Social interaction is something that we all desire and crave. Acceptance, close relationships and social interactions have a dramatic impact on self-esteem, and feelings of self-worth. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have dramatically altered the way that people interact and connect on a daily basis. The popularity and degree to which these social media sites infiltrate everyday activities is changing the face of relationships of every kind. One of the major concerns that has caught the attention of many, is the potential impact that social media may be having on social anxiety disorders.
Recent studies illustrate a spike in cases of anxiety disorders in young adults. Many believe that this can be attributed to the emphasis that this demographic places on their online persona. With access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, most people have at least one, if not multiple online profiles in which they feel pressure to maintain on a regular basis. It is hard to deny that there are many benefits provided by social networking sites. These resources allow easy communication with friends and family regardless of distance. Facebook makes it easy to keep in touch with someone that you may not, otherwise. It is a great tool for updating others on important events occurring in your life. For people who struggle with social skills and the ability to connect with others in real life settings, networking sites provide another outlet through which to make and maintain relationships. While social media sites are great tools, there are also concerns about their affect on emotional health.
If removed from their phone for a few hours or a few days, the average person would likely report feeling anxious and stressed out about not being “connected.” Instead of becoming an extension of personal relationships, an online presence often replaces them. More time is being spent interacting digitally than in real settings. Most people have probably experienced a scenario in which they posted a creative photo or a witty status, and waited eagerly to see how many “likes” or “retweets” they received. If this number is lower than expected, the ego is going to take a hit. There is also constant monitoring of the number of “followers” and “friends” that you have, and these numbers can make a direct impact on feelings of acceptance and popularity.
Anxiety can arise from feeling overwhelmed by having too much going on at one time. Multitasking can very quickly lead to increased levels of anxiety. Most people can likely relate to feeling the constant need to check their profiles while driving, during meals or at work. This obsessive desire is actually leading to increased levels of anxiety. The option to be constantly connected invokes the feeling of having to always make yourself available. It is becoming more obvious that rises in anxiety disorders can be attributed, in part, to social media and the pressures to be involved.
Social anxiety is much different than the anxiety one feels from being offline, away from one’s phone or disconnected from social media and the constant status updates we’ve grown so accustomed to getting. It’s a more serious type of anxiety resulting from fear of being judged or evaluated by others while in a social interaction. Cases can range from mild – and are often the cause of a lot of “social lubrication” or drinking with others – to severe, in which case a person may altogether avoid parties and get-togethers. For the latter types, a company Christmas party makes them cringe with uneasiness.
The degree to which social media and technology are changing our lives and introducing new forms of anxiety is all but deniable. The real question is to what extent is it introducing new disorders or increasing existing ones like social anxiety. It’s certainly a topic worth studying more to determine who is being helped, who is being harmed and more importantly how can social anxiety be treated as social media is added to the mix.