College is a time when we find and shape ourselves, but it can also be a time of immense pressure. Classes, internships, work, parties — there’s always something you could, and probably should, be doing, and finding a balance between school and having fun can be tough. There’s a culture of perfection present that students experience, and it’s sustained by our consistent use of social media. Every time we open our phones, we see everyone doing everything and looking amazing doing it. We define others by who they portray themselves to be on social media and do the same ourselves. This causes us to judge ourselves and compare our lives to what we see on social media, which is an unrealistic standard.
The culture of perfection on college campuses is how most students have a huge pile of work on their plates but maintain an image of having it all together. While we don’t see everyone we know, every day we can still keep up with what they are doing on social media. There’s a divide between who we are on the internet and who we are in real life. Everyone presents their best self on social media but sometimes when we see our friends on the internet, we don’t make the connection that they are doing the same.
A lot of people grow up expecting college to be the best years of their lives. You finally have freedom and you go in with the expectations of making lifelong friends. Whether those ideas are passed down from siblings, friends or the media, if you get to college and those dreams aren’t met it can be overwhelming. Social media intensifies this problem as you constantly see everyone else posting about friends and parties and it looks like others are having the amazing “college experience” you wish you were having.
It’s interesting that social media was designed to help us feel less lonely, to help us better connect with our friends, but has ultimately led to people feeling more lonely. It also contributes to Fear Of Missing Out that is so common among college students. It’s hard to stay in and study and then see all your friends on Snapchat out at the bars. This fear of missing out leads to a dilemma where you always feel like there’s a better option, like there’s something else out there that you should be doing and it prevents you from being present in what you are doing.
In a study carried out at the University of Pennsylvania, “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression,” 140 undergraduates were asked to limit their social media (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) to ten minutes on each platform a day (30 minutes in total). Before and after the study they filled out a questionnaire. The students who limited their social media use to 30 minutes felt significantly better after the three week period. The students reported reduced symptoms of anxiety, loneliness, and FOMO. “Here’s the bottom line,” said study author Melissa G. Hunt. “Using less social media than you normally would lead to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.” The results of this study confirm what most of us already suspect. The trouble lies in acting on it.
It’s not easy to give up social media. It’s fun, mindless and a great way to keep up with our friends and family. The key is limiting exposure to social media and understanding that what we see on Instagram is not necessarily reality. It’s a fun picture but it’s just a picture, it might not represent someone’s life in its entirety. Cutting out social media entirely is an option but there are ways to limit your usage without shutting it out completely.