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Social Media and Social Anxiety

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If you have been with me for a while, you know that I suffer from anxiety. I have written about this at length and if you are interested, you can read up my journey here. Now, whereas anxiety is not curable as such, I have been able to mange it pretty well. Mainly, through meditation, not drinking caffeine, and I have also noticed my anxiety taking a further improvement once I started to manage my blood sugar levels. But lately, I have been wondering about the link between social media and social anxiety. Does one influence the other? How can this ever-present part of life be potentially managed better with regards to our mental health? Lately, I have been seeing my social media use increasing, which is the reason why I was interested in exploring this angle.

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Mitchell Hartley on Unsplash

What is Social Anxiety?

Let us start with the basics. What is social anxiety? Whereas in some social situations having anxiety is normal (e.g. on a first date), social anxiety disorder is a lot more far-reaching than that. It refers to significant anxiety, self-consciousness, and/or embarrassment over the fear of being judged by others. People with social anxiety disorder oftentimes avoid social settings because it produces so much fear in them. This means a more isolated environment that, ultimately, can lead to depression. Either avoiding or being put into these types of situations, can also impact your relationships, routines, work, school, or other common activities.

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Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Social Media and Social Anxiety

Now that we know what social anxiety is, let us put it into the context of social media.

Can Social Media Worsen Symptoms of Anxiety?

Social Media allows people to experience a network, “gain” friends or followers, and share your personal “feelings” with said followers. However, oftentimes social media is completely curated, faked, a snippet of someone’s life, or even overtly edited/photoshopped. Comparing yourselves to others and being judged – for a plethora of things, ranging from less “perfect” pictures, to followers – triggers comparison, especially in young adults. Ultimately, social media can lead to feelings of depression and high anxiety. Especially in people who are already prone to it.

Research in this field is still fairly new. There are indicative studies that are already showing us a general direction of the “trend”. Some studies suggest that social media in people with anxiety leads to higher rates of anxiety and depression. (Sidenote: Remember that anxiety and depression can be severely linked). A study from Hong Kong, China, showed that anxiety increased significantly the more time people spend on social media platforms. Negative stress can be particularly triggered, if negative comments are received, and by not updating posts. In addition, social media can lead to an overload of communication, as people are trying to keep up with multiple social platforms.

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Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Can Social Media Better Some Symptoms of Anxiety?

As of now, there is limited research on the benefits of social media in general, let alone on something so specific as anxiety. There are some suggestions that interacting online may be easier for people who suffer from social anxiety, than in person. However, there is some evidence that living with social anxiety makes you more susceptible to social media. This fact can even lead to compulsive behaviors. Some studies suggest that if you are in a social media environment where you feel supported and uplifted, this can benefit you. In particular, if you may not be experiencing this environment in your day-to-day life.

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Georgia de Lotz on Unsplash

How to Deal with Anxiety Caused By Social Media

There are several ways how you can assess whether you are, in fact, anxious, and if caused by social media how to avoid it going forward:

  • Understand yourself. Do you feel anxious when you are scrolling social media for long periods of time? Does it make you feel bad or are you compulsively checking your phone? Are you following accounts that make you feel notoriously bad most of time? If you know yourself and how social media makes you feel, you can take steps in order to approve your situation
  • Stop following if it does not make you feel good. Do you notice accounts that you follow, which bring you down more than make you feel good? You do not have to follow accounts. If you notice that it does not make you feel good, there is nothing stating that you have to follow them. Simply delete or block from your feed
  • Change your social media habits. A really easy way to change your habits is by turning off notifications. That way, you can decide when accessing the app rather than constantly being reminded that something is going on on the platform. You can also limit your daily use to the platform (e.g. set you a reminder when you have reached your daily limit)
  • Take a break. Take a break from social media. Some people go “cold turkey” and do not access an app or social platform for at least a month. But you can also identify one day a week where you are simply not spending time on social. If you would like to still post, those can easily be scheduled in advance
  • Get inspired. Social media can be an amazing place, if used in the right format. I use it to get inspired about art, body positivity, and (of course…) recipes. Oh and dogs – simply for the cuteness factor. When you are aware of why you are using social media, it has a lot more purpose and intent behind it. You do not end up scrolling mindlessly for hours
A man sitting on a bench on a sidewalk, checking his phone
Derick Anies on Unsplash

The Takeaway from this Post

Whereas the scientific evidence still has to catch up with us on the topic of social media and social anxiety, there is nothing stopping us from listening to our gut, and ensuring that whatever we are doing is making us feel good. If not, take a really had look at yourself, change your social media use, and ensure that you – above everything else – feel good, nurtured and well-rested. Beautiful cover photo from Sara KurfeƟ on Unsplash.

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