Social Media Envy: Causes, Effects, and Coping Strategies

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind. — Buddha

In today’s digital age, social media has become an integral part of our lives. We use it to connect with friends and family, share our experiences, and express ourselves. However, social media has also given rise to a new phenomenon known as social media envy. Social media envy refers to the negative feelings of envy, jealousy, and inadequacy that arise when we compare ourselves to others on social media.

Social media envy is not a new phenomenon, but it has become more prevalent in recent years due to the increasing use of social media platforms. While social media can be a great tool for staying connected and sharing experiences, it can also be a source of stress and anxiety. Social media envy can manifest in various forms, including envy of others’ relationships, careers, possessions, travel, and physical appearance.

Causes of Social Media Envy

Social media platforms are designed to showcase the best parts of our lives. We carefully curate our profiles to show off our achievements, travels, and social lives, presenting an idealized version of ourselves. This can create a distorted perception of reality, leading to feelings of inadequacy and envy when we compare ourselves to others and conclude that they have more possessions or a better lifestyle than we do.

Additionally, social media algorithms are designed to show us content that is most relevant to us. This means that we are more likely to see posts from people who are similar to us in terms of demographics, interests, and lifestyles. However, this can also create an echo chamber, where we only see the best parts of people’s lives, leading to unrealistic expectations and feelings of envy.

In this way, social media fosters a culture of comparison. It is natural human behavior to compare ourselves to others, but social media magnifies this tendency. We are bombarded with images of people who are seemingly more successful, attractive, or popular than us, which can further exacerbate feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and resentment.

Types of Social Media Envy

The following represent some of the most prevalent forms of social media envy:

1. Envy of Others’ Relationships: Seeing happy couples or families on social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy or loneliness, especially if one is single or struggling in their own relationships. This can be compounded by the fact that people often only share the positive aspects of their relationships on social media, creating an unrealistic picture of what a relationship should look like.

2. Envy of Others’ Careers: People often post about their professional achievements, promotions, and job opportunities, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt in those who are not experiencing the same level of success or who are feeling pressure to achieve more and achieve faster. This can be especially true for young people who are just starting their careers and may feel like they are falling behind their peers.

3. Envy of Others’ Travel Experiences: Seeing friends or acquaintances post about their exotic vacations or travel experiences can lead to feelings of jealousy or envy, especially if one is not able to travel for financial or other reasons. This can be compounded by the fact that people often only share the highlight reel of their trips, creating an unrealistic picture of what travel should look like.

4. Envy of Others’ Possessions: Envy of other people’s possessions can be triggered by a variety of things, including seeing posts of friends or influencers with luxury cars, designer clothing, accessories or jewelry, or expensive homes. The curated nature of social media can make it seem like everyone is living a perfect life, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.

5. Envy of Others’ Physical Appearance: This is perhaps the most pervasive form of social media envy. People often post about their fitness routines, healthy meals, and weight loss journeys, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or self-consciousness in those who are not happy with their own bodies. This can be especially true for women, who are often held to unrealistic beauty standards and may feel like they are not measuring up to their peers.

Effects of Social Media Envy

Social media envy can have a range of negative effects on our mental health and well-being. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. When we constantly compare ourselves to others, we can feel like we are not good enough, which can lead to negative thoughts and emotions.

The feelings of envy can be intensified by the pervasive idea that the person who possesses the item or lifestyle portrayed on social media has something that the envious person cannot have or obtain. In some cases, the envy may also stem from a belief that the person who owns a certain possession or takes a certain vacation is somehow generally more successful, happier, or more desirable than we are.

Social media envy can escalate to a cycle of constant comparison and validation-seeking. We may start to obsess over our social media profiles, constantly seeking likes, comments, and followers as a way of validating our self-worth. This, in turn, can lead to a distorted perception of reality. We may start to believe that everyone else’s lives are perfect and that we are the only ones struggling, which further incites feelings of dissatisfaction, isolation and loneliness.

Coping Strategies for Social Media Envy

Through self-awareness and self-discipline, there are several strategies that we can use to cope with social media envy.

Above all, we should strive to become more mindful of our social media use. This means being aware of how social media makes us feel and pausing our use when we notice negative emotions arising. It’s important to take a step back and recognize that social media often does not reflect reality and that people may only share the highlights of their lives, while hiding the negative aspects. By acknowledging that everyone has their own struggles and challenges, we can gain a better perspective on the limitations and one-dimensionality of social media. This can help us gain a more holistic perspective and avoid overgeneralizing a few idealistic photos as representing a perfect life.

It can be helpful to self-impose limits on the amount of time spent on social media, and instead, focus on cultivating gratitude and appreciation for what we have. By concentrating on the positive aspects of our own lives and focusing on personal values, goals and achievements, we can avoid falling into the trap of constant comparison.

Additionally, we can cultivate a sense of community and connection offline. By spending time with friends and family in person, we can build meaningful relationships and avoid feeling isolated and disconnected.

Social media envy is a growing phenomenon that can have negative effects on our mental health and well-being. However, by understanding the causes of social media envy and practicing coping strategies, we can learn to use social media in a more positive way. Coping with social media envy requires a conscious effort to shift one’s perspective and focus on the positive aspects of one’s own life. By cultivating gratitude, self-compassion, and a sense of community, we can avoid the negative effects of social media envy and use social media as a tool for connection and self-expression.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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