The phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" first appeared in a comic strip in 1913. It was the same year that a camel first appeared on a pack of cigarettes and Ford introduced the assembly line.

But we're no longer competing with that person across town who can afford a model T. Instead, we're envying celebrities on social media who own private jets. And we're scrolling through our acquaintances' vacation pictures and thinking about how we need to step up our travel game.

Social media gives us glimpses into their lives and makes the age-old tendency to keep up with the Joneses a virulent epidemic that almost everyone struggles with.

It's no longer about having a manicured lawn like your neighbor. Now, it's about having a better social calendar, going on more extravagant vacations, and proving you have a happier family than everyone else so you can show off on Instagram.

And this competition is costing us more than just money--keeping up with the Joneses is taking a serious toll on our mental health.

Envying Your Friends on Social Media Is Directly Linked to Depression

Maybe you don't actually buy all the stuff everyone else has. Perhaps you just scroll through social media and feel envious that you can't afford to keep up with the lifestyles of those around you.

Well, sadly, that envy is costing you something too. Studies have found that envying your friends on Facebook is directly linked to depression.

Other research has found that Instagram is even worse for your mental health. Looking at all those pictures of fitness buffs and business gurus can cause you to feel as though you don't measure up--simply because you can't keep up with people who are showing off the best moments of their lives.

Debt Is Linked to Poor Mental Health

In an effort to reduce envy, many people go a step further--they start buying things they don't need so they can look good on social media too.

Watching a celebrity show off their latest tech gadget on social media or seeing a picture of your friend's new handbag might tempt you to go shopping. A little retail therapy might give you a temporary boost to your self-esteem and it also might help you try and project an image of success.

Buying more stuff has become a bit of an epidemic. Even though families are getting smaller, the average home in America has tripled in size in the past 50 years.

Yet, 1 in 10 Americans rents a storage unit because they can't fit all their belongings inside their gigantic homes. And 25 percent of homeowners can't even fit one car inside of their two car garage because they've filled the space with too much stuff.

Buying all that stuff definitely puts a financial strain on most families--including mounting credit card bills. And studies show debt outside of a mortgage places people at a three times greater risk for depression and anxiety.

Everyone shows off what they have--and few people mention they're drowning in debt (and consequently, they're experiencing depression and anxiety). But the truth is, most people can't afford the lifestyles they're portraying on social media.

How to Stop the Competition

If you've gotten caught up in the digital effort to keep up with the Joneses, it's important to take steps to stop the competition. Here's how to worry less about impressing people and focus more on improving your mental and financial health:

  1. Use social media mindfully. Mindless scrolling can take a toll on your mindset. Pay attention to the time and energy you put into social media. Unfollow people you're tempted to compete with, set limits on the time you spend scrolling, and think carefully about why you're sharing information.
  2. Take steps to improve your psychological well-being. Get proactive about building mental strength and combating stress. A few simple exercises each day can help you feel your best, even in the digital age.
  3. Establish a budget and take charge of your money. When you're clear about how much money you are earning and spending, you'll be less tempted to buy things you can't afford.
  4. Seek professional help. If you're struggling with your mental health or your spending habits are out of control, get help. Talking to a therapist can help you manage your emotions and your finances in a healthier way.
Published on: Aug 26, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.