12/29/2015 12:03 EST | Updated 12/29/2016 05:12 EST

Those Fake Selfie Smiles Hurt More Than You Think

We're used to having multiple faces -- at work, at home, or with our friends. Now there's a chance to have a social media version of ourselves. The pressure to present the best version of ourselves is creating new types of problems for the mental health of the society.

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Beautiful young woman photographing herself with phone. Cute smiling young Caucasian teenage girl taking a selfie outdoors on sunny summer day.

The discussion on the impact of social media on our lives has been on the rise for the past couple of years. More so after the recent conversations on how your social media presence is a parody of a more content, satisfied "you."

By nature, we're used to having multiple faces -- at work, at home, or with our friends. Now there's a chance to have a social media version of ourselves. The pressure to present the best version of ourselves and the detrimental effects of constantly comparing ourselves with others is creating new types of problems for the mental health of the society.

There is no single study concluding the direct impact of media on the society or individuals, but empirical studies are being conducted on the concept of mediatization and the process of mediatization on the society (family, religion, politics).

Some studies claim that social media has no impact on our mental health, and then there are some that scare us with the negative implications of spending hours on social media.

There is no denying social media has changed the way we communicate, and the change is similar to how the telephoneimpacted our communications many years ago. The telephone allowed families to stay in touch after moving away; similarly, our ties with friends and family would be impaired by the desolation of social media.

We live in a globalized economy and social media allows us to stay in touch. Some would say it allows us to stay intimate. Intimacy is the word Deanna Zandt uses to describe the junction of authenticity, connection and vulnerability. In her talk at the Personal Democracy Forum, she highlights the importance of embracing the authentic, messy human beings we are.

She believes that social media empowers us to share different nuanced parts of ourselves to paint an empathetic picture that can shift the world. Yet here we are, living in a virtual world where people only share their social media face -- a version of themselves that is happier, cooler, stronger, more satisfied than who they really are.

Deanna shares some pictures of herself in which she is smiling, socializing with friends and just looks happy. Yet she explains that during that period she was spiralling down "the worst depressive episode" of her life.

You might be thinking that there is nothing wrong with sharing her forced smiles, because it will help her get out of the negative phase she is in. But here's her take on it: "The dissonance that was created for me by what was actually happening in my life versus what I thought I should be publicly sharing with my community made my condition that much worse."

Another publicized example of how we cannot read people's lives through their Instagram page is the tragic suicide of Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who ran track and had many friends.

Beneath the Instagram posts and smiles she was struggling with her mental health -- constantly comparing herself to her friends on Instagram who were enjoying the college experience that she wanted but was struggling to have. The reality was that her friends were also struggling, but no one was showing the struggles on Instagram.

Kate Fagan, who wrote the piece on ESPN, says it best. "Checking Instagram is like opening a magazine to see a fashion advertisement. Except an ad is branded as what it is: a staged image on glossy paper. Instagram is passed off as real life," she wrote.

The anticipation of praises from our Facebook friends or Instagram followers makes our "alternate self" one-dimensional -- the dimension being, the better me. This drive to have more likes, more followers and more upvotes on posts and comments brings a rush of dopamine and anxiety.

Although that feeling can be a reason for going back to social media hourly, for people living with a mental illness, social media has had ramifications beyond anyone's expectations.

One of the reasons why many people experiencing a mental health problem choose to stay off of social media is the fear of seeing others enjoy their lives. No matter how much they love their friends and family, they compare their current state with the "happy" lives of their loved ones.

The comparison causes more pain and anxiety. Another reason is the shattered expectation of having the same dopamine induced reaction to opening their social media feed as before. Someone going through a depressive episode has a sense of emptiness and loses interest in things that used to bring them pleasure.

This means they can't feel the positive flow that once came from escaping to the world of social media; and the longing for the rush of dopamine makes the feeling of emptiness that more severe.

Humanity has always had an immense appetite for distraction and escapism from the present, whether it was reading books, listening to the radio, watching TV, or increasing screen time.

Accepting the fact that social media is yet another way of escaping ourselves, can we find a way to make peace and use this incredible tool to enhance our communication rather than allowing it to lure us into "collective depressive dissonance?"


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