With all the photoshopped, carefully chosen lifestyle content online, it is no wonder that many of us feel driven to unfavorably compare our lives with those seemingly perfect ones on social media. This new year, let’s resolve to put things in perspective.
Our unprecedented level of social connection through online platforms has spurred a startling increase in “obsessive comparison disorder”, an unofficial but prevalent disorder in today’s world. While stressing about the quality of our lives versus those of others is certainly nothing new, the ability to view highly curated glimpses into others’ lifestyles 24 hours a day via social media can make this feeling inescapable, particularly for heavy internet users. Learning how to balance our views about ourselves and turn our attention to more fulfilling aspects of our lives, can lay the path to a more satisfying 2024.
What is Obsessive Comparison Disorder?
Obsessive comparison disorder occurs when a person cannot stop comparing themselves to others, and this causes stress, anxiety, depression, or significant behavioural changes. This has its basis in social comparison theory, which was developed in 1954 by psychologist Leon Festinger. This theory suggests that people determine their own social and individual worth based on how they compare to others. While comparing ourselves to others at times is normal, and can actually be beneficial in motivating us to improve various aspects of ourselves, fixating on how we measure up to others can significantly and negatively impact our mental health.
Some comparisons happen during the course of daily life, such as comparing yourself to a co-worker you feel is more successful at their job. However, more comparisons are occurring today because of social media interactions, such as when you scroll through photos of people seemingly living their best lives, or thriving in perfect relationships. The ability of people to carefully craft a view of their lifestyle using selected photos and media clips, and to retouch these for aesthetic purposes, can create an unrealistic standard that can fuel obsessive comparison disorder.
What are signs of obsessive comparison disorder?
Some key characteristics of obsessive comparison disorder include:
- Constant, critical comparison of yourself or your lifestyle with that of others
- Overall sense of dissatisfaction with your life
- Anxiety and intrusive thoughts related to constant comparisons
- Lowered self-esteem
- Excessive social media use
What are the Effects of Obsessive Comparison Disorder?
The effects of obsessive comparison disorder can seriously impact both physical and mental health. For some, the anxiety over conforming to the physical perfection often seen online can lead to unhealthy exercise habits or eating disorders. Others may experience depression or even suicidal ideation in response to feelings of failure generated from social comparisons. For many with this new OCD, FOMO – fear of missing out – weighs constantly on their minds.
The new OCD and FOMO
The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is a type of anxiety around the idea that people are having more fun, enjoying more successful lifestyles, or having better experiences than you are. It is often accompanied by compulsive behaviours to try and alleviate this anxiety, even if these behaviours aren’t actually reflective of what you want or need. According to one study, FOMO reflects a problematic attachment to social media, and can reduce quality of sleep, increase emotional tension and anxiety, decrease emotional control, and have negative impacts on physical health as well.
For example, you are feeling exhausted after a long week at work and come home wanting to recharge by having a cozy evening at your house followed by a solo jog the next morning. You check social media to find that several friends have posted photos of themselves surrounded by others and seemingly enjoying themselves at happy hour at a local restaurant. Instead of getting the rest and rejuvenation time you need, your anxiety over missing out propels you to go out and drink with a few friends late into the night. Despite your own posts on social media of how fun your evening was, you wake up late the next morning feeling drained and even more anxious.
Getting Past the New OCD and Discovering a New You
Constant comparison of ourselves to others, particularly in the artificial world of social media, can be significantly detrimental to our health. To break free of this self-defeating habit and begin to measure your success and happiness by your own needs and standards, try these tips:
1. Reduce your screen time
First and foremost, the more you engage with social media, the more likely you are to fall into the trap of comparisons. Be intentional about your screen time, and limit the amount of scrolling you do through social media posts or related sites. Ask yourself what you need from the internet, and base your use off of this rather than falling back into old habits.
Not sure how to start cutting back? Try turning your phone off for an hour or two when you get home from work. You can also leave it at home or in your bag when you are exercising or out to run errands. Whenever you can, take time to ground yourself in what is actually happening around you, not the stories people are telling online. This can make a significant difference in how you perceive what’s around you, and how you feel about yourself.
2. Remind yourself that social media isn’t all it seems
It’s easy to fall into despair when other people’s lives appear to be perfect compared to yours, but what is critical to remember is that social media is only about appearances – not realities. Everyone online has the ability to pick the perfect photo and the most flattering filter, then choose the narrative that they want to define their lifestyle by. What we see is a carefully curated story, but not the messy reality that life actually is.
3. Focus on real connections
Rooting yourself in real interactions with people not only strengthens the friendships you have, but lends to a more balanced perspective on your life versus other people’s. This allows space to move beyond initial emotions sparked by a comparison, such as jealousy over a friend’s seemingly better job, to a conversation about what they’re actually experiencing, and if there’s any advice they could give you to help you move forward.
4. Try therapy
If obsessive comparison disorder is taking a toll on your wellbeing, consider talking to a therapist. Often low self-esteem can result in anxiety and depression disorders that can lead to maladaptive coping behaviours that interfere with our ability to function in daily life.
Therapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy can help you identify any underlying root causes that are contributing to obsessive comparison disorder, and develop new, healthy patterns of thought and behaviour that will benefit your mental health.
Overcoming Obsessive Comparison Disorder at The Dawn
At The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab, we offer a bespoke mental health retreat that helps our clients gain a deeper understanding of their disorder, and learn skills to manage their condition. Our compassionate, experienced clinical team uses a mix of the latest psychotherapeutic techniques and scientifically-proven wellness practices in a holistic approach that successfully instills lifelong healthy coping mechanisms.
Come join a mental health retreat in Thailand
Located in beautiful Northern Thailand just an hour’s flight away from the capital city of Bangkok, The Dawn is a beautiful riverfront sanctuary where clients can recover in a relaxed, cosy ambience and truly focus on themselves. Each client is given a comfortable, private room and access to resort-style facilities including WiFi, a swimming pool, sauna, meditation studio, fitness centre and games centre.
Nationally licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health and internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International (AACI), The Dawn is an oasis of peace and healing a world away from all the stressors and triggers of home.
Give yourself the gift of a recovery retreat, and call The Dawn today to learn more about our programmes.