The neighbor with the perfect lawn. The friend with a successful, high-paying career. The stranger on social media that you’ve never met but assume, given their seemingly perfect photos, that they lead the perfect life.
In today’s world, where it has become the norm to spend countless hours scrolling through photos of friends, family, celebrities, and complete strangers, the temptation to compare ourselves to others is at a cultural high.
While competition has long been a basic function of the human condition, it would seem that the rise of the digital age over the past several years has put an unnecessary, and even harmful, precedence on who’s in the lead. As if it were possible to measure all human successes on a single scale (or worse, by number of ‘likes’).
But even before social media’s take over, the groundwork for social comparisons was already in place. Social norms have long been established along with the relentless reminders that we’ve yet to live up to all of them. A 30-something woman sees her friends getting married and panics that she’s still single. A hard-working employee watches his co-worker move up in the company, prompting him to ask, “Why him and not me?” These comparisons can become so habitual that often you may not even realize you are doing it.
Reasons to quit may go beyond the fact that they’re simply unproductive and leave you feeling poorly about yourself. Making these social comparisons can be damaging to your health, both physically and psychologically. Being aware of how harmful comparisons are could serve as great motivation to give them up.
In 1954, social psychologist, Leon Festinger proposed the theory of social comparison, which argues that your own feelings of self-worth are dependent upon how you think you measure up to those around you. You may be constantly evaluating how you stack up to others, in turn creating our self-image. A self-image based on anything other than intrinsic factors is destined to have harmful effects.
For one, making social comparisons can have a devastating impact on your self-esteem, particularly when comparing something you are already insecure about or sensitive to. For example, if you suffer bodily insecurities and follow nothing but fitness accounts on social media, you are setting yourself up to make not only an unhealthy comparison but an unfair one at that.
The majority of social media users show only what they want the world to see. They are less likely to expose their own insecurities and overcompensate by pushing perfection instead. It essentially boils down to a comparison between one’s reality to another’s best attempt to portray perfection. Not only can this influence your self-esteem, but it also distorts your perception of reality.
The stress that results from constantly making social comparisons that deflate your self-esteem and hinder your self-image can harm your physical health as well. Chronic stress can lead to high-blood pressure, heart disease, hypertension, and a weakened immune system. Moreover, when left unchecked, which can easily occur when you are unaware of its cause, chronic stress can lead to psychological problems such as depression and anxiety attacks.
In addition, social comparisons can hold you back from reaching goals and pursuing what matters most. Accomplishments stem from self-confidence, motivation, and clarity—all three of which can be hindered by images of others who you think are already a few steps ahead of you. In short, making social comparisons can be paralyzing and leave you wondering, Why bother?
Tips to Stop Comparing
It may sound simple to just suggest putting a stop to social comparisons—but the question is how do you actually stop? Here are some ways to help you stop making social comparisons.
- Limit (or eliminate) time on social media. As mentioned, social media is often used as a place to share what you want people to see, not necessarily what’s closest to reality. Whether or not its content’s even accurate, at the very least it’s likely exaggerated. Cutting back on social media or taking a break altogether can do wonders for your mental health. Spend the extra time understanding the triggers that lead you to making social comparisons so that when you log back into your accounts, you’re prepared to let those things go.
- Make a list of accomplishments you’re proud of. The more confident you are in yourself, the less inclined you’ll be to evaluate how you stack up against others. Write a list of your proudest accomplishments, traits, strengths, and even things you’re grateful for. This will put you in a healthier mindset, making you less likely to engage in the comparison game.
- Become clear on what you want. When you’re unsure of what you want in life or how to go about achieving it, you can tend to feel unanchored. Become more grounded by gaining clarity as to the direction your life is going. Write out your short-term and long-term goals and steps necessary to accomplish them. Once you feel more secure in your own life, the temptation to overinvest in others will dissipate.
Theodore Roosevelt said it best when he stated, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you want to become your best self, making your mental and physical health top priority, you must choose joy and resist the urge to make unhealthy comparisons.