Part 1 - Anxiety and Social Media – is Social Media messing with your head?
It is normal for people to have some level of anxiety about their social standing and self esteem but social media can exacerbate these, leading to increased levels of Anxiety, so why is that? Worryingly in Japan a study showed that if students did not receive an instant reply to their text message they felt a fear of being ostracised. They also found that greater amounts of text messaging were associated with higher anxiety. The tendency to be constantly connected to a social network through digital devices can contribute to feelings of anxiety.
So how can social media affect anxiety?
Social comparisons and expectations
Social Comparisons are something that everyone makes and always have. The old phrase of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses' relates back to a time when it was as simple as comparing yourself to your neighbours as information wasn’t available about everyone else. Today, with the internet and social media, we are flooded with what others want us to see about them. The image they portray of their perfect beautiful life. There are dangers with this on both sides of the coin. People seeing these perfect images and snapshots can become anxious if they don’t feel that they can measure up . On the other side, the person posting the life that they want you to see, is often a made up version of themselves, which makes them feel like a fraud and incites insecurities and their ego is only validated by the number of likes they receive.
Posts about you
There is also anxiety induced about things being said about you that you are not in control of and can’t really get away from. In its worst form this is cyber-bullying but everyday unintentional occurrences of this can undermine self confidence and self worth. The information available overloads our brain and is there all the time, rarely allowing us to take a break from peers and pressures.
Social media can also be addictive, and if it is used for attention through the amount of likes received, the person will feel good when they get likes but this leads them to need more proof of their value, and the addiction cycle starts. The problem being that this validation is based on the opinion of others about them and not the internal self esteem that is what is needed. There is also the downside when they don’t receive a response, enough likes or worse still negative comments, which can lead to anxiety.
Missing out and leaving out
There is also the fear of missing out and anxiety can be heightened if people see posts of ‘friends’ doing things which they haven’t been invited to, which can provoke all sorts of questions and anxiety about social standing. In the past we wouldn’t have been as aware of what everyone else was doing. People are also now so conscious of what we can and can’t post, in case we may upset some one else. This is causing anxiety as to what they can post.
People use digital media to avoid dealing with their uncomfortable feelings and issues, just as traditional media has been used in the past. People are using social media as a distraction at best, but mostly as a way to avoid their feelings so they are not learning how to manage their feelings or allow them to be felt and acknowledged. In this way they are never finding solutions to their issues, instead they are avoiding them. If people use social media as a substitute for real interpersonal communication and to avoid a situation, the symptoms of anxiety will worsen over time and they will avoid future feared situations even more. Now when people have an emotion or uncomfortable feeling or are just bored, our ‘go to ‘crutch is a screen, normally on their own hidden away and generally social media or You Tube, looking at other people’s lives to block out their own feelings.
The more people know about everything and the constant reports of danger and what that can possible happen, the more anxiety builds. This could be from traditional media sources such as the news on the TV and Radio, but with digital media news stories are constant and not always facing as much scrutiny and regulation from broadcasting authorities. There are also images and information available that are not appropriate for all eyes but very difficult to control and these can all be damaging for our mental health. The constant doom and gloom and dramatised news stories all heighten our anxiety about the future.
Some of the anxious feelings arising from the digital age include feeling attachment to their device, with people almost panicky if it is out of their reach . Many cannot cope with the feeling they are out our of the loop. Too much information can also cause anxiety as can the feeling that if you don’t respond quickly and witty enough, you will be replaced in the friendship game.
The Good News
There is the flip side to this though, as social media can also help with anxiety if used in the right way. People are now more able to express themselves online, share beautiful images, find connections with like minded people globally, find humour and raise awareness of issues. As long as people can see that these are just images and glimpses and not real life, then insecurities need not be exacerbated.
So what do we need to be able to reduce our anxiety in the digital age?
We need to be able to deal with our own internal issues of self esteem on our own. We need to learn the coping skills to build reliance on our own strength and not reliance on the opinion of others and we need to be address our issues not avoid them.
For ways to accomplish this please read part 2 of ‘Is Social Media Messing with your head?’