Humans are social creatures, and science tells us that social media can have some benefits for our mental health. But that sensation in the pit of your stomach when you see your friend post a picture of themselves with Beyonce from your front-row seat, alone on the couch, tells you there’s something insidious about Instagram.
Recent studies suggest that social media use is not depressing – unless it triggers envy, and therapists suspect that photos posted by people with cooler (looking) live with than you are the prime medium for Instagram Envy.
Let’s get started.
What Exactly Is Instagram Envy?
On Instagram, there is none of the familiar messiness of Facebook (which bought Instagram for about $1 billion) or Twitter, where the torrent of wish-you-were-here-but-not-really posts are lost in a clutter of birthday wishes to Aunt Candace, one-liners about airline food and links to the latest Onion headline or the New Republic deconstruction of Obamacare.
Instagram, rather, is about unadulterated voyeurism. It is almost entirely a photo site, with a built-in ability (through the site’s retro-style filters) to idealize every moment, encouraging users to create art-directed magazine layouts of their lives.
For many urban creative professionals these days, it’s not unusual to scroll through one’s Instagram feed and feel suffocated by fabulousness: There’s one friend paddling in the surf at Positano under a fiery Italian sunset. Another is snapping away at a sweaty Thom Yorke from the third row at an Atoms for Peace concert in Austin. Yet another is sipping Champagne in Lufthansa business class en route to Frankfurt, while a fourth is huddling with friends over omakase at Masa.
Members of the Facebook generation are no strangers to the sensation of feeling a little left out when their friends post from that book party they weren’t invited to, or from someone’s latest transporting trip to the white sands of Tulum. Yet even for those familiar with the concept of social-media envy, Instagram Envy— the highest achievement yet in social-media voyeurism — presents a new form of torture.
Envy, of course, doesn’t operate in a social vacuum. It needs an object of desire. And everyone, it seems, has that friend on Instagram: the one with the perfect clothes and the perfect hair and seemingly perfect life — which seem all the more perfect when rendered in the rich teals and vivid ambers of Instagram’s filters.
Instagram Envy may constitute the most first-world of problems, but it is starting to attract the attention of some lab-coat types like Andrew Przybylski, a psychologist and research fellow at the University of Oxford, who are going so far as to try to quantify FOMO (fear of missing out) and finding that Instagram is the biggest culprit among social networks.
Unless 150 million users decide to go off Instagram cold turkey en masse, Instagram envy may turn out to be an epidemic with no cure.
But at least there may be a salve. It helps when our fabulous friends declare a moratorium on friend-torture. Indeed, many golden children of Instagram are already learning to rein it in, adopting their own form of Instagram etiquette.
How Can You Tell If You Have Instagram Envy?
Instagram Envy is now a modern-day pandemic in itself. We travel, eat, and sleep next to our phones in case of an urgent notification. We gorge on bitesize updates on other people’s lives – regardless of whether we’re still in close contact with them or not. We constantly present a perfected version of ourselves online, only to feel worse offline.
We’ve all been there. When a friend’s celebratory announcement elicits a surprisingly bittersweet reaction or a stranger’s live late-night adventure triggers a FOMO-induced meltdown. These fallacious feelings usually come from a place of insecurity
Instagram’s prime feature is sharing photographs rather than paragraphs. Though it has become a socially acceptable form of surveillance, we have become numb to its constant stream of superficiality. There can be a disconnect between what we see in person and what we see online. Nowadays, maintaining a healthy follower to following ratio has become a valuable and vied over an asset. We measure the success of our peers through an illusory point system that unfavorably punishes us and rewards others.
At the moment, human communication is in the balance of our collective WiFi connection. Screentime is on the rise because the nibbling appeal to know what’s happening on the outside world tempts and taunts us 24 hours a day. Even our time in quarantine has become a competition to see who can be the most productive. Now that summer bodies and exotic holiday tags have become obsolete, rivalries now depend on our activities at home.
What was once a creative outlet has turned into a forum for theatrics. Society has created a set of stringent outlines; from having too many selfies or having too little, having no consistent aesthetic, or trying too hard to emulate one. There is now a right and wrong way to post a picture – even for a basic sunset.
The first step to curing a bout of Instagram Envy is to ground yourself. By normalizing these pangs of jealousy, you discover its powerlessness in its shared struggle. Envy is an irrational, insular but above all human emotion. Deflated self-esteem is usually a product of unreasonable comparison. With Instagram Envy, it is yourself and the airbrushed avatar you get to see rather than the equally flawed human you don’t. Since comparison can lead to competition, always remember the context of the content. Occasionally, jealousy is only blinding you from your own admiration.
Once you have rationalized your feelings, you should then take time to reflect on your toxic relationship with social media and what actions can be done to mend it. It has been proven that short but frequent scrolling sessions, known as passive consumption, are when we are most subconsciously absorbent. This is important when we consider how Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes the content that you interact with most. Whether that be through likes, messages, or a guilty stalk, the accounts you gravitate towards will naturally reappear more on your feed. Essentially then, we are our own saboteurs. We are more likely to see and remember the accounts that have a detrimental effect on our mental wellbeing. This can be solved by reducing your online activity or removing the accounts that contribute to your Instagram Envy.
How Do You Cope With Instagram Envy?
I’m sure I’m not the only one who spends too much time scrolling through Instagram wishing I had someone’s hair/jacket/house/life. Instagram envy is a little green-eyed monster that sits on most of our shoulders, bringing out the very worst in us, and it’s almost impossible to quell.
I don’t want to single anyone out, but there are a few people on Instagram who bring out that little monster more than others. To risk sounding like a bit of a creep, these are the feeds I check first thing every day and whose photos I save into folders named ‘Style Envy’, ‘HAIR’, and ‘Dream House’. We all do it, and we all need to learn to step back from the ‘gram and get over it.
So how do you learn to live with a little bit of Insta-Envy, without letting it consume you?
1. Step Away From The Phone…
Don’t spend your entire life stalking someone on Instagram, no matter how perfect their grid may be. Put your phone down, preferably in a different room, and get on with your own life. You might not have perfect hair but reconnect with the tangible things that you do have, such as your partner, friends, family, or pets. Rediscover the things that you liked doing before an app started to consume your life.
2. Remember, Nobody Is Perfect…
No matter how perfect someone’s life may seem, it helps to take a step back and remember that they are only sharing the best, most photogenic elements of their life. There’s plenty going on behind closed doors that you don’t know about, and don’t forget the filter that’s layered over everything. Someone may look flawless in every single photo, but don’t forget that there’s plenty of editing tools out there. Even influencers have fat days and occasional spots. Everyone is normal, and nobody’s perfect.
3. Reassess Your Priorities…
At the end of the day, Instagram is a social media channel, that’s all. Make a list of the things that matter the most to you in your life: your health, your relationships, your career, having a roof over your head. Be honest with yourself – where do you rate social media on that list? For most of us, it’s pretty low down. I love Instagram as much as the next blogger, but it isn’t the most important thing in your life.
4. Curate The Best Bits…
Worried that your feed looks substandard next to all of the photogenic influencers out there? As mentioned above, everyone only shares the highlights of their lives on Instagram, so why not do the same. Instagram is no longer instant – there’s no reason why you can’t build up a bank of images that you love and spread them out, sharing one or two photos a day of your own ‘highlights’. Banish the bland and curate a feed full of your good hair days, new shoes, and travel snaps – who knows, perhaps someone else has Instagram Envy when scrolling through your account!