If I told you that social media is a comparison trap, a highlight reel of everyone else’s life or a good way to get your daily dose of FOMO, I’d sound like a broken record. 

It’s old news that social media affects our mental health. There are numerous studies detailing the side effects of comparing your life with those online, and they all agree that it takes a toll on mental health and general well-being. A study focused on the link between Facebook usage and depressive symptoms discovered that comparing ourselves to someone who seems worse off can still trigger depressive symptoms. 

Though comparison on social media often gets attention because it lowers our self-esteem, even comparison that we think may boost our confidence and well-being results in a distorted perception of ourselves and others. Whether we’re prompted to feel envious or boastful based on what we see others doing, social media warps our vision, making it hard to see clearly what’s true about our lives and the ones of those around us.

I think we can all relate to that feeling of frustration and jealousy that arises when we perceive others having more fun than us, and these feelings can lead to a vicious cycle. Alice G. Walton states in a Forbes article that “feeling jealous can make a person want to make his or her own life look better, and post jealousy-inducing posts of their own, in an endless circle of one-upping and feeling jealous.”

There have been numerous times I’ve posted a picture on Instagram that didn’t come close to the reality of my experience. The picture screams, “Look how much fun I’m having! Look at this super cool place I went to!” But, there’s always more to the story. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a thousand isn’t enough.

This false reality we see depicted online, day after day, hour after hour, makes it easy to find our value in the social media world instead of the real one. We use likes and comments as a measure of worth, and the way we view ourselves becomes distorted as we start measuring ourselves up to others.

Though social media is not inherently bad, it’s safe to say it has negative side effects. It’s ability to distort our perceptions of both ourselves and other people brings out a side that is all too human. Whether comparison brings about a lesser self-image or inflated one, the results of these distorted self-images are similar: disconnection.

Social media likes to boast that it brings people together, but if anything, it drives us apart. Many of us are aware of the negative effects social media has on our mental health, but do we consider how the platforms we encounter each day distort the way we look at other people?

It’s easy to judge their decisions. It’s easy to jump to conclusions about their lives and who they are as a person. It’s easy to believe that they have it all together. When I catch myself falling into that same old pattern of false beliefs and snap judgments, I remember that social media is a false reality. It’s moments like these when I’m challenged to pop the social media bubble I’ve built and examine what’s right in front of me. 

Though this distorted reality can seem negative, it also serves as a positive reminder to focus on the truth of each situation. There is always more than what meets the eye through a screen.