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“Facebook envy” and how to defeat it

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If those happy, smiling, perfect pictures in your social media feed are getting you down, you have the power to change that.

Katrina,

I’d love some advice on how to deal with envy. I know it’s a particular area in my life right now that I really need to work on. I look at my friends’ posts on Facebook or Instagram — their vacation pictures and pictures of them hanging out with our mutual friends — and it makes me feel so frustrated and sad. I love my family but I miss being able to go out whenever I wanted and having that extra money to shop and travel. Now my Saturday nights are spent covered in baby spit-up and the most exotic place I visit is the petting zoo. What do you recommend to help me with this area in life?

Kelley

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Dear Kelley,

My first recommendation is get off social media or at least severely strict your exposure to it. If Instagram or Facebook is exacerbating the situation then the obvious solution is to take a break from it. Make it less of a temptation by removing the app from your phone, that way at least it’s not instantly accessible. Also set time limits for social media. Don’t go on social media when you’re bored or sad, looking for an immediate escape from your surrounding realities.

Why do you use social media? To keep in touch with family and friends? Then call or write them instead. When I get a phone call from a friend I know they are really thinking about me and want to genuinely know how I’ve been. It means so much more than a simple “like” on a post or a picture I’ve shared online.

I wonder if it’s not so much envy that you’re really struggling with, especially if you aren’t typically an envious person. Maybe the cause of your concern isn’t envy; the envy is a result of something else.  

Being a new mom can be isolating, especially if you’re young and your friends are childless and single. When I had my son I was three states away from any family and new to the neighborhood. All my friends lived on the internet, meaning that my only interactions with them were solely through social media. I was also a stay-at-home for the first year and a half of my son’s life, and I would go days without speaking to another adult. I was lonely and often turned to unhealthy ways to manage this, like food and excessive social media.

Read more: Inventing a “Ministry of Succor”: Helping Young Moms Who Struggle

The thing is, cultivating relationships online prevented me from seeking out connections with people in real life. So I’d feel even more isolated and lonely which in turn made me spend more time on social media, which made me feel lonelier … and so the cycle went. All of this made me feel bad about myself, and the “happy, perfect, pictures” of others just made me feel more isolated, and resentful, which made me feel even worse, because I didn’t want to resent anyone.

So why are you really on Instagram, Kelley? What is it serving to replace? Are you lonely, frustrated, financially squeezed, missing your friends, or simply tired and in need of a day’s break? These are all normal and understandable desires for a new mom. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted and fall into the temptation of comparing the worst parts of our lives with the best parts of someone else’s.  

I’m not going to tell you to try and be more grateful, because that’s about as helpful as telling you to suck it up. It also assumes that you aren’t grateful for your family and your baby, which I am sure you are.

When you feel envious, it helps to remember that what you’re seeing on social media is what people want you to see, which only part of the story. Yes, the family smiling in the canoe looks happy, because they’re not posting about how five minutes earlier the kids were fighting over a beef jerky, and the parents were glaring at each other and muttering under their breath about needing a vacation to get over the vacation.

What you’ve described in your email to me is, unfortunately, fairly common and not specific to just new moms. Everyone can feel the temptation to compare their lives to their peers and judge themselves by the standards of others. When we look at what others have and feel envious because of what we lack, it’s a symptom of general dissatisfaction.

Cutting back on social media and making more time for ourselves can be certainly help with feelings of dissatisfaction, but if the feelings persist and impede your peace and spiritual well being than it might be helpful to talk to a priest or a doctor. And lastly,  I encourage you to replace the time spent on Facebook or Instagram with time spent in prayer.    

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