Here you are, sitting on your phone or laptop for what seems like the thousandth time this week. Ever since quarantine has dawned on us, we’ve seen our phone activity skyrocket. In between zoom classes, students and teachers alike often find themselves scrolling through Instagram or Twitter, looking at influencers who always seem perfectly fit, healthy, and put together by their poolsides. With a rise in posts of selfies, pictures around the house, and videos of seemingly perfectly scheduled quarantine days, many students have been feeling down on themselves for not looking as put-together, both physically and emotionally, as those they see online.
Harriet Taylor, an english literature and narrative studies student at USC, is back in her childhood home in London, England. Still on LA time in her mind, she finds herself on apps such as Tik Tok and Instagram until late into the night. Because distance limits the interactions that Taylor has with her friends, she has found these apps rather damaging to her mental health and her sleep cycle. With multiple viral trends keeping us all occupied and posting more than usual, this rise in sharing has led to a change in standards.
While Instagram used to be filled with posts of people at the best spots around town, people are now posting about how they’ve made use of their time inside their own homes. Among these frequent posts are influencers sharing videos of their wealthy home lives. These new “unrealistic highlight reels of their lives [in quarantine] make you feel worse,” Taylor said.
It’s easy for us to forget that what we see online is what people choose to post online, instead of posting about the more mundane, average parts of our daily lives. But there is a psychological reason for why we are so quick to compare and believe that what we see must be the norm.
USC psychology professor Leslie Berntsen, PhD, shared a few thoughts on the spike in comparison during quarantine. She shared a concept called “should statements”, which is when we hold ourselves to a certain standard, saying we “should” be something other than what we are. In this case, we often think that we “should” be thriving as much as people on the internet seem to be. This can contribute to rising feelings of pressure on ourselves. When we compare ourselves to the carefully selected (and maybe even edited) pictures and videos of people we see on our screens, we can be led down a dark path of not living up to what we “should” be, which takes a toll on our mental health.
So by virtue of this, you may be asking what we should do to stop these downward spirals of comparison. Berntsen reminds us that social media can certainly play a role in our mental health, but it certainly is not the only thing that causes a decrease in our feelings of joy.
Though certain circumstances affect everyone’s mental health differently, isolation and a general lack of social contact has been associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, both mental and physical, Berntsen said. Our quarantine lives of solitude and lack of physical contact combined with more time to spend on the internet may seem like the most unfortunate combination of things. However, there are things to help us get out of a mental health pit.
Berntsen said receiving social support from those that care about you gives you a sense of belonging, and can also support your physical health and help you live longer. Here is where our digital devices can be handy instead of harmful. For instance, having game nights and movie nights with friends using apps like Netflix Party or Houseparty, and calling your loved ones can bring you joy and boost your overall health for the long run.
There are also online mental health hotlines that are free-of-charge, such as 7 cups of tea, an international chatting website for those who need a space to share their emotions and circumstances. The Mindful USC Mobile App offers free guided meditations. Many news sources have shared professional tips for managing anxiety, screen-free, during quarantine.
In such an unprecedented time, it’s okay (and psychologically predictable) to be feeling down. Check in on your fellow Trojans and on your loved ones -- you are not alone.