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Why do 💖's and 👍's mean so much to us?

Learn more about how we let social media validate us, and meet the soldiers and guests featured on this episode.

Why do we turn to social media for validation?

We live in a digital age. We all spend so much of our time glued to our phones, scrolling ourselves into oblivion.

Internet users spent an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes every day on social media in 2019, and by 2021 it’s projected that more than 3 billion people will have a social networking account. That’s a lot of people dedicating a lot of time to their socials – but is it healthy to spend so much time in this online bubble? And how is it impacting confidence and self-esteem?

Social media generally gets a bad rap – the negative effects that social media can have on our mental health are well documented. Spending too much time on social networks can put people at risk of anxiety and depression, make people feel isolated and lonely, and have a negative impact on self-esteem. Simply put, social media can make us feel bad about ourselves. So why are we so irresistibly drawn to it?

Social media is addictive, and it’s designed to be that way. Studies show that we get a hit of dopamine – the happy chemical in our brains – every time we get a notification. These websites have been created to make us crave that interaction. We are all hungry for likes and our appetites are insatiable. Unfortunately, the satisfaction we get every time our phones ping doesn’t last very long.

The problem with turning to social media for validation is that it is incredibly short-lived. You will always need to post another selfie, or share another story in order to get your fix. And the buzz you get from those interactions is fleeting. On top of this, the pressure to keep posting and sharing can actually be incredibly stressful and leave you feeling inadequate and lacking in confidence – which doesn’t seem like a fair trade-off.

Another issue is that social media doesn’t reflect reality. Your feed is not the real world and everybody is sharing carefully curated highlights of their lives to present a specific image of themselves. While there is nothing wrong with showing off the best bits of your life on your socials, it becomes an issue when that falsity isn’t clear, when people believe that what they see on social media is the entire picture. Being bombarded with ‘perfect’ images of everyone else’s lives unsurprisingly knocks your confidence, and can make you feel like your own life sucks.

On episode three of The Locker podcast, social influencer Chessie King, says it is important to keep a sense of perspective whenever you go on social media, and remember that just because things may look perfect, that isn't necessarily the case. She also believes that it is possible to build a healthy and sustainable relationship with social media that can help to build long-term confidence. One way she does this is by setting limits for her screen-time and regularly cleansing her timeline – she makes sure that she isn't following any accounts that make her feel bad about herself.

Soldier Kirsty agrees, she says she only follows accounts that make her feel happy, and is careful to monitor who she is following on a regular basis. Kirsty has grown up with social media as an integral part of her life. On the podcast, she told me joining the Army has given her that distance from social media validation that many of her friends don't have. She doesn't feel the need to buy new clothes and get her eyelashes done for the 'gram, and she says not having this additional pressure is incredibly freeing.

Kirsty says that being in the Army has helped her build a long lasting sense of confidence, a confidence that isn't dependent on likes and online validation. The skills she has learnt and the experiences she has already had as part of her Army career have had an enormously positive impact on her personal sense of self-worth.

Social media can be a fantastic tool for connection, learning and sharing new ideas. Using it in a positive way is all about finding a balance, setting boundaries and being mindful about why we're online and what we need from our online interactions. As nice as those 'likes' feel in the moment, a more sustainable way to build confidence is by generating the validation we crave for ourselves.

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DATE: 03 September 2020
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