Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
September 10, 2022

How Social Media Pressure to be Perfect is Making Millennials Stressed and Anxious

If you’ve been anywhere near social media in the last several years, you know what many people’s accounts are like: one perfectly curated photo after another, complete with filters to smooth out one’s skin and make everyone look about ten years younger. The social media pressure to be perfect is prevalent in our society. It mostly impacts younger generations, including millennials. And it can cause perfectionism, anxiety, and depression. 

Social Media Fuels Perfectionism  

Perfectionism and social media are among the top reasons for anxiety among millennials. I write about social media frequently because it causes so many of my clients to feel like absolute shit. In my opinion, it’s one of the worst things for millennials’ mental health. 

Social media is a highlight reel of everyone else’s lives, but the truth is those highlights aren’t even real much of the time. People don’t accurately represent themselves. Someone will post a beautiful photo of a sunny beachside, surrounded by family, with a caption like “Having such a blast!!!” and then as soon as they put their phone away they begin to worry about the financial impact of their vacation. Or they start bickering with their mom for the 20th time that day.

But the rest of us don’t see what happens behind the scenes – and once again, we feel like our lives are awful by comparison. When you compare yourself to everyone else’s perfect highlight reel, you feel like you also need to be perfect. 

Seeing filtered and photoshopped images also adds to mental health problems. When you see photos that make everyone look younger, thinner, healthier, prettier, and less wrinkled than you, of course you’re going to feel like you need to step it up. Even their dog looks cuter than yours. Comparing your unedited self to everyone else’s filtered faces adds to the pressure to be perfect.

Consider this scenario: you’re scrolling through the gram and see a video of some jacked woman grinning while she whips up a green smoothie. You start to think, Do I need to eat more smoothies? Maybe that would help me be happier and look like her. Videos like this make other people’s lives look effortless, fun, and more fulfilling than yours. But you have no idea what her life is really like. She could have an eating disorder that controls her life. She could be on the verge of an injury from too many gym sessions. She could have massive anxiety about skipping leg day because she centers her self-worth around the way she looks. But all you see is someone whose life looks perfect. 

advantages and disadvantages of social media on youth

Social Media Pressure to be Perfect Increases Anxiety

Perfectionism is directly linked to anxiety. An anxious perfectionist has high standards that are often unsustainable. This, of course, can lead to feelings of low self-worth when you “fail” to meet your unattainable goals. Feeling the need to be perfect all the time increases anxiety because the stakes feel so high.

People often unconsciously equate failing to be perfect with failing to be worthy of love and acceptance. This feels dangerous, of course – humans are wired to seek out connection and belonging. If you feel like you don’t have those things, or that you need to be perfect in order to keep them, it can cause tremendous amounts of anxiety. 

Social media can threaten your sense of belonging. It leads to feeling left out. It sometimes feels like everyone is having a party that you didn’t get invited to. Instead of feeling more connected with your friends, you feel like everyone is living their perfect lives and having a great time together without you. Meanwhile, you’re scrolling through Instagram by yourself, crying into your coffee and wondering why nobody loves you.

The irony of feeling lonely and disconnected on platforms that are designed to be social is not lost on me. I want more millennials to understand that there’s nothing wrong with your life. Almost everyone you see on social media has problems, worries, and anxieties just like you. They argue with their partner, even though they just posted a lovey-dovey photo with them, complete with a mushy caption. They had a humdrum day at work, just like you. They couldn’t get out of bed last week, even though they didn’t miss a chance to post a grinning selfie. The problem is, you don’t see what’s really going on. You don’t see the reality of their lives, and this makes you feel like you don’t match up. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Media on Youth

Clearly, social media can be harmful to millennials’ mental health. It can cause perfectionism and anxiety. It can make you feel inferior, lonely, and like your life is a problem to be fixed. 

But look, I’ll be the first to say that social media isn’t all bad. When used wisely – and with a healthy dose of reality – it can be great. It can be a really useful way to learn new skills and ideas, for example. It can also connect people to each other who otherwise never would have met. It can be a great place to market an online business or search for job opportunities. 

Just like with anything else, this is a nuanced topic. There are both advantages and disadvantages of social media on youth. And let’s face it, social media isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor, probably, are the aspects of it that keep you feeling bad about yourself.

To lessen some of your anxiety and ease up on perfectionism, it can be helpful to take a break from social media. Uninstall Instagram and TikTok from your phone every once in a while. Stop doomscrolling. Unfollow people who make you feel like shit. And when you do find yourself scrolling endlessly through seemingly perfect accounts, give yourself a reality check. Remind yourself that their lives aren’t actually as glamorous as they seem. And then? Maybe put the phone away for a while. 

Is Social Media Pressure to be Perfect Giving You Anxiety? Consider Therapy.

I get it: cultivating habits to help you feel less anxious and curb your social media usage is much easier said than done. If you want support, therapy can help. I can help you learn how to effectively manage your time on social media, shine a light on perfectionism, and curb your anxiety. I’ll help you break free from social media pressure to be perfect so you can step confidently into the world with new skillsets and coping tools. 

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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