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Social media's mental health drain

Over winter break, I decided to worsen my social standing a bit by deleting Instagram off my phone. I’d noticed that opening the app had practically become an addiction; any time I wasn’t engaged with a task or person in real life, I would almost automatically open my phone and adeptly scroll through my home screen to reach Instagram within a matter of seconds. 

Although I wish this were a story about how I’d trained for a marathon or learned to speak Russian using all the new free time I had in A.D. (After Deletion), nothing in my life really changed except for being slightly less in touch with my distant friends and family. 

Oh, and now I’m addicted to Twitter. 

The reason I don’t mind letting myself spend hours on Twitter, however, as opposed to Instagram, is that at least now I feel insecure about the cleverness of my tweets rather than the prettiness and popularity of my pictures. I stopped doing this when I got to college, but I remember in high school I would literally delete a picture if it didn’t break a certain number of likes. 

This modern-day, techy and subtle peer pressure is the powerful force of social media that generations above us don’t entirely understand. I remember my mom’s utter confusion when I told her back in December that I was temporarily off Instagram, after she’d asked if I’d seen my cousin’s cute Christmas post. “I got too obsessed with it, and it started to make me feel crummy about myself,” I explained. She asked, “But can’t you just use it to keep up with friends and family, and not let it affect your own self-confidence?” 

No, I can’t. And most Instagram users can’t either: the app has shown to be “the worst social media network for mental health and wellbeing, according to a recent survey of almost 1,500 teens and young adults. Instagram helped with “self-expression and self-identity,” but “it was also associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO.”

A New York Times piece from January titled “More College Students Seem to Be Majoring in Perfectionism” argues that although the tangible effects of social media on a child’s self-image are difficult to quantify, there is certainly a rise in perfectionism amongst college students, greatly impacting their grasp on stable mental health. The study cited explains that students are setting “increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves.”

In delving deeper into social media’s role as a catalyst in this phenomena, there is definitely an environment within it that cultivates a panic for perfectionism. I go on Facebook to find updates from my “friends” about their internships at Google and Microsoft or see their latest pictures from their month-long backpacking trip in Thailand. 

Then I go on Instagram to see how fit, sociable, adventurous and happy all the people I’m following are, followed by Snapchat, which just reinforces what a wonderful day everyone except me is having. Oh look! That girl from computer science class is hang-gliding in Brazil. It’s 2 p.m. and I still haven’t gotten out of bed, but good for her. 

If I happen to check in on Linkedin, I may add another set of “skills” to make it seem like I’m not spending most of my time binging shows on Netflix, and then I check my notifications about my connections’ latest internships at Goldman Sachs and Bank of Our Interns Don’t Sleep and Make Millions. And by then I’ve probably paralyzed myself with insecurity, so I finally put the phone down. 

Sometimes, it genuinely feels like the whole system is set up to make us hate our own lives. After all, smart phones are literally “designed to be addicting”—from the colors to the sounds to every specific aspect of the user experience, social media apps want to make us feel like we’re constantly connected and engaged with our “network.” 

And those networks are now saturated with every random classmate or acquaintance you never wanted to see again, deep down. But there they are, succeeding and being much more photogenic than you, all over your feeds.

This constant social and digital engagement has made it difficult to discern our own happiness from the inauthentic narratives we constantly see online. But it’s also sort of the grave that’s been dug for us, since disconnecting from our social media world means losing touch with a crucial part of our culture as American teens and college students. 

I’ll probably re-download Instagram again soon, maybe while I’m travelling over the summer so I can let everyone know that I’m travelling over the summer. And I’ll spend hours editing and selecting pictures to post and show followers what a fun, down-to-earth, free-spirited chick I am, with perfect skin and flowing hair. 

And in real life, I’ll be panicking over pimples in the mirror, pissing off about poor reception and missing my dog and parents, wishing I was home.

Daniela Flamini is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.


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