Life's 'happiest moments' can negatively impact your mental health

Having a baby, getting married and buying a house are meant to be the happiest, most significant moments of our lives – but expectation doesn’t always match up with reality.

A new study has found that these big milestone moments often leave many feeling vulnerable and stressed when their reality doesn’t live up to the social media hype.

As part of Mental Health Week 2019, new research by Bupa Health Clinics revealed that 86% of respondents agreed that society puts too much pressure on achieving life’s milestones.

Social media plays a pivotal role in this, with 58% agreeing that it creates an expectation of what life’s key moments should look like.

It’s the ultimate anti-climax, and it’s making us ill.

According to the research, Brits admit to feeling upset or down after comparing their experience of a milestone to someone else’s on social media.

85% of people said they felt this way when returning to work after having a baby, 70% said it happened when starting their first job and 64% said they felt low after getting a promotion and seeing others celebrating their own promotions on social platforms.

Buying a house (55%), retiring (53%) and taking a big holiday (43%) were the next significant moments which left the nation feeling flat once they compared themselves to what others were doing on social media.

And this phenomenon isn’t surprising. Social media gears us up to live life through the lens of constant comparison – so that even when good things happen to us we will immediately question – but is it as good as somebody else?

‘Social media can be a fantastic way of engaging with other people, staying informed and building and maintaining a network,’ says Bupa Health Clinics’ medical director, Dr Arun Thiyagarajan.

‘However, it can be easy to forget that what we see on social media is just a snapshot of a moment in time and can sometimes leave people feeling depressed and inadequate when their experiences don’t match up. 

‘This is especially true when it comes to the big life events. Whether it’s adjusting to becoming a parent, buying a house or even celebrating Christmas – comparing your reality with picture perfect experiences can make you feel as though you’ve fallen short.

‘It’s important to understand that taking care of both physical and mental well-being before, during and after a big life event, is vital to enjoying the moment itself. 

‘Social media can also have an impact on body image and confidence. Whether this is seeing constant weight-loss updates or celebrities’ holiday snaps, it can have an effect on the way we view our own bodies.

‘It is crucial to remember that what you see on social media may be an exaggerated version of reality.’

According to the study, one in 10 – 5.4 million people in the UK – have felt unhappy about an event or significant moment in life because of social media.

13% of people have even avoided posting pictures on social networks because their experience didn’t look as good as others.

Luckily, Dr Arun Thiyagarajan has some top tips to help you close the gap between expectation and reality:

Preparation is key 

Reaching big milestones – whether a promotion or wedding – can be hard work.

Make sure you consider the role your physical health can play on how vulnerable your mental health can be.

Getting as much good sleep as you can, eating well and exercising are simple things you can do in the lead up to a big life moment to ensure you are well equipped to think clearly, when you are faced with feeling low.

Ditch the comparisons 

It’s easier said than done, but it’s important to focus on the great stuff in your own life rather than compare it to the perceived experience of others.

This is enormously positive for your mental health. Try to remind yourself that everyone is fighting their own battles, and that social media only represents a moment in time.

Don’t forget you are able to hide people from your timeline without having to remove them as a friend.

Detox from the negativity 

Taking a regular step back from social media will give you the space and clarity you need to close the gap between expectation and reality.

This distance will encourage you to enjoy and cherish your happy moments while giving you the time to process those that are less than perfect.

Try swapping some of your social media time with apps that will help improve your mental health rather than hinder it.

Talk to someone 

If social media – or anything else – is having an impact on your mental health, talk to your GP.

Taking the first step can be difficult but once you’ve made that appointment you are going in the right direction.

Equally, you could opt for a more holistic view of your health and lifestyle; as part of Bupa’s health assessments, there is time dedicated to discussing mental health.

Should you decide to check in with the health of your body as well as your mind, use this time to discuss areas of concern and how to manage them.

Fill your feed with positivity 

If you do want to continue using social media, why not choose to follow accounts that uplifts you rather than bring you down. Look for people to follow who have similar backgrounds and interests as you.

Engage with friends and influencers who are going through the same things and are being honest about it. Being open about real-life situations will make you feel better about your own.

Remember – not everyone is perfect!

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