It’s never been easier for us to connect as a planet than it is right now. According to data from January 2023, 59% of the world’s population uses social media and this number keeps increasing every day with more people signing up for platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and others. This rise in social media usage is linked to our modern consumer world, where social media is prevalent. But the negative effects of social media on our mental health are often overlooked, especially for individuals who suffer from social anxiety.
What is social anxiety?
Rather than give you some medical overcomplicated explanation, I will explain it in lay terms.
Social anxiety manifests itself when in social settings. But it begins even before you’ve left the safety of your home. It’s that dread that washes over you whenever you imagine yourself outside of your home.
It’s that feeling of intense paranoia that comes with the thought of engaging with others in a group setting. At the heart of social anxiety lies the overwhelming feeling of never to yourself in front of others.
Lies there is the feeling that everyone is watching you as if a spotlight was placed directly on your head. [ Spotlight effect]
Your mind can’t process the thought of you being around people for prolonged periods of time that manifests itself physically in the form of sweaty palms, changes in breathing patterns, anxiety attacks, and stuttering in conversations.
It’s at this point that you begin to realise that your anxiety has you in a chokehold and the harder you try to get out of it, the stronger the grip tightens around you making it impossible to breathe.
These aren’t all the symptoms of social anxiety, symptoms vary from one individual to another, the ones listed above are just some of the symptoms I experience.
How does the modern consumer world impact our social anxiety?
It’s becoming increasingly easy to see better versions of ourselves. At every scroll or click on our social media feed exposes us to thousands of people doing extremely well in your niche or field.
You can see the rising star at the young age of 4 or the teenager who just bought himself a car on his 18th birthday. We are constantly tuning into the lifestyles of the wealthy or the perfect versions of ourselves.
That kid or teenager seems not to have a single problem in the world as everything just works out for them. Then unconsciously we turn this feeling inward and begin to question ourselves. A factor that only makes the voice in our heads grow louder.
A voice that lives to beat us down at every moment.
Even as I write this, I wonder if it’s a good write-up, I fight against the voice in my head to just succumb and not finish the piece and believe me when I say she almost wins.
This is the power that this voice has over us. We aren’t particularly sure when the voice shows up but we are sure it’s been present for as long as we can remember.
This voice that tells us we will be pretty enough, never be perfect enough, and never amount to anything and the confirmation they bring to cement this fact is the accumulated hours we’ve spent clicking through social media.
The voice in our head keeps receipts so they can knock you down at every moment.
“Why bother to get that done when it will be rejected?”
“Don’t try; because you know you’ll fail.”
“You look fat and conventionally ugly.”
Day in, and day out the voice we ever present grows louder with every second we spend in this post-modern world.
It’s this voice that tells us not to wave to that person we know because they won’t want to be associated with us.
It doesn’t help that the videos that always pop up on our feed tend to confirm our deepest insecurities and this voice, aware of all this, constantly wears a smirk.
We watched a video of the perfect routine and what do you think happened next?
We begin to question how we have been living. If this person whom we don’t know or even affiliate with is keeping up this perfect streak then why can’t we do the same?
They get up at 5am every day so why was I sleeping in until 7am, surely something must be wrong with me. They eat a perfectly balanced diet and I eat junk all day. They go to the gym every day and yet I don’t even exercise.
The list of comparisons goes on. and on.
If we know what dangers this comparison does to us then why don’t we quit it? It’s simple because we can’t. We don’t want our minds to stop comparing and it does.
If I tell you now not to think of a purple tie, what happens?
You immediately think of a purple tie.
This is the trap of the post-consumer world.
Having social anxiety means you always have a lot of alone time.
Having alone time without anything to do translates into scrolling through social media all day. While we don’t feel the effect immediately, the long-lasting effect shows in our social anxiety. We feel worse about ourselves and spiral down more.
If I can finish the piece and submit it despite the nagging voice in my heart, then you can go after that goal too.
Don’t try to fight with the voice in your head, you will never win. Just let it play in the back of your head like a broken track.
In the same way, if someone insults you in a language you don’t understand you would feel nothing because the words have no meaning.
Give that voice the same effect, let it ramble on but it has no effect anymore because you are going after that goal regardless.
Because now you are determined to rise above that demeaning voice and recognize that, unlike the friend it has tried to disguise itself as over the years, you can now see that it was a foe.
It will never be easy to deal with your social anxiety when you consider how advanced technology is now and where it’s headed in the next couple of decades.
But you can choose to begin working on it today. Consistently and willingly tubing out to the loud noise.
The trends will come and go, each more raving and louder than the last one but in the end it will pass.
If there is one thing you can count on, it’s that time will pass. Right now, you may just be starting out the journey, don’t think too long into the future, just plan out each day and each step as they go.
Don’t succumb to that overwhelming feeling, make peace with the fact that the voice will talk and the feelings will be felt but when it’s all said and done, the time will pass.
One of the most important takeaways from this post should be to limit your time on social media. It’s toxic and will consume you if you don’t restrict it.
One more scroll, one more like, one more click, one more minute and you are losing yourself to the noise of the city.
Princess Igbuzor is a mental health advocate from Nigeria. She is not exactly a Komodo dragon enthusiast.