Monday 24 December 2018

Nothing Compares to You - The Harmful Habit of Self-Comparison

It is important that we have a sense of self-worth that exists beyond our relation to others.

- Harry 

In everyday life, we constantly make comparisons. Putting one thing against another enables us to notice differences, make choices, and make sense of the world. However, when it comes to comparing ourselves to others, this can be very problematic. Although a competitive instinct and a desire to be the best can be a good motivator, basing our self-worth on how we relate to those around us is a precarious source of self-esteem that can have significant effects on our mood, our concentration, and our wellbeing. This is especially the case at university, where academic assessments, sports, job applications and other occasions for comparison are common. It is therefore crucial that we become aware of the intimate connection between self-comparison and mental health.

One of the most common factors that we compare at university is our intelligence. Surrounded by other talented people, it is easy to obsess over where we rank and make judgements on our own intelligence accordingly. Personally, my academic ability was always the source of my self-esteem. I came to university having done well at school and assumed I would be just as successful in higher education. However, I soon discovered that I was just one among many intelligent students. Although my grades weren’t bad, I was concerned with the fact that others were doing a lot better than me both academically and in terms of managing their workload. In comparison, I felt like I was failing. By relying on how I compared to others to discern my self-worth, I found myself feeling worthless and eventually this led to difficulties with anxiety and depression. If I hadn’t been so preoccupied with how others were doing and realised that I was doing perfectly fine, my mental wellbeing would have been much better.

Social media also has a large part to play in our tendency to compare ourselves. We are now so much more aware of where people are and what they are doing, which means that it’s easier than ever to compare our lives to theirs. If you’re feeling down or having trouble in your life, then scrolling through your news feed to see these artsy photos of friends smiling and having fun is likely to make you feel worse. What’s more, we often forget that these photos have been edited and framed, with the specific intention of depicting people in the most positive and flattering way, making our comparison to them all the more damaging to our self-esteem.

So what can we do to prevent self-comparison and take care of our mental health? I am not trying to say that we shouldn’t notice what others around us are doing or that we shouldn’t use social media; having an online presence is almost inevitable nowadays and seeing the achievements of others can be inspiring. But it is important that we have a sense of self-worth that exists beyond our relation to others. Setting personal goals, recording progress when learning a skill, and knowing what you want to achieve with your time is key and provides a much healthier source of self-esteem. As for social media, while reducing the time you spend online will lessen its impact on your wellbeing, maintaining a sense of what is real and what is manufactured is more crucial if you want to use social media in a healthy way.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, good moments and bad moments. It’s about time we put less energy into thinking about the lives of others and more effort into nurturing and recognising the talents and value that we have to offer.

Hi I'm Harry! I'm a fourth year English and French student at Durham. University has been a brilliant experience from the very beginning, but it as brought about some very difficult times for me too, forcing me to confront issues with anxiety and depression. Getting through these times would not have been possible without the family, friends and other support offered to me, so I want to help develop the community of people talking about mental health and finding ways to support one another.

You can find more support on starting university here and how to maintain your mental wellbeing during exam season here

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