While social media offers avenues for connection, expression, and exploration, we all know that its influence isn’t always to our benefit. In fact, it’s really important for us to look at how social media contributes to burnout rates because neither is going anywhere. From incessant comparison to the relentless fear of missing out or FOMO, social platforms have a profound impact on our mental health, often making our stress worse, rather than leaving us feeling better after taking a break to scroll through our favourite platform.

The complex relationship we have with social media shapes our perceptions of success, happiness, and self-worth. There are five key ways that social media perpetuates burnout and by confronting these realities head-on, we empower ourselves to reclaim agency over our digital experiences and create a more balanced life

Awareness is the first step.

Social Comparison

Social media platforms are built for comparison because the algorithm rewards a curated public view. This can have profound implications for individuals’ well-being, contributing significantly to burnout rates and unhealthy mental health experiences.

Constant exposure to carefully crafted portrayals of success, beauty, and happiness on social media can lead individuals to engage in upward social comparison, wherein they measure their own achievements and attributes against those of others perceived to be better than them. 

As individuals strive to keep up with the seemingly perfect lives of their peers, they may experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction with their own lives. The pressure to maintain a flawless online persona while simultaneously grappling with the realities of daily life can be overwhelming and isolating, making the feelings of burnout and exhaustion much worse.

Not to mention, the likes, comments and shares creates a constant pursuit of validation and approval that can become a source of chronic stress and anxiety. The constant need for affirmation and recognition can perpetuate a cycle of validation-seeking behavior, ultimately leading to emotional exhaustion and burnout.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Just as it was with social comparison, FOMO cultivates a sense of inadequacy and anxiety. The pressure to keep up with the seemingly endless stream of social engagements, travel adventures, and milestone achievements can be overwhelming, leading to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.

This relentless pursuit of new experiences driven by FOMO can result in a constant state of busyness and overcommitment, leaving individuals feeling drained and depleted. The fear of missing out on opportunities for social connection or professional advancement drive individuals to continuously check in on their social media feeds, sacrificing precious time for rest and self-care in the process.

Online Harassment and Bullying

The pervasive culture of online harassment creates a toxic environment that fosters feelings of fear, distrust, and disillusionment, further exacerbating burnout rates among users. In fact, the rate of being targeted by online harassment has increased significantly in just four years, jumping from 35% to 41% of people in the US experiencing some form of online harassment. Understandably, this can have profound implications for individuals’ mental health and well-being, contributing to heightened levels of burnout.

For victims of online harassment, the constant onslaught of abusive behavior can lead to heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and emotional distress. The fear of being targeted or humiliated online can consume individuals’ thoughts and emotions, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable, and overwhelmed. The relentless pressure to have an online presence while trying to avoid harassment can take a significant toll on individuals’ mental health, exacerbating feelings of burnout and exhaustion.

Also, the emotional toll of witnessing the suffering of others, coupled with feelings of helplessness and frustration, can contribute to secondary trauma and compassion fatigue. 

Once a safe place to go relax, the online bullying prevalent on social media perpetuates a cycle of negativity and conflict, making it much harder for individuals to find respite. The constant exposure to hostile and inflammatory content can erode individuals’ sense of safety and well-being, leading to heightened levels of stress and emotional exhaustion.

Impact of Influencer Culture

Social media influencers wield significant influence over their followers, shaping trends, lifestyles, and consumer behaviors. However, the pervasive influence of social media influencers can also have profound implications for individuals’ mental health and well-being, contributing to heightened levels of burnout.

The curated portrayals of success, beauty, and happiness showcased by influencers on social media platforms can create unrealistic standards and expectations for their followers. As individuals strive to emulate the seemingly perfect lives of their favorite influencers, they may experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. The pressure to achieve a similar level of success and fulfillment can be overwhelming, leading to burnout and emotional exhaustion.

The drive for affirmation and recognition from these influencers can leave individuals feeling insecure and inadequate, further exacerbating feelings of burnout and emotional distress.

Also, the commercialization of social media through influencer marketing can contribute to heightened levels of consumerism and materialism among followers. The pressure to keep up with the latest trends and purchase products endorsed by influencers can lead to financial strain and feelings of dissatisfaction with one’s own life. Just look at the Stanley travel mug trend. 

The pursuit of material possessions and external validation can detract from meaningful experiences and relationships, ultimately contributing to burnout and emotional exhaustion.

The Weaponization of Self-Care Strategies

Self-care has become a popular buzzword on social media, with countless posts and articles promoting various self-care strategies as a remedy for burnout and stress. However, the portrayal of self-care on social media is often oversimplified, misinformed, or even shaming, contributing to heightened levels of burnout and emotional distress among individuals because they don’t feel like they’re “doing it right”.

Many self-care strategies promoted on social media platforms focus solely on superficial acts of self-indulgence or pampering, such as indulging in spa days, treating oneself to luxurious items, or engaging in elaborate beauty routines. While these activities may provide temporary relief/distraction from stress, they fail to address the underlying causes of burnout and emotional exhaustion.

Self-care is not a cure-all for burnout and can inadvertently shame individuals who struggle to prioritize their well-being or engage in self-care practices that align with their needs and values. The pressure to adhere to societal expectations of self-care can leave individuals feeling inadequate or guilty for not measuring up to unrealistic standards set by influencers and social media influencers.

Finally, the commodification of self-care on social media platforms can again contribute to a culture of consumerism and materialism, where self-worth is equated with the ability to purchase products or experiences marketed as self-care essentials. The emphasis on external fixes and quick fixes detracts from the true essence of self-care, which is rooted in nurturing one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

From the relentless pressure of comparison to the pervasive fear of missing out, social media exerts a profound influence on our mental health and well-being. Add in the prevalence of online harassment, the sway of influencers, and the commodification of self-care strategies, social media further amplifies the challenges individuals face in maintaining balance and resilience in the digital age. 

By acknowledging these complexities, however, we empower ourselves to navigate social media with mindfulness and intentionality, reclaiming agency over our digital experiences and fostering a culture of well-being in the digital realm. It is through awareness, empathy, and collective action that we can begin to mitigate the detrimental effects of burnout culture and cultivate a more nurturing and sustainable relationship with social media.