The 3 Most Common Stress Triggers: Social Media Part 1
In the past 11 years that I've been studying anxiety I've identified the 3 most common stress triggers that create about 80% of our fears and frustrations. Even though stress triggers vary from person to person, I've noticed that there's 3 that are present in each one of our lives.
I call these stress triggers the 3 Pain Points. If you can identify them in your own life and start noticing them, you'll be able to reduce your stress levels by 20%.
The 3 Pain Points are:
Today we're going to look at the first Pain Point: social media. I'll write about emails and personal interactions the next time.
J. K. Rowling in her best-selling Harry Potter series shared a powerful insight through the words of the old and wise wizard, Dumbledore: "Understanding is the first step to acceptance. Without acceptance there would be no recovery." So let's take a look at each one of the 3 Pain Points and try to understand how they affect us.
Pain Point #1: Social Media
Social media is a constant source of anxiety in most of our lives. Looking at the wonderful pictures, posts and videos of our friends we often end up feeling anxious that they're so much more perfect than us, right? Try to be brutally honest with yourself and answer the following questions:
Do you ever feel calmer and more composed before you check out your Facebook news feed and find glimpses of the sparkling reality of some of your friends? Have you ever caught yourself staring at that one photo of one of your friends that's just perfect in every single way? And it's liked by over 200 people. Once you log off, do you have this lingering knot in your stomach that makes you feel like a loser?
Social media creates a distorted reality around us where almost everybody else seems to be happy, successful, healthy and beautiful all the time. This can sometimes make us feel unsatisfied with ourselves, or even unworthy of attention.
It's easy to think that in comparison to them we are less fortunate, less interesting and less "likeable." The funny thing is Facebook actually has a button that allows us to quantify our likeability: the more people click the like button, the better we feel. This virtual metric allows us to compare ourselves to other people - it almost puts a price tag on our social success that can be measured against the price tag of others.
The number of friends, shares, likes, etc. seems to be the new measuring stick that we use to define self-worth.
And unfortunately, keeping up with the Joneses has never been a recipe for peace of mind. If anything, it only creates more stress and more anxiety in our lives by making us pessimistic.
If you compare your reality to what other people put out there on social media, then soon you'll find that everybody has it better than you in some way or another. And if you allow social media to mold your self-image in this way, then you'll become that person that always thinks the glass is half-empty. If you go down that road, pessimism is in your future.
I learned it from the brilliant NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) teacher, Wyatt Woodsmall that the easiest way to feel pessimistic is to compare yourself to other people who are more accomplished than you in some way. If you keep doing that, then you'll always find yourself lacking and you'll always feel uncomfortable in your skin.
And social media is full of those successful people that seem more accomplished than you - so if you start comparing yourself to them, it'll make you feel inferior and uninteresting. Is that really what you want?
Here's what you need to do:
Stop comparing yourself to other people. Only compare yourself to yourself in the past. If you can make this small shift in your thinking, you'll be more optimistic and you'll feel less anxious about your accomplishments. I've learned that focusing on what you've gained over time instead of what still don't have makes all the difference in the world.
And let's be brutally honest - most of those perfect profiles on social media aren't 100% "real" anyway. Those people have their own personal struggles, failures and weaknesses, too. It's just that they choose not to show that to the online community. People want to be liked and they want to make others jealous so they carefully pick their best moments and their best photos to showcase the best version of themselves. And if they need to photoshop a selfie to make it look "perfect," then many people won't think twice about doing it.
Let me tell you a story about when I learned first-hand that on the internet not everything is what it seems.
Back in high school I used to play an online game with my friends. We met all sorts of people online and with some of them we became buddies. Now I always played a female character because... well, I'm a guy and if I have to look at something for several hours, I'll take a female character over a bulky dude any day.
But anyway, there was this guy that I started chatting with in the game and he seemed very interested in me. We kept in touch on and off for a few days and then all of a sudden he sent me a video of himself playing the guitar and singing a love song... It turns out that he thought that I was a female in real life and since apparently we got along pretty well, he decided to confess his tender feelings for me.
As for what happened next: I couldn't bring myself to tell him that he had just confessed to a guy so I quickly deleted him from my buddy list and I deleted that female character, too. I'm not sure if that was a good idea but I think being rejected by a girl online is better than finding out that that girl is actually a dude and he has a video of you confessing your love to him.
The bottom line is, pessimism creates anxiety. And the #1 way to become pessimistic is to compare yourself to other people. So stop comparing yourself to others on social media because for all you know they none of what they put out there might be true. And even if it is, stop worrying about what it is that they have and you don't and start appreciating what you have and they don't.
It's all a matter of what you focus on. I learned it from Eben Pagan that "what you focus on expands." If you focus on your own personal journey and where you were in the past and where you are now and how much you've grown, it's going to make you feel optimistic and so much less stressed out.
Here's a simple exercise you can do to develop the skill of positive thinking. Every evening before you go to sleep, grab your journal and a pen and write down three simple things that you've achieved that day. It doesn't have to be anything revolutionary; just think of something that you could finally get done, something that made you feel good about yourself. Think of it like your very own hard copy Facebook that you compile to yourself.
Have this journal with you all the time and whenever you feel self-doubt or anxiety, open it and look at all the things you wrote down to yourself. It'll be physically hard to feel pessimistic, inferior or lacking once you skim through all of the great things you had accomplished.