The Pros and Cons of Social Media With Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder, AKA social phobia, is primarily an intense fear of negative evaluation or rejection in social or performance situations. This fear of negative evaluation can result in crippling shyness that makes any interaction painful. It takes a significant toll on one’s quality of life if conversation can’t be enjoyable; you second guess every response you give, or if you have a running feedback of your own negative evaluation of yourself, because you fear that other people have that same negative evaluation of you. It’s not rational and that’s why it’s a disorder; it’s a noted irrationality or abnormal behaviour that causes a negative impact on an individual’s life. According to Statistics Canada, approximately two million Canadian adults suffered from social anxiety disorder in 2002.

In 2019, a lot of social interaction has switched from being in-person and is now digital instead. I also think it’s fair to compare something like going live on Instagram to a performance or as being a similar experience to presenting a school project in class. It’s putting yourself out there, a representation of who you are. But instead of it being in the moment, people can view your content, and potentially judge that content, repeatedly.

And let’s be real here, people do judge content on social media. Maybe it’s showing your friends a poorly “facetuned” Instagram photo, or sending a tweet into a group-chat that seems a bit too ridiculous to be true. So, it’s understandable that social media could cause individuals to over analyze a caption on a photo, or to later go back and delete a story that they think viewers might negatively judge. I’m definitely guilty of taking down some questionable Snapchat stories I’ve taken in the club after I’ve sobered up, but social anxiety takes it to a next-level sense of questioning yourself.

Sometimes, seeing the content that other users are posting can make individuals suffering from social anxiety disorder feel as if they are living an inferior life. Hey, even individuals who don’t have social anxiety can get a serious case of FOMO after scrolling through a feed of the curated highlights of other people’s lives. It’s possible for people to formulate their own self-esteem based upon how many likes or comments they get, because social media has made social interaction quantitative, even though it was previously qualitative. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study that found that regular use of Facebook for over 5000 participants had a generally negative impact on an individual’s well-being.

However, social media can also be an incredible gift if you suffer from social anxiety; it allows you to edit what you post so that you’re projecting the best version of yourself. You can’t regret blurting something out and you can carefully analyze what you’re planning to post and give it a final proofread before you hit send. If you find in-person interaction to be agony, there is a palpable sense of relief being able to connect with other people without actually having to see them.

It removes the in-person “awkwardness” that many individuals with social anxiety dread. But, social media is generally negatively affecting the communication skills of all users. Even when you’re supposed to be participating in face-to-face conversation and interactions, people feel an urge to go online or to respond to messages. When was the last time you went out to lunch and none of the people you were dining with checked their phone?

It’s clear that there isn’t an easy answer as to whether social media is directly harmful or beneficial for those who suffer from social anxiety, as it can do both. Social media provides both relief to those whose day-to-day interactions are a struggle, but it can also negatively impact someone’s self-esteem if they place too much value in the quantifiable aspects of social media. I think that it’s important for everyone to take an honest evaluation of how social media is affecting their mental health, their view of themselves and their perception of how other people live their lives. If you think that social media is harmful to your mental health, consider taking a break from it. Or, take a look at your analytics, and see if you can cut down on the time you spend on your various social media apps each week.