How Social Media Encourages Social Anxiety

When I was sixteen, I plucked up the courage to delete my Instagram account. After suffering a crippling two-hour panic attack, I calmed down as I watched the numbers that I had so intensely watched for years disappear in an instant. Number of likes, number of comments, number of followers… Gone. I never thought that a human being could ever be quantified; that a person could be whittled down to just a number. But during the course of those last few years, I had let those numbers define and consume me. Deleting my account brought a huge sense of relief, and it definitely changed my life for the better. However, the stress of social media wasn’t the only factor that influenced my decision to delete my account. I had also been struggling with social anxiety.

For those who don’t know, social anxiety disorder—or social phobia—is the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations. Frequently, people will wrongly identify social anxiety as shyness or introversion. However, social anxiety is a lot more than just experiencing shyness. It can make it extremely difficult to do simple things, such as asking a question in class or introducing yourself to someone you don’t know. In extreme cases, it can even make it hard to leave the house at all. When left untreated, it can wreck havoc on a person’s life. This I know from experience.

On the surface, social media looks like it could be a positive tool for those who suffer from social anxiety. It allows someone to interact with others at a distance, on their own time, and without ever actually having to look the other person in the eye. Online interaction seems a lot safer compared to actually talking to someone in person. For me, it gave me a sense of control that I lacked when interacting with people in real life. I could choose exactly what people saw of me, from the pictures I posted to the artsy quote in my bio. Naturally, I only posted the absolute best aspects of my life for the world to see. Social media allowed me to create the persona of someone who was smart, pretty, and happy all of the time. Everything was in my control. That is, until it wasn’t.

As a teenage girl with social anxiety, I was already hyper-conscious about what other people thought of me. Social media quantified this fear in the form of likes and followers. I began to rely on these numbers for my self-esteem. The more likes, the prettier people thought I was. The more followers, the more people knew of me. I craved attention, but I also dreaded it. I would compare my numbers to other girls’, and was always wondering how I stacked up. I would admire the accounts of girls with thousands of followers, wondering what I could do to be like them. This line of thinking was incredibly destructive and led to me deleting my account. While this didn’t make my social anxiety go away, it did lift a huge burden off my shoulders.

For me, social media heightened the social anxiety I already knew I had. For some girls, however, it’s the other way around. Multiple studies show that social media can cause severe social anxiety, especially in teens and young adults. The easy access to comparison causes frequent social media users to feel more inadequate, which leads to excess stress and anxiety. This inadequacy can make normally confident people feel insecure, and make people with lower self-esteem feel even worse. The stress and anxiety caused by social media, combined with low self-esteem, can lead to an obsession. Social media can also increase a person’s anxiety when meeting someone new in real life. Researchers speculate that the ability to “stalk” someone’s profile before you meet them causes you to immediately compare them to you, which in turn causes more anxiety when you actually meet them. All in all, in the digital age, social media seems to cause as many problems as it solves.

I chose a unique route: I went social media-less. After deleting my Instagram, I never made any other social media account. Well, except for Tumblr, but I that doesn't count because no one in real life is ever allowed to find or follow me there—Tumblr is my secret happy place. But I realize that not everyone can or wants to do that, so I came up with a list of ways to combat social media induced social anxiety without having to give it up entirely!

Post What Makes You Happy

Don’t just post something because you think it’s what everyone wants to see or it will get more likes. It’s your account, so post what you want! If it doesn’t make you smile, don’t post it.

 

Try Not To Create A Persona

Obviously, you aren’t going to post a picture of your morning bed head or tweet about failing that test you studied really hard for, but don’t go out of your way to be someone you aren’t on social media. It can be really stressful to keep that persona up, and eventually it sucks you in.

 

Put Your FOMO In Perspective

So what if it seems like everyone went to that Drake concert while you sat at home watching Netflix? There is always going to be someone doing something when you’re not. Stressing over missing out all the time isn’t worth it. Have fun while you’re out and relax when you aren’t.

 

Everything Is Not What It Seems

That girl? The one with all the followers and who always seems to post the perfect selfie? She has bad days, too. Remember that almost no one posts the bad stuff on social media. When scrolling through someone’s account, take it with a grain of salt. Their life is probably not as perfect as it seems, so don’t compare their edited version to your real one.

 

Social media can be a positive tool to connect to your friends and the world, as long as your self-worth doesn’t depend on it. Just remember to love yourself!

 

Image credits: fusion.net cloudfront