With a new year, comes new challenges and there’s one in particular I’d really like us to scrap.
Namely, the 10-year challenge.
For those blissfully unaware of this new social media trend, it consists of a person taking their existing profile picture and comparing it to one from a decade ago and presenting the two side by side on either Facebook or Instagram.
The practice is seen as a bit of harmless fun, an extension of the daily reminder you get from Facebook about your memories from a year ago, while in reality, danger is looming on the social media horizon.
For some people, the challenge can trigger mental health issues – regardless of whether they take part in it or not.
There it is, your old self staring you in the face, next to your new self. Except, what if you don’t like what you see?
Hayley Smith, a 30-year-old PR executive who took a two-month break from social media last year, tells Metro.co.uk that she regrets taking part in the challenge, and felt overwhelmed after doing so.
‘After posting a picture, I was overwhelmed with feelings of dread and depression.
I’m in a great place now, but that period of my life still has its affects on me and I was reminded of what I had to go through to get here, and that I’m not quite over it.
‘It was a massive trigger. I initially did it out of ego reasons, as I love that photo and wanted to share it, but didn’t think it would cause anything as bad as it did from a mental health standpoint.
I’m still struggling from the initial imaginary punch to the face, especially seeing other people’s photos – as I want what they had 10 years ago.
‘In the years after that photo was taken, I experienced a series of events filled with neglect, loneliness, abuse, a mental breakdown, suicide thoughts and toxic relationships, as well as anxiety and panic attacks, depression, ill health and job losses.
‘Even writing this, I’m filled with anxiety. Life is good now but I know what it can be like, and this challenge reminded me of that.’
Hayley’s experience is reflected in what experts said on the topic, with the recommendation that people not compare themselves to others – as that’s not the point of the exercise (and could have negative effects).
‘For many social media users, the 10-year challenge will be a humorous way to look back at what they previously looked like and see how much they have changed in recent years,’ associate director of Clinical Services, Nicola Jagielski, tells Metro.co.uk.
‘However it’s worth being aware that for others it can be a reminder of previous stressful or negative experiences that they have faced in recent years.
It can also lead to a person critically comparing their life with other people’s that they see on social media and using other people’s lives as the benchmark for success in their own life.
‘The potential impact on their own well-being should be the main focus when considering whether someone should do their own 10-year challenge and not what others have done previously.’
While there are clearly negative aspects, some experts tell Metro.co.uk that there’s a need to reflect on the positive side to this type of challenge, too.
‘If the challenge is only self-reflective, it could be really detrimental, particularly if the usual comparisons are made to others who only present a positive message,’ said Dr Nick Maguire, associate professor in clinical psychology at the University of Southampton.
‘However, if comparisons are made to external issues, e.g. the environment, society etc., the experience may be more positive.
So the issue of engagement becomes more about what we focus on rather than whether to engage or not.
‘My significant health warning about social media use is that it can be a punishing experience if you take all the posts you read as indicative of people’s life quality.
If you find yourself thinking ‘everybody else’s lives are better than mine’, remember that most people post ‘edited highlights’.
If anybody were to take all those edited highlights as some sort of reality, nobody’s life compares well.
This includes the images people post.
‘How many people are likely to post images of themselves looking a bit rough, or dare I say it, normal?
The way out of the distress that may result from this selective attention process is to remember that most people have as many ups and downs in their lives as we do; they’re just less likely to publish the downs.’
Ellie Pilcher, 23, decided against posting a photo of her younger self on Facebook as just looking at others’ gave her anxiety.
‘I did consider taking part in the challenge but as I was searching through my old photos I realised that 13-year-old me was not in a particularly happy place, whereas 23-year-old me is.
I don’t want to look back, I want to look forward.
‘I suffer with anxiety anyway, and am pretty self-aware now, which is why I can’t look at photos without remembering what I was going through at the time and how unhealthily I was dealing with it mentally.
‘Of course, there were good experiences too and there are some photos where I was genuinely happy, but sharing those for the sake of a 10-year challenge seemed false to me, and I didn’t want to share an unhappy photo either.
For what purpose? And for who? ‘Ultimately I’ve chosen not to share anything as I think this is a healthier choice for me, as just looking caused me undue anxiety.’