09 Feb, 2021 Last updated: 09 Mar, 2021

Have you ever looked at what other people are doing on social media and thought “why isn’t that me?”

Author: VicHealth works with health promotion experts to create a Victoria where everyone can enjoy better health and wellbeing.

Any coronavirus information mentioned is accurate at the time this article was first published (9 February 2021). For the most up-to-date information about coronavirus restrictions, please visit the source: www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au


As parts of Victoria went through lockdowns to protect the community from coronavirus in 2020, it was hard not to see what other people were up to on social media in other parts of the country where there weren’t as many restrictions to keep people safe.

As a result, you can be left feeling envious of what those people are doing, and feel a bit left out when you can’t do the same.

So what exactly is ‘social media envy’, and how does it affect our mental wellbeing? VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio joined Raf Epstein on ABC Melbourne to talk through how we can manage it.

In this article we look at:

  • What is social media envy?
  • How does it affect our state of mind?
  • How can we minimise any negative affects?

Be Healthy was created by VicHealth to provide helpful tips and advice on how you and your family can stay healthy. You can read more Be Healthy articles here.



What drives social media envy?

According to Sandro, the desire to receive positive affirmation on social media comes from the physiological response it produces.

“Things such as the ‘like’ buttons and the amount of attention you get… we get a small dopamine buzz from our brain every time we see a like or an uptick in engagement,” Sandro said.

“This drives us to incentivise putting a picture out there, designing our lives to appear in a way that they’re maybe more perfect that they are.

“Very often it’s unconscious, because we get pleasure from engagement. But the whole social media ecosystem is designed to keep us online for as long as possible.”

However, this  'buzz’ digital platforms often provide can come at a cost.

“Getting that positive reinforcement has become a really critical part of our lives. We know that if you spend more time online that it can start to affect your mental health,” Sandro said.


Is what we see on social media affecting us more during coronavirus?

For many Victorians, it was easy to see what family and friends were up to in different parts of the world in 2020 via social media.

While that can be a positive thing, sometimes it can have a negative impact as well if we’re looking at things we couldn’t do at the time in Victoria, such as traveling or even just going out for dinner with friends.

Sandro said for many people, spending more time on social media meant added pressure to present our lives in different ways.

“Particularly with lockdowns and all the things we’ve had to give up over 2020 to stay safe,” he said.

“We’re spending more time online in the digital space than ever. Our mental health is already fragile, so feeling the pressure to portray our lives as better than what they are can affect others around us.”


What can we do to avoid social media envy?

Sandro said it comes back to being comfortable in yourself and the reasons you use social media.

“Really what’s important is whether you like your photo, whether you feel comfortable in yourself and whether you’re getting a sense of fulfilment out of your life,” he said.

“Not necessarily how many people like it or the feeling that others get from looking at your life.”


VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio’s tips for avoiding social media envy

  • Try to limit the amount of time you spend online. Remember these platforms are designed to hold your attention, so try to put the phone or laptop away for periods of time if you can.
  • Reduce the number of notifications you receive. Every time our phone buzzes or pings, we’re tempted to look at the message or notification. The less of these alerts you allow, the less you’ll look at your phone.
  • Remember you should be posting on social media for you. As long as you’re comfortable and happy with what you post, the opinion of other people or the number of likes you get is not really that important.
  • Follow people who provide positive messages. There’s plenty of negativity online these days, so try to follow people who spread positivity on digital platforms. It can be anything from motivational content to pets doing funny things.