Social Media Gives Me Social Anxiety…So Why Can’t I Quit?

My thumb vs. Facebook. A daily battle.

what some researchers say about social media
and anxiety, how Facebook totally screws with my head,
I ask for your experiences and input

It’s clear to me that the more time I spend on social media, the more anxious I get. Yet I keep subjecting myself to it — every single day, several times a day.

At least I know I’m not alone. Google  “social media and anxiety” and you’ll scroll through headline after headline reporting stuff like: Social Media Is Causing Anxiety, Study Finds;  Social Media, Loneliness, and Anxiety in Young People, etc.

I avoid in-person social interactions because I’m convinced that, without fail, I’ll say or do something that’ll make me look like an idiot while others bear witness. I find myself nostalgic for those pre-internet days when I could simply shut a door to the world and I’d be alone and shielded from scrutiny. Not anymore. As long as I have my iPhone and internet access, I’m in danger of making a damn fool of myself. Which is always.

And now you’re probably saying (or screaming) — well then just DON’T. LOG. IN. Shut down your phone. Turn off your wi-fi. Done and done. Oh if only I could, dear reader. If only I could.

It wasn’t until I read  this article and this article that I got some clarity as to why I just can’t quit social media despite of what it does to me. Here’s the bit that struck me:

Anxiety UK conducted a survey of anxiety sufferers and over half reported that social media made their anxiety worse, yet the more anxiety prone a person is to begin with, the more often they tended to use Facebook. According to Dr. Cecilie Shou Andreassen  (a Facebook addiction researcher) it’s “probably because those who are anxious find it easier to communicate via social media than face-to-face.”

Yep, sounds about right.

That means, we social anxiety sufferers continually long for human contact but are too afraid to seek it at social gatherings. Therefore, we’re drawn back again and again to social media sites which, being online, appear to be the safest avenue towards contact. Yet, that “safe” avenue quickly narrows into a dark alleyway where a shadowy figure pulls a knife on us. But still, we visit time and again.

For me personally, Facebook can actually be far more anxiety-inducing than face-to-face interaction. That’s because the (perceived) audience of my (perceived) failures is potentially much larger than if I were simply putting my foot in my mouth in the presence of 2 or 3 people in real life.

Facebook reaction icons

Facebook reaction icons. A bit of interactive fun for the socially confident, badges of inclusion and acceptance for the socially anxious. (Image: Business Insider)

And what constitutes a Facebook failure for the socially anxious? A few things actually, but here’s one example — you post something and no one engages in it. No one answers the “informal poll” question that you asked. No one reacts to your photo or status update. You share an article that you think loads of people will relate to, and…crickets. And then you scroll down to see that your gorgeous coworker posted a photo of a muffin and got 25 Likes and 14 Loves. You scroll further and see that a copywriter acquaintance of yours has, once again, delivered a hilariously spot-on phrase that perfectly sums up the general absurdity of life — which has gained him over 100 Hahas. You check your notifications again and still nothing. Not even a “Like” from that one person you know who freaking likes everything.

Now, I also imagine that your Facebook friend list includes your actual real life friends, your family, and pretty much every acquaintance you’ve ever made. Which means that, if no one has chosen to engage your post, you’ve been ignored/rejected by EVERYONE IN YOUR LIFE, and EVERYONE IN YOUR LIFE can see it. If you’re particularly anxious, you decide to delete your comment and pretend that it never existed. You slink into a corner. It feels like high school all over again.

That’s just one scenario.

And yes, I understand that social anxiety is fueled by self absorption. To believe that everyone thinks I’m substandard is to believe that everyone is bothering to scrutinize everything I say (or post) in the first place. Yeah right. People are too caught up in their own issues to spend any time thinking about how much action my social media posts get. I know this, but somehow that does little to help. Social anxiety is very hard to reason with.

So I keep threatening that I’ll leave Facebook for good. I say it’s because of the amount of time it wastes, the narcissism it can inspire in people (myself included), the negative commentary, the overly-cheery saccharine commentary.

Yet, I persist. Because I want so badly to believe that I’ll be able to connect meaningfully to people on that platform. I also believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way for the socially phobic to partake in social media so that it doesn’t exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Obviously, I’m doing it the wrong way.

How about you? Does social media make your social anxiety worse? Does it help? Do you think it’s always a bad idea for those prone to anxiety? Your input requested!



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