Overcoming social comparison can be especially challenging in our world of comparisons. Today, more people are relying on social media to connect with one another, share knowledge, and consume news content. With the growth of social media use, there’re also increasing concerns that social media use might lead to social anxiety among users.
It is especially easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others in our constant connectivity on social media. Social comparison has become an everyday part of our lives, and while it may seem harmless, it can have detrimental effects on our mental well-being, especially for those who experience social anxiety.
What is social anxiety? Well, social anxiety goes beyond mere shyness or introversion, involving intense fear and discomfort in social situations. One will try to avoid any social interaction or feel uneasy and reserved in such interactions. When combined with the practice of constantly comparing oneself to another, it can create a toxic cycle that leads to even greater anxiety and self-doubt.
What are the impacts of social comparison?
Social comparison, the act of evaluating ourselves in relation to others, is something almost all of us do to some degree. However, when social anxiety is in the mix, this seemingly innocent behavior can escalate into something much more harmful. Here’s how social comparison can exacerbate social anxiety:
- Unrealistic standards: Social comparison often leads to setting unrealistic standards. Individuals with social anxiety may constantly strive to measure up to these unattainable benchmarks, resulting in chronic stress and self-criticism. Social media users often compare themselves with others’ appearance, social skills, popularity and ability1. These comparisons generate strong emotional responses, especially when others selectively display more positive information2 .Furthermore, social media offers various filters to edit and improve photos, and the exposure to these idealized images of others can trigger negative emotions, contributing to social anxiety3.
- Lowered self-esteem: Continuous comparison to others can erode self-esteem, particularly when one feels they always come up short. When social media users perceive that they are different from certain striking norms (e.g. beauty standards, or correctness perspectives), they are likely to develop a negative assessment of themselves and make changes to purse the expectations and values of those social groups4. This can further intensify social anxiety symptoms, making it even harder to engage in social interactions.
- Magnification of perceived flaws: People with social anxiety are often hyper-focused on their perceived shortcomings or mistakes in social situations. As a result of social comparison, their excessive self-consciousness amplify their perceived flaws, believing that everyone else is doing so much better or is more socially adept.
- Isolation and avoidance: Social anxiety already prompts avoidance of social situations, and when coupled with social comparison, it reinforces the idea that social interactions are not only uncomfortable but also a constant source of failure. This can lead to increasing isolation and withdrawal from online communities.
How to break the cycle of social anxiety and social comparison?
You can learn to break the cycle of social anxiety and social comparison. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this challenging terrain:
- Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance. Understand that nobody is perfect, and everyone has their struggles and insecurities. Read more on how to combat self-criticism.
- Challenge negative thoughts: Practice noticing and identifying automatic beliefs that are unhelpful. Address those irrational beliefs that fuel social anxiety and comparison through reframing.
- Mindfulness strategies: Listen to guided meditation or engage in relaxation techniques to help manage anxiety in the moment and to reduce the urge to compare oneself to others.
- Seek support: Reach out to a therapist or support group specializing in social anxiety. Talking to others who understand your struggles can be incredibly beneficial.
- Limit social media use: Consider reducing or filtering your exposure to social media, where idealized images and carefully curated content can increase feelings of inadequacy.
Social anxiety and social comparison are intertwined in a complex dance that can be profoundly distressing for those affected. Recognizing the detrimental effects of constantly comparing oneself to others is the first step toward breaking free from this cycle.
With self-acceptance, professional help, and a conscious effort to challenge negative thought patterns, you can learn to manage social anxiety and lead more fulfilling lives, free from the burden of constant comparison. Your worth is not determined by how you measure up to others; it’s about embracing your unique qualities and living authentically.
1. Feinstein B. A., Hershenberg R., Bhatia V., Latack J. A., Meuwly N., Davila J. (2013). Negative social comparison on Facebook and depressive symptoms: Rumination as a mechanism. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2, 161–170.
2. Yang C.-c, Robinson A. (2018). Not necessarily detrimental: Two social comparison orientations and their associations with social media use and college social adjustment. Computers in Human Behavior, 84, 49–57.
3. Sherlock M., Wagstaff D. L. (2018). Exploring the relationship between frequency of Instagram use, exposure to idealized images, and psychological well-being in women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 8, 482–490.
4. Jiang, S., & Ngien, A. (2020). The Effects of Instagram Use, Social Comparison, and Self-Esteem on Social Anxiety: A Survey Study in Singapore. Social Media + Society, 6(2).