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How Does Social Media Contribute to Social Anxiety?

Social media is present in every aspect of our life. When you go to interview for a job, recruiters typically ask for a link to your LinkedIn account. As you hop on Facebook or Instagram, you immediately are able to see photos of your friend’s vacation trip or a family member’s updated status for the day. In seconds we interact with people next door and across the world. With all these ways to stay connected, it seems ironic that this new era has been named one of the loneliest generations in terms of social interaction.


When we login to our social media platforms, we have the choice of what we post, tweet, write, or react. Naturally, we want to be liked online and to show others what we perceive to be the best version of ourselves so we use self-presentation. Constantly being mindful of how you present yourself online can be exhausting. In addition, the discrepancy between this “ideal” presented self and the actual self can decrease self-esteem and overall mental and emotional health.


Think about it: A group of strangers surrounding you in the street. Meeting someone for the first time. Your boss requesting you to give a speech for work tomorrow in front of your peers.


If any of these situations sound extremely uncomfortable, you may experience social anxiety, a condition where social interactions can cause severe anxiety.


Social anxiety looks different for everyone, but has a few common symptoms:

  • Avoiding situations where you have little control or may be the center of attention

  • Feelings of nausea, lightheadedness, palpitations, or confusion

  • Frequently fear being negatively judged by other people

  • Overthinking or overanalyzing social interactions

  • Actively avoiding public events, initiating conversations, performing errands involving social interactions

  • Extreme fear of interacting with strangers


Social anxiety can occur online, even if you are completely alone when scrolling through the internet. Even if there aren’t people physically there to self-present, the reality is that an online audience can elicit the same amount of anxiety that would occur if you are on a podium in front of a vast audience. Social media may also worsen social anxiety by providing an outlet to interact with others without meeting in person. For example, having an online outlet may negatively impact interactions in person if they are strictly limiting themselves to interaction online where they feel more comfortable having more control over the situation.


There are certainly a few clear benefits and drawbacks that social media presents for people who actively struggle with social anxiety. Let’s take a look below at some of the positive and negative impacts of social media on social anxiety:


Benefits

  • Can hold conversations in controlled environment

  • Easier access to information about people

  • Conversations are not time-sensitive-time to react to information and think through response

  • Self-presentation

  • Can be selective in who you know or interact with


Drawbacks

  • Can decrease motivation for in person interactions

  • Cannot be used for every daily communication example: in person class or work

  • Frequent lack of body language indicators



Social media can be a wonderful outlet for connecting with others during a global pandemic, across long distances and time zones, and can be key in maintaining strong relationships, both professional and personal. However, it is important to remember that an online presence can never replace the quality of face-to-face human interaction. If you struggle with making those face-to-face connections, you might consider reaching out to a certified clinician. At Life's Journey, we have a diverse group of therapists, who are passionate about helping those who allow us to walk with them on their unique path.


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Sources:



Trinko, K. (2018, May 3). Gen Z is the loneliest generation, and it's not just because of social media. USA Today. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/05/03/gen-z-loneliest-generation-social-media-personal-interactions-column/574701002/



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