Life’s big milestones can negatively impact your mental health

14 May 2019 . United Kingdom

Having a baby, getting married and buying a house have been voted the most significant milestones in a person’s life, but despite expectations of these being happy moments, they often leave many feeling vulnerable and stressed when their reality doesn’t live up to the social media hype.

  • 86% of respondents think society puts too much pressure on achieving life’s milestones
  • One in 10 respondents feel unhappy about a significant moment in life because of social media
  • 58% of respondents believe social media creates an expectation of what life’s key moments should look like
Couple with baby

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May), new research by Bupa UK Health Clinics has revealed that, 86%1 of respondents agreed that society puts too much pressure on achieving life’s milestones. Social media plays a pivotal role in this, with 58% agreeing that it creates an expectation of what life’s key moments should look like.

According to the research, Britons admit to feeling upset or down after comparing their experience of a milestone to someone else’s on social media. Eighty-five per cent of people said they felt this way when returning to work after having a baby; 70% said it happened when starting their first job and 64% said they felt low after getting a promotion and seeing others celebrating their own promotions on social platforms.

Buying a house (55%), retiring (53%) and taking a big holiday (43%) were the next significant moments which left the nation feeling flat once they compared themselves to what others were doing on social media.

Bupa UK Health Clinics’ Medical Director, Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, says: “Social media can be a fantastic way of engaging with other people, staying informed and building and maintaining a network. However, it can be easy to forget that what we see on social media is just a snapshot of a moment in time and can sometimes leave people feeling depressed and inadequate when their experiences don’t match up.

“This is especially true when it comes to the big life events. Whether it’s adjusting to becoming a parent, buying a house or even celebrating Christmas - comparing your reality with picture perfect experiences can make you feel as though you’ve fallen short.

“It’s important to understand that taking care of both physical and mental wellbeing before, during and after a big life event, is vital to enjoying the moment itself.

“Social media can also have an impact on body image and confidence. Whether this is seeing constant weight loss updates or celebrities’ holiday snaps, it can have an effect on the way we view our own bodies. It is crucial to remember that what you see on social media may be an exaggerated version of reality.”

According to the study, one in 10 – equating to 5.4 million people in the UK – have felt unhappy about an event or significant moment in life because of social media. Furthermore, more than one in 10 people (13%) have avoided posting pictures on social networks because their experience didn't look as good as others.

Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, continues: “Almost half of people say that their mental health has been negatively impacted by pressure to achieve key milestones. In reality, reaching these milestones can be hard work, from successfully getting a promotion, planning a big wedding or moving into a new home, you may feel as though it is an anti-climax and can create a feeling of being underwhelmed.

“It’s at this point, when you are feeling physically and mentally run down, that seeing someone else’s seemingly perfect experience of the same milestone can have an adverse effect on your mental health.”

Top life milestones research

Preparation is key Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, Medical Director at Bupa UK Health Clinics, gives his five tips on how to close the expectations versus reality gap:

Reaching big milestones – whether a promotion or wedding - can be hard work. Make sure you consider the role your physical health can play on how vulnerable your mental health can be. Getting as much good sleep as you can, eating well and exercising are simple things you can do in the lead up to a big life moment to ensure you are well equipped to think clearly, when you are faced with feeling low.

Ditch the comparisons

It’s easier said than done, but it’s important to focus on the great stuff in your own life rather than compare it to the perceived experience of others. This is enormously positive for your mental health. Try to remind yourself that everyone is fighting their own battles, and that social media only represents a moment in time. Don’t forget you are able to hide people from your timeline without having to remove them as a friend.

Detox from the negativity

Taking a regular step back from social media will give you the space and clarity you need to close the gap between expectation and reality. This distance will encourage you to enjoy and cherish your happy moments while giving you the time to process those that are less than perfect. Try swapping some of your social media time with apps that will help improve your mental health rather than hinder it.

Talk to someone

If social media – or anything else - is having an impact on your mental health, talk to your GP. Taking the first step can be difficult but once you’ve made that appointment you are going in the right direction. Equally, you could opt for a more holistic view of your health and lifestyle; as part of Bupa’s health assessments, there is time dedicated to discussing mental health. Should you decide to check in with the health of your body as well as your mind, use this time to discuss areas of concern and how to manage them.

Fill your feed with positivity

If you do want to continue using social media, why not choose to follow accounts that uplift you rather than bring you down. Look for people to follow who have similar backgrounds and interests as you. Engage with friends and influencers who are going through the same things and are being honest about it. Being open about real-life situations will make you feel better about your own. Remember – not everyone is perfect!

Notes to editor

  1. Research commissioned by Bupa Health Clinics and carried out by Censuswide surveyed 2,266 UK adults in April 2019

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