Social Media and Anxiety
It’s no secret that social media plays an extremely active role in our daily lives, with younger generations becoming particularly attached to and influenced by the various online platforms. Originally created with the idea of bringing people together, creating an open and accessible place to meet people with similar interests, and reconnecting with lost acquaintances, these sites have undergone quite the transformation in recent years. There has been a shift from connectedness towards exclusivity, from inclusiveness towards isolation, from acceptance to judgment and rejection. So what exactly about social media has made it such a source of anxiety?
Constant Source of Comparison
One large problem with social media and a major source of social media anxiety is the constant means of comparison it creates. That photo of the popular girls sipping tropical drinks on a Caribbean island makes your rainy summer afternoon movie marathon feel unsatisfying, when you may have been perfectly happy with your day before checking social media. These comparisons can lead to feelings of inferiority, which can cause unsettling anxiety, self-consciousness, discontentment, and even obsessive thoughts. Comparing can also cause anxiety over the size of one’s social network. Having too small of a network, not enough likes or retweets, can also be a source of anxiety and negative self thoughts.
The fear of missing out (FOMO), is another form of social anxiety triggered by social media. This occurs mainly when the online user sees pictures and videos of an event that they were not invited to or could not attend. In the past, if you weren’t invited to a party over the weekend, you may hear about it from a friend or in the hallways on Monday morning. Nowadays, pictures and videos from that party will be plastered all over the social media, from Snapchats the night of the party to next-morning Instagrams about how great it was. These moments of perceived exclusion can be a major hit to self esteem, and another source of anxiety.
Loneliness and Social Anxiety
In theory, social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all seem to be modern means of facilitating connectedness with others, and how could that possibly be a bad thing, right? It’s tricky. Loneliness in youth is often a function perceived friendship networks, with adolescents feeling lonelier if they have fewer friends, and less lonely as they have more friends. Loneliness has a reciprocal relationship with social anxiety, which is defined as an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Social anxiety facilitates loneliness, but loneliness also increases social anxiety and paranoia. While interacting online might be a more welcoming environment for those with social anxiety, it can also make their anxiety even worse when it comes to real-life interactions without the comfort of a computer screen. For those suffering from this loneliness/social anxiety cycle, use of these sites can escalate to a full-blown addiction, with the unhealthy desire to spend hours upon hours checking social networking sites.
Social anxiety and the need for reassurance are also associated with problematic use of social media to the point where it can become an addiction, activating the same brain areas as addictive drugs. Many users of social media find that while using social media can cause anxiety, it is often the inability to access social media that causes the real anxiety. Taking a break from social media is often referred to as a “detox” from social media, and while the term is used in jest it is now frighteningly accurate.