Mental-Health & Tech.: Social Media & Anxiety

Hello there, how are you?

When was the last time you felt anxious*?

What if your anxiety cripples your ability to function on a daily basis?

anxiety on twitter

We all have our own reasons to feel anxious: maybe you become extremely nervous each time you’re expected to speak in front of a large audience; maybe you are very self-conscious about your body; maybe you are afraid of heights; maybe you fear being stuck inside of a tight space, etc. I have been feeling anxious as a result of the uncertainty of the ongoing Ontario College Strike, because I made the decision to return to school with the hope of making a career-change. There are numerous possible triggers for anxiety, they’re partially what make anxiety disorders so challenging to deal with.

I have disclosed previously that I have had bouts of major depression, and despite how often they show up together statistically, I’m fortunate in the sense that I haven’t had to deal with any of the anxiety disorders. However, I have enough relatives and friends who do struggle with anxiety in one way or another, and on days when their anxiety become really severe, they ruminate to a similar extent that I used to (or still do, when I get a case of S.A.D.). To help taking their mind off of their respective anxieties, as well as simply out of habit, they often resort to using social media.

I mentioned in the previous post that social media platforms are designed to be addictive, a main reason being: the more addictive a social media platform is, the more likely you are to spend time on it, which makes you more likely to actively utilize its functions while telling your friends about it, which in turn results in more information for the marketers and advertisers that help fund the operation of said platform. It’s quite ironic how most users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. don’t pay to use the services, and yet all of those companies have managed to become multi-billion dollar entities. But I shall digress…

Social media being addictive would be almost okay if it wasn’t for its aspect of make-believe. Many social media users have gladly accepted that fact and have embraced the saying of “fake it until you make it” in an effort to monetize, aka, becoming an influencer (this is especially prevalent amongst fitness models/trainers). Well, unfortunately, for those who struggle with anxiety/depression such as myself, I think I have a much more apt slogan: fake it and you will be broken. Social media in general is a landmine of anxiety-inducing triggers.

Were you already feeling insecure and anxious about your body? Instagram has an endless supply of well-lit, heavily post-processed, diet- & post-workout pump-assisted pictures of individuals smiling beautifully into the camera while flexing and being half- or mostly-naked, for your viewing pleasure; were you already worried about your monthly budget while suffering from #wanderlust? Well, your Pinterest board just happens to have a selection of exotic locations for you; oh, are you still hurting from a breakup? Look, your ex- whom you still have on Facebook just uploaded an album of him/her on vacation with his/her new fling; concerned about how climate change might affect your life in 10 – 15 years? Rest easy, the 45th President of the United States just threatened nuclear war with North Korea on Twitter, again.

facepalm

Triggers aside, social media can also prey on our natural tendency to seek validation. I consider myself to be someone who has grown more emotionally detached over the years, but the fact remains that I am still a part of a society at any given moment. Because the consequences of my actions may affect other people, and vice versa, I still need to be mindful of what and how I’m perceived. Even though I don’t normally actively seek it, it always feels good when someone else gives me validation, whether it relates to a haircut I got, a joke I made, or a grade I received on an assignment. Social media takes our respective desire for validation and easily turns it into a misguided competition.

The number of Followers, Likes, Favs, Re-Tweets, Re-Posts, Shares, Pins, etc. are observable metrics on social media platforms, often separating the famous from the obscure, while blurring the line between quality and quantity simply due to the number of active users (and bots). The easiest way to start comparing yourself with others is to find a characteristic, and have a measurable metric to represent the comparison; the same logic applies when someone else compares you against others (I have a feeling this previous sentence was anxiety-inducing for some).

The metrics I listed are the capitals you have on social media, and just like how we have an inherent bias to give benefit of the doubt to someone who is physically attractive over someone less so (for academic examples: there are plenty of studies available on the link between this particular bias and conviction rate; for more relatable examples: your dating history), we tend to pay more attention to posters/posts with a high numerical value in any of the aforementioned metrics. Because we equate the value with credibility, the software algorithm behind social media is written to reflect it. I will even go so far to make the assertion that it’s the underlying reason there is an entire business in which you pay to gain more followers, or the practice for someone random to ‘Follow’ & then ‘Unfollow’ you in a matter of days.

 

paidfollowers
Screenshot of a website that sells Instagram followers

 

Given the underlying mechanism of social media, and the underlying points of struggle for those with anxiety disorders/depression, what can possibly be done? After all, social media is so pervasive these days, it’s ever more likely for a potential employer to look you up on social media prior to hiring, or even interviewing you (nevermind the fact that LinkedIn exists for this very purpose). I will go into a few strategies that have worked for me at different points in time, and yes, I realize it almost looks like a workout plan (I placed the emphasis because I realize no one-size fits all, and I admittedly go to the extremes at times):

  • Try to be cognizant of what’s currently going on in your life, and how they make you feel, and review if there’s any potential trigger. Honesty is the best policy here (for me, living in Canada, Seasonal Affective Disorder/Seasonal Depression gets me every single year, without fail; I lived at a place that was either warm or mild – and more importantly, sunny – year-round until after my 13th birthday, I don’t think I will ever get used to the Canadian winter);
  • Based on your particular trigger, cater your social media habits toward it, this includes who you decide to follow/unfollow/block & what you decide to search for (being on Twitter exposed me to quite the stress this past year, so I decided to follow accounts that promote animal welfare to counter-balance it, unfollowed accounts with certain hashtags in their profiles, and blocked/muted certain users);
  • Set a hard limit on how much time you plan to spend on social media each day, and consistently adhere to it (I try to keep my daily total to below 45 minutes, across all platforms);
  • Set a schedule on when you plan on going on social media each day, and consistently adhere to it;
  • Set a limit on how many social platforms you go on each week, alternate the days if you are on multiple platforms with a high follow count, and consistently adhere to it (for me, it’s a lot easier because I’ve managed to knock down my socials to 2 & half – primarily Instagram & Twitter, with Facebook & LinkedIn occasionally);
  • Remove social media apps from your device of choice, e.g., smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc. Use the corresponding websites instead, because it takes more effort. If you want to up the intensity, disable autofill for usernames & passwords for those sites.

There are other factors at play here, including your personality, your lifestyle, your particular history, etc. But what I want to convey to you as someone who used to be suicidal due to depression, especially if you have felt as if it’s impossible to reduce the negative effects of social media on your mental-health, is you have the power in you to overcome.

night landscape

Until then, remember to unplug, we’ll Randezvous again.

 

R. L.

* : Now that the Great Ontario College Strike of 2017 is officially over, I’m anxious to get back into the flow of things, while not knowing just how hectic things will be for the next month, in an already academically-intensive program.

 

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3 thoughts on “Mental-Health & Tech.: Social Media & Anxiety

  1. Love this post Ran! Social media really is a “landmine of anxiety-inducing triggers.” Spending less time on it may be the cure to many of my “problems.”

    Like

  2. Pingback: Mental-Health & Tech.: Pt. IV – The Randezvous

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