The development of social media platforms have seen the level of human connection skyrocket as we have found a new way to interact with each other. For the most part, this has been seen as a great thing - maintaining relationships from a distance, finding new hobbies, inspiration for projects...the list goes on. However, there is a darker side, one which sees us developing higher levels of anxiety as the filter of what life is really like is changed to what is unachievable perfection. But more on that later.
The positives of social media
There is a sense that connection through digital means has become a staple in life in the 21st century. While this virtual interaction doesn’t have the same psychological benefits as face-to-face contact, there are still many positive ways in which it can help you stay connected and support your wellbeing.
The first is the ability to connect with and stay in touch with friends and family wherever they are in the World. Then there is the ability to find new friendships and discover communities of like-minded individuals, to network with those who share similar ideas and hobbies.
Then there is the ease of connecting to agencies for support, for inspiration or for education. Whether it is to share and spread the message for meaningful causes or learning to better ourselves, social media has enabled much of this growth potential. Free online courses are growing in popularity and each tend to include a discussion board so that students can interact as a central aspect of the course engagement.
And what about finding ways to express ourselves creatively? Social media has lent itself to many as the platform for self expression and creative growth.
The other side of life online
While there is no denying the positives, it is important to recognise the other side to life on social media. There have been a variety of studies carried out which have drawn similar conclusions - there is a strong link between social media use and an increased risk of depression, anxiety and loneliness. So how does that come about?
The life that is put forward online is often not a true reflection of what real life is, yet users find themselves comparing their lives to exactly this representation. From here comes the increased levels of inadequacy and insecurity. Over time, such feelings lead to anxiety of how we look to others and there starts a downward spiral.
There is evidence to suggest that friendships borne or developed online are not as strong as those which develop in person, in real life if you will. There need for human interaction, when satisfied in physical meetup, is directly linked to the reduction in stress levels and decreasing feelings of loneliness. This is where social media truly falls down. And the recent discussions of too much Zoom time in the last year illustrates just this.
And for those who already demonstrate anxious behaviours, or are already identifying as someone with social anxiety, it isn’t easier. When we consider sites such as Facebook, it is often expected that users will become “friends” with people that they know in real life. People with social anxiety may, therefore, have fewer connections or trouble meeting new people. That is then reflected in their profile. And that isn’t just Facebook - Instagram and Twitter followers may show just the same.
As engagement levels continue to rise, the challenges to social media use should be discussed more regularly, to enable and balance conversation for the betterment of all users.
The team at oVRcome have developed a programme which uses exposure therapy through virtual reality experiences to support those with social anxiety. We have also developed a free Social Anxiety Test which delivers a personalised report to see where you are at. Why not take it today?
A Covid Caveat
At this time of social distancing, isolation and other lockdown restrictions, there is no doubt that social media can be an invaluable tool for keeping you in touch with friends, loved ones, and the wider world. So while the content of this article is highlighting the negative impacts it can have on individuals, it is in no way suggesting that it is inherently bad. Just be mindful of how it makes you feel. If spending time on social media exacerbates your stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, take steps to limit your engagement. And always check reputable news sources before believing (or even sharing) any rumours about COVID-19 that may cause anxiety in yourself, or potentially others.
What is clear, social media has become something which we have all relied upon to stay connected in arguably the most challenging time in a generation. While that is true, it can also be true that there are some significant drawbacks to its use, or overuse. And when it comes to social anxiety, it is perpetuating an overwhelming condition and nobody is winning in this situation. This isn’t a call to cut it out, it is a suggestion to consider what value it has for you, and utilise it for that reason. It just might make the difference.
If you’d like to appreciate the challenges faced by others in greater detail, why not read this previous article on what living with social anxiety is like? It takes a look at how social anxiety can impact sufferers in social situations, in a working environment and the possible effects on their relationships.