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Comparing yourself to others

Comparing yourself to others

The news is full of stories about people who are struggling with life’s challenges. People are lonely and depressed.

Young adults are exhausted by the demands society places on them to excel: at school, in sports and with their looks.

From 2000 to 2011, sick leave among adults in Norway increased by 145% for mild mental disorders, and mental illness is the reason behind one-third of all disability pensions. Although the prevalence of mental disorders is relatively stable for adults, the trend is clearly on the increase among children and adolescents.

  • The use of antidepressants has increased the most among adolescents aged 15-19 years, which is a disturbing trend.
  • The most common ailments are anxiety, depression and behavioral disorders (Source: the Norwegian Institute of Public Health).

The comparative culture and depression

We recently read about a new study by researchers from the University of Houston, USA, which examined the extent to which people compared themselves to others, and how often they experienced symptoms of depression. Researcher Mai-Ly Steers found that people who spend a lot of time on Facebook tended to have more symptoms of depression.

The researcher stressed that the study does not say anything about causation. But it does show that some people who spend a lot of time on Facebook have more opportunities to compare themselves to others.

If we compare our own lives to our friends’ high points, which are often the positive things that have happened in their lives, it might lead us to think that their lives are better than they actually are, and vice versa. This can cause us to think that our lives are worse than they actually are.

This does not mean that Facebook causes depression. It means that feelings of depression, a lot of time on Facebook, and comparing yourself to others can go hand in hand, Steers says.

The concept of social comparison is not new

The idea of social comparison has been studied since the 1950s, when Festinger introduced The social comparison theory. The theory explains how individuals assess their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others, to reduce their uncertainty regarding their own social standing. In this way, you define yourself by comparing yourself to others.

An important function of comparing ourselves to others is an attempt to boost our own self-esteem.

  • By comparing yourself to people or groups that you perceive as being better than you are may be something you do in hopes of achieving a more positive view of yourself and your life. In this way, you look for similarities between yourself and other people so that you feel more at ease with your own life.
  • Subsequent research has shown that comparing yourself to others, especially people who you perceive as being better than you are, can influence your emotions in a negative way. This is especially true for individuals who struggle with low self-esteem or who have recently experienced negative life events and setbacks (Aspinwall and Taylor, 1993).

How often do you compare yourself to others?

Comparing yourself to others doesn’t need to be only negative. It can be helpful to be inspired by others to reach your own goals, but if the comparison makes you always think that others are better than you are, this will have a negative effect.

We are influenced by our own inner voice and experience of how we cope as well as by the feedback we get from the environment around us.

From cognitive therapy, we know that what you think about yourself affects how you perceive various situations. Many people who become depressed have feelings of hopelessness or develop negative thought patterns about their own ability to handle challenges. It can be easy to be most focused on the negative, the things you can’t manage.

Treatment for depression revolves around building up your self-esteem, and rediscovering the joy of life.

There are many ways to treat depression. The treatment depends on the diagnosis and symptoms. There is no single solution that works for everyone.

  • One lesson from the clinic is that more people than ever before are finding that they are depressed without reason, and they are ashamed of it. Perhaps they compare themselves to others and feel that everyone else has managed to handle the challenges in their lives, or at least that’s how looks on the surface.
  • An important first step in getting better is to accept the condition you are in. It may be easier to reach this acceptance if you dare to share with others. It may be that by sharing, you find that other people are also struggling.
  • It is not always easy to find your way out of this kind of situation. We also know from both research and the clinic and that there are things you can do for yourself that can help you change for the better.

Stop comparing yourself to others

For most of us, life is not just a series of high points, we have good and bad days. Our self-esteem can fluctuate from day to day or from one situation to another. This is perfectly normal, and yet we tend to criticize ourselves for everything that we feel that we haven’t managed to handle.

It is often we who are our own worst critics, and who set our own limitations.

  • It doesn’t help to compare your performance with others if you think that everyone else is better than you.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. We are all different and master challenges in different ways.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself—try to accept yourself as you are.
  • Think about how you talk to yourself and how you refer to yourself.
  • Focus on what is positive and what you have actually achieved/ achieve that is good for you.
  • Beginning to take note of and record positive events and experiences of mastery will help give you more faith in yourself—you will see that you are good enough the way you are.

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