By Wesley Gallagher
Social comparison is nothing new — in fact, social comparison theory is a term coined by Leon Festinger in the 1950s, according to VeryWellMind.com. This theory proposes that humans use comparison to others as a way to evaluate their own attitudes, traits, and abilities.
Not all comparison is bad. But the rise of social media has warped our view of others and given us access to millions of people to compare ourselves to, most of whom are presenting a polished, unrealistic version of themselves online. This perfect storm of unreality can turn our innate drive to compare into a toxic tornado of obsession and despair.
The rise of social media has warped our view of others and given us access to millions of people to compare ourselves to, most of whom are presenting a polished, unrealistic version of themselves online.
You’ve probably heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. This disorder is characterized by obsessive thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive behaviors. With the rise of social media, a new type of OCD has begun to evolve: obsessive comparison disorder.
What is Obsessive Comparison Disorder?
We all probably find ourselves at times stuck in a cycle of scrolling on social media, wishing our lives looked like the photos in our feeds. But for some of us, the cycle can border on addiction, consuming our thoughts and affecting our mental health on a daily basis.
While not an official diagnosis, obsessive comparison disorder (also known as constant comparison disorder) is characterized by an obsession with comparing yourself to others. Social media is often the main culprit in this disorder, but social comparison can happen in real life, too.
Obsessive comparison disorder symptoms include the following:
- Anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and worry related to comparison
- Constant comparison of your life to others’
- Discontentment with your life
- Basing your satisfaction on comparison to others’ lives
- Excessive time spent on social media
If this sounds like you, it’s worth considering whether your habits have become a problem.
How Comparison Affects Mental Health
The relationship between comparison and mental health isn’t all bad, but when you’re putting yourself up against an altered reality and only judging yourself based on how you measure up to others, it can wreak havoc on your emotions.
FOMO, or fear of missing out, is one of the many results of comparison culture. Constantly watching friends on social media running off on vacation or enjoying a night on the town can make you feel like you’re missing out on all the fun. According to TIME, the UK’s #StatusOfMind survey calls this effect a “compare and despair attitude.” When you’re comparing your everyday life with others’ “best self” on Instagram, you’re bound to come up lacking.
Curated and filtered social media posts also set unrealistic expectations that lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. It’s no wonder that the more social networks a person reports using, the more likely they are to report symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How to Keep Comparison from Stealing your Joy
If you’re struggling with constant comparison, it may seem impossible to curb your habits, but there are practices you can implement to help keep comparison at bay.
Highlighted in Forbes, author Ryan Dumont, who dealt with obsessive compulsive disorder for years before developing his own treatment plan, shares ways to fight the urge to compare yourself to others:
- Distract yourself with something you’re passionate about
Find something you love to do that you can turn to when social comparison is making you anxious or depressed. Put down the phone and turn to an activity that brings you joy.
The practice of mindfulness can do wonders to calm your mind and body when you find yourself caught up in obsessive comparison. Stop what you’re doing, turn on some soothing music, and breathe deeply as you practice being in the moment and paying attention to your thoughts in a nonjudgmental way. A regular practice of mindfulness can lead to greater self-acceptance, which will naturally decrease your need to compare yourself to others.
- Be patient
Old habits die hard, and if you’re used to comparing yourself to others, it will take time to establish new, healthier habits. Don’t be disappointed if you can’t immediately change; take it one step at a time.
Old habits die hard, and if you’re used to comparing yourself to others, it will take time to establish new, healthier habits.
Meadows Clinical Director Breanna Mylius emphasizes the need to focus on self-love to combat constant comparison. “[Self-love] is knowing that we have worth and value no matter what we do,” says Mylius. “I’m not less than, I’m not better than. I’m OK.”
If you have tried to make changes on your own and nothing seems to help, it might be time to talk to a professional about how to get a handle on your obsessive comparison. A trained therapist will help you get to the deeper reasons behind your struggles, as well as offer effective ways to cope.
Help for Mental Health Struggles
If you or someone you love struggles with anxiety or depression related to constant comparison, or any other mental health issues or addictions, The Meadows is here to help. We offer a range of research-backed, time-tested therapeutic practices to individually treat each person who comes through our door. Contact us today to get started on your healing journey.