In this day and age, we are more connected than ever. Our friends and family members can all be contacted at the click of a button, and if we haven’t heard from someone in awhile, a quick scroll through their timeline is all it seems to take to get caught up with their lives. So why, then, despite being “more connected that ever,” do we feel so lonely? And why is social anxiety on the rise?
Despite being so connected virtually, in reality, social media serves as a clever way for us to hide. It allows us to remain physically hidden and live vicariously through the identities we create for ourselves on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts. Here, we can highlight the parts of our lives we feel are worth showing off — which can appear quite intimidating to some — and neglect the rest. We then spend hours looking at the perfect lives of our peers and wondering why ours aren’t as exciting, joyful, or fun. But this is a trap. We aren’t seeing people’s true lives any more than they are seeing ours.
The more we deny our emotions and act as though everything is “perfect” (even though it’s not), the more we are bottling things up on the inside. These emotions have to come out at some point, and we can’t run away from them forever. Unfortunately this release often comes out as a form of social anxiety. Because so many of our connections online can be edited, revised, and delayed, we get used to this luxury to the point where we fear what might come out when we are face to face with other humans that we can’t just take back or delete like an embarrassing photo.
What Are We Afraid Of?
Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is essentially an intense fear of the possibility of embarrassing or humiliating ourselves in social situations. This is not the same as just being shy; this disorder can become so intense that a person does not want to leave their home or participate in any type of social gathering because the fear of doing something they deem “wrong” is too powerful. Have you ever felt this way? Even if we don’t have this diagnosis, I’m sure many of us, myself included, can relate to these feelings at times. Consider the last time you were left alone in a public space and were unsure what to do. Did you reach for your phone to distract yourself or appear busy? It is so easy to hide behind social media, in many different ways. Instead of sitting with the discomfort, observing it, and making a plan to overcome it, we just let our attention be sucked into our phones instead.
I remember when I was a kid, while doing errands with my mom, how often she would strike up a conversation with strangers while in the bank or at the store, or how often others would do so with her. It seemed so easy. Yet nowadays, I notice that whenever someone is left alone somewhere, standing in line or in an elevator, they rarely chat with anyone around them because everyone is just glued to their phones instead. Compare the stories of how our parents met compared to relationships that are beginning in this decade; we rely on social media just to meet people. How can you tell if you have a spark with someone through a picture?
So, Is It Too Late?
In many ways, our society could benefit from going back to the way things used to be, before technology and industry ran our lives — planting our own vegetables, playing outside, actually talking to others face to face, and working together as a community. Social media further divides us, and if we rely on it solely for human interaction and connection, then we are really no different from robots. We cannot deny the part of our being that craves real, physical human connection, and one thing is for sure: If we do, it will make it much more difficult to create any real change in the world. We need to come together.
An important question to ask yourself is, what would you do if the internet and all electricity went down? Do you have people in your life with whom you are close enough that you could reach out to them for help, comfort, or companionship?
What Can We Do?
Having awareness is the first step to creating any kind of change. Being aware of our addiction to social media means that we can implement the necessary steps to break it. Here are some practical steps you can take to take hold of this addiction before it gets ahold of you!
- Observe any times when you feel uncomfortable or nervous.
- Try not to reach for your phone, but instead sit with this feeling.
- Accept how you’re feeling. Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up about it.
- If this is hard for you, try leaving your phone i n the car or in your jacket.
- Make eye contact with people. This is a great way to tell if someone new is interested in initiating a conversation.
- Make an effort to speak up. It can be tricky at first, but it gets easier over time. I find it helps a lot if I have a close friend with me, almost as if it’s a form of safety and security.
- Don’t forget, feeling uncomfortable in social settings is very common for many people; you never know how that person you end up talking to might be feeling and how happy it could make them to have someone like you come and talk to them.
- If you find this is all too difficult for you and you just can’t handle it, you may want to seek out assistance from a professional.
Another thing you can do to make your connections more real and meaningful could be calling a close friend or family member on their birthday rather than posting on their timeline. I promise, they will appreciate the thought and effort! You can also put yourself in social situations where you have to connect with others; the more you do it, the easier it will become. Additionally, limit your time scrolling through and posting on social media, and when you do use social media, consider posting more honest content to get a real conversation started. I don’t mean passively aggressively talking smack about your ex-boyfriend, I mean opening up about how you feel, or what you’ve been going through (if and only if you feel like sharing publicly). While not a necessary step to breaking social anxiety, if you do feel you need to express yourself, social media can be a great tool to use.