Photo credit: Mike Fox
By Emelda De Coteau
“Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self. The God in you has no comparison. The same is true of others.” – Iyanla Vanzant
As a child, I remember my mother’s regular reminders not to compare myself to other kids –or her for that matter – to other parents. “I am not Johnny’s mother, she would say, widening her eyes with an intensity I only now feel brave enough to laugh about. But her lesson and the lessons of many Mamas to stand in our authenticity is being lost by the minute in the feeds of social media platforms – from the rapidly unfolding conversations on Twitter to the visually enchanting and growing community of Instagram, we are following folks lives in unprecedented ways, and it’s easier than ever to feel as if we don’t measure up.
According to Social Media Today, “Astonishingly, the average person will spend nearly two hours (approximately 116 minutes) on social media daily which translates to a total of 5 years and 4 months spent over a lifetime.” And while we check in with family and friends online, many of us are also scrolling the pages of celebrities and others we admire in these digital spaces, obsessing over how well put together their lives appear.
Research documenting the impact of this technology on our collective mental health should give us all reason for pause. Millennials using more than 7 or more social networks report higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to those active on only two sites.
And Time magazine’s blog recently highlighted “The #StatusOfMind survey, published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, [which] included input from 1,479 young people (ages 14 to 24) from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.” Young people shared their angst, depression and anxiety around the use of Instagram, which is known for an emphasis on visually appealing personal photos and stunning filters, all part of curating the perfect page.”
From Comparison to Mindfulness
I know you’re probably thinking, well, how can we break free from this social media comparison rut which is wreaking havoc on our minds? Because all of us are impacted – whether we’re talking about older adults, millennials or children who have grown up saturated by the accelerated pace in a digital world. Well, we can begin by doing something my therapist reminded me of last year, as I sat, tissues in hand, confessing my own feelings of overwhelm. Consider, she said, the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness focuses us on being in the present moment, not obsessed with the future or lamenting what occurred in the past. And it also helps us develop gratitude for the many blessings we regularly overlook. The intentionality of slowing down means there is time to notice and appreciate people in your life, savor sunrises, inhale the aromas of your favorite foods and drinks, and simply enjoy the act of breathing. When your mind begins to overflow with an awakened awareness, the constant tendency to compare gradually dissipates.
Healing Through Journaling
Spending time alone, journaling is incredibly healing as this commitment encourages deeper examination of your inner world. Several months ago, a good friend recommended Practice You: A Journal by Elena Brower, yoga teacher, artist and writer. It’s become an essential tool for me along my journey of self-love and care; it’s full of helpful writing prompts such as “This is how I respect myself. These are my practices.”
Consistently writing out what we experience internally pushes us toward those tough and necessary questions such as what is at the root of this fixation on comparison – low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and doubt? Ultimately, cultivating this kind of inner clarity helps our growth emotionally and spiritually.
Give Yourself Grace
Finally, throughout it, all, give yourself grace. Journeys are not sprints, they take time. There are layers to peel away. Dr. Kristin Neff, from the University of Texas at Austin, writes about the need for self-compassion on her website: “It recognizes that the human condition is imperfect so that we feel connected to others when we fail or suffer rather than feeling separate or isolated. It also involves mindfulness — the recognition and non-judgmental acceptance of painful emotions as they arise in the present moment. Rather than suppressing our pain or else making it into an exaggerated personal soap opera, we see ourselves and our situation clearly.”
Freedom from comparison and harsh self-judgement are possible, even as social media seemingly permeates our lives. Make the decision to listen to your mind, body and spirit first. Log out of Instagram, Facebook, etc. if you see yourself slipping into a mindset of comparison – journal and focus on the reasons behind your feelings, connect with genuine friends whose laughter lifts you up. I particularly find Dr. Neff’s short and guided self-compassion exercises useful. Remember, you have blessings, unique gifts and abilities, and affirming this to yourself consistently is a transformative gift.
Emelda is a loving wife, mama, creative, and believer seeking God anew in each moment. She serves as the founder of Women Creatives Chat, a community dedicated to empowering all creative women through events (launching in the fall of 2017), workshops and daily inspiration on Instagram and Facebook.
She is also a founding member of Black Womyn Rising, a radical intergenerational organizing collective for Black womyn and girls rooted in global sistahood. She blogs at Live In Color, about faith, activism, and inspiration, is a columnist for Beautifully Said magazine, and contributing writer for the Pretty Entrepreneur blog (a community which empowers women of color in business).
Like us on Facebook