looking person online, you still don’t feel good about yourself, because you don’t feel like the comments you are getting are based on your genuine self.” 

The obvious answer to avoid this seems to simply just maintain a healthy level of self-esteem, though Liss says that psychologists are straying away from the focus on defining a standard of self-esteem and are beginning to focus more on promoting self-compassion.

“Self-esteem is usually contingent on doing well or getting praise, but self-compassion is love and appreciation for yourself, even for all of your flaws,” said Liss.

Exposure to the carefully curated images from others’ lives lead to negative self-comparison, and the sheer quantity of social media interaction may detract from more meaningful real-life experiences. These social media platforms are manipulating their users to develop media addiction, luring them into a constant state of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Educators and parents alike must begin teaching teens the effect social media usage has on human-connection, self-esteem, and overall well-being, and most importantly, teach them to practice self-compassion.