How Instagram Encourages Comparison and Worsens Anxiety and Depression

Photo from HoneyBook headquarters by  Rebecca Aranda

Photo from HoneyBook headquarters by Rebecca Aranda

As a S.A.D. sufferer, summer is typically my jam. There is plenty of sun, which means plenty of Vitamin D. I thrive at the beach, and I live in jean shorts. It’s really my ideal state. Except that depression and anxiety know no seasons, and comparison isn’t reserved for the cold months. Recently, an artist I follow on Instagram posted an illustration and said, “is reverse SAD a thing?” I always look to summer to lighten my moods, but I find sometimes, like this summer, specifically, I have spent a lot of time feeling pretty shitty about what I don’t possess or what I’m not doing, or about the beach pics I am not sharing with the Instagram followers I don’t have. Because, suffice it to say, nothing is sufficient in the comparison game.

It starts out as an innocent, morning troll through my Instagram feed. “Oh, look at that  beautiful wedding my event planner friend worked at last night! And the family time my freelance graphic designer pal is getting out of the city. Oh wow, it looks like that lifestyle blogger is doing really well for herself. It looks like she’s doing much better than me. Why am I such a shitty business person? Why am I not able to figure out how to run a six figure business and have interns and employees and an office and a mini fridge!? What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m not getting enough summer, I’m not having enough success. I. Am. Not. Enough.”

So, that’s just a fun, light-hearted example of an average Sunday morning in my apartment.

Depression and anxiety know no seasons, and comparison isn’t reserved for the cold months.

The tricky thing about all of this is—I don’t have a bad life. I don’t want for much, and while I am not living my dream life, I actually like most aspects of my life very much. I am in an enriching relationship, I have a living space where I am comfortable, and my business, while slowly growing, does feed me in many ways. All of this begs the question, “When is enough enough?”

I’ve been really fascinated with the word “enough” lately. What does it mean and truly, what is enough? For me and for others. I try to understand “enough” when I eat—I hate that feeling of being sickly full, so I stop eating when I am satiated, but not stuffed. I practice “enough” with material goods—I make conscious purchases of meaningful items, like the bra I can’t stop wearing or the expensive, but socially conscious, sneakers I wear everywhere. I don’t buy things I don’t need, and I try with all my might not to give into our consumer culture because it is unhealthy and excessive, and ultimately, I think it’s the reason I don’t feel like I ever have “enough.” Because no one, despite what social media would make you believe, is traveling to distant lands with the perfect tan, pristinely accessorized in all of the most Instagrammable brands all of the time. That is not real. And I, being an intelligent, analytical person, should be able to differentiate what is reality and what is simply being put on for social media.

Does anyone else find this incredibly hard to do? Because, often, I feel like everyone is more successful, everyone is having more fun, everyone is traveling more, everyone is dressed better, everyone has more lucrative careers—everyone is experiencing the world more than me. But, I know that’s not true. No one is happy all of the time, filters add an absurd amount of pigment to even the palest skin, and at the right angle, most clothes can look designer.

The key, really (for me, anyway), is just to be rational. Step out from behind the phone. Get the fuck off Instagram and look at your life in a practical way. Is it mostly satisfying? Are you happy most of the time? Do you feel enriched by your relationships (friends, family, romantic)? Let’s say the answer to all of those questions is “no.” Would a fancy watch help? No. Would an adorable child? (Side note: why does everyone have the cutest babies right now? I don’t even want kids!) NO. Would a life of constant travel? Not really, because I like my home base, and I would feel extremely disoriented and exhausted if I traveled as much as some of these people seem to. I am left realizing that all I can do is look inward, shut the fuck up, get over it, and stop comparing myself to people I don’t even know on Instagram.

Depression and anxiety don’t only mean comparison; this has just been a season of comparison issues for me, and as much as I would love to pretend like I have my shit together, I don’t and I would rather be honest about this because I’m most certain that I am not the only one feeling these feelings and getting down on myself about these things. I think that the summer really has exacerbated a lot of this, which is unusual for my patterns of anxiety and depression.

If you’re feeling all of those #summervibes as well, know that you’re not alone, and if you want to have a practical conversation about how bad life actually isn’t, call me!


Kate Schaefer is the founder and editor of H&H Weddings, an LGBT wedding resource and blog. Her goal is to be the Emily Post of LGBT nuptials. And to be on Ellen.