‘Social Media Anxiety’ – Could social media be at the heart of a society suffering increasingly from anxiety?

Roy Wilding | November 19th 2017

First let me begin by saying I’m no expert……….in anything really, so the following post is nothing more than a hypothesis or a question I’m posing that I think is worthy of consideration.

My experience suggests there’s an increase generally in society of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety. Whether that is true or not, I can not say, but it’s certainly something I am witnessing within my own life bubble.

Anxiety isn’t something I’d describe myself as suffering from. In general I’d describe myself as fairly hard skinned. I wouldn’t describe myself as confident although I suspect others might perceive me that way, but I do have an ability to shake stuff off, not dwell too much and a certain level of ‘fuck you’ that shields me to some degree, from the levels of amplified anxiety I see others suffering from.

That said I think everyone has a degree of understanding of the feelings associated and how difficult severe anxiety might be from their own levels and experiences of it.

Whether that’s the fear of walking into a room of strangers, talking to a group of people, or a particular individual you hold in high esteem, or on a particularly difficult subject. It might be the ‘beer fear’ felt the day after a really big session where head and body still don’t co-ordinate quite fully, or those moments when we all raise internal questions within ourselves that begin, ‘what if I…..?’ in moments where anything other than social conformity seem inappropriate to the extreme.

We all experience moments of anxiety of varying degrees of severity, in short.

“Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying.” – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/anxiety

For me nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry stems entirely from a lack of confidence in myself to do or say the right thing in any given situation. When I am confident it’s because I know what I say or do will be perceived by the majority favourably, because it aligns with their own opinion or supports their actions.

So for me avoiding anxiety is wholly dependent on having confidence in the decisions I make.

During the decision making process I go through in my head I take into account the options that present themselves and attempt to visualise and/or predict the outcome of my choice.

My ability to feel like I’m making the correct decision is dependent entirely on the simplicity of the options available and/or the potential impact of making what I might perceive to be as the wrong decision.

Imagine the most simple of decisions to make being a simple left/right turn option to navigate a tree in the middle of your path.

A tree with left and right sign options

Imagine the most simple of decisions to make being a simple left/right turn

My level of anxiety around making such a decision on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being extreme levels of anxiety and 0 being no anxiety at all, will be 0.

If I turn left or right, I’ll navigate the obstacle in the path and continue my journey, a simple choice with no consequence on others and with the outcome being the same.

Increasing the complexity of the decision in question by adding further options and obstacles decreases my confidence to make the correct decision and therefore increases my levels of anxiety that I will make, perceivably, the wrong decision.

A tree with multiple sign post options

Increasing the complexity of the decision in question by adding further options and obstacles decreases my confidence to make the correct decision

Our ability therefore to make what we perceive to be the correct decisions lies in simplifying the decision making process as much as possible.

Freeing ourselves of the shackles that stifle decision making, frees us of the nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry that makes for anxiety.

Complexity of choice comes from;

  1. Number of choices
  2. Knowledge of potential outcome from each choice and its consequences
  3. Empathy – factoring in the consequences of your decision on others

It is logical therefore to surmise that reducing the number of choices available, reducing our knowledge of potential outcome (being or acting dumb) and ignoring the consequences of others (no fucks given) should lead to a less anxious existence (and make us more creative, but that’s probably a separate discussion).

So how does this relate in anyway to social media?

Well, fairly obviously I would think.

Social media increases our complexity of choice for various reasons.

Through the use of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, we increase the size of our social circle but as a consequence we increase the amount of time during our lives where we absorb and consume the opinion of others. As the social circle grows we invite more and more conflicting opinions that we have to process.

A tree with multiple sign posts and social media captions offering advice and opinions

Social media increases our complexity of choice for various reasons.

We’re bombarded with reporting of the consequences of actions which in turn increases our understanding and knowledge of the impact of our own decisions on others (not in itself a bad thing) but in doing so we therefore invite the opportunity for our levels of anxiety to increase in general when trying to decide on the best course of action.

My supposition is that the increased use of social media in society is a contributing factor in increased levels of anxiety being reported and that for those suffering from anxiety in it’s most severe form, reducing time spent on social media platforms and reducing/auditing the social circle you allow to interact with you, will decrease your levels of anxiety.

What to do with the time saved by reducing use of social media?

Consider creative activities where decision making is either at its most simple or where the possibilities/decisions are endless but come with little to no consequence. That might be;

  • Painting
  • Writing
  • Music/noise making (my chosen spare activity)
  • Crafting
  • Exercising

The simple pleasure derived from creating or doing something that requires little to no consequential decision making, in the knowledge it will have little to no consequences to yourself or others can be very rewarding. For the ultimate feeling of freedom you don’t even need to share what you produce with anyone.

Whatever you create or do will therefore be the correct decision and completely free you of any anxieties.

Of course I’m now going to have decide whether I should post this in the knowledge I might be inviting my own levels of anxiety to be challenged through fear I may have to deal with negative responses (a potential outcome of my choice) and upset or misguide someone (empathy) through something I’ve written.

If you’re reading this it’s because I decided that there was more potential that what I’ve written will strike a positive chord with the intended audience and prove some value in helping people with anxiety make a change for the good.

And finally, if you do suffer from high levels of anxiety and you’re suffering alone, please do get some help. Talk to someone you trust about it and seek some professional help.

Resources you might find useful:

Headspace – Meditation Made Simple – https://www.headspace.com/
The Chimp Paradox – http://chimpmanagement.com/the-chimp-model/the-book/
Generalised anxiety disorder in adults – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/
How to Master Anxiety – https://www.amazon.co.uk/How-Master-Anxiety-Overcome-Obsessions/dp/1899398813/