Like many reports I have read, I believe that the Western World today is suffering from an epidemic in Mental Health Social Anxiety and we could be masterminding it without realising.

The Social Anxiety Association defines Social Anxiety as “The fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people”. You could say Social Anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. It is a pervasive disorder and causes anxiety and fear in almost all areas of a person’s life. It can also be measured on a wider society Level and not just individual.

It is estimated that between 40 and 50% of the world population (that’s well over 4 Billion of us… WOW!) uses Social Media, which if you consider this includes both developed and developing countries then clearly, western society is much higher. Social Media is a great tool for calls to action, motivation and to help make positive changes in our lives, as I have done by connecting with people to quit drinking. However, I fear society is missing a trick with some of the negative impacts and although my aim here is not to hang Social Media out to dry and give it a kicking, the way Social Media is used by many people nowadays just seems …. well, annoying to me. But why Social Anxiety?

There are too many reports to mention outlining that too much Social Media activity has a negative impact on this and that, and particularly on our Mental Health, which is connected to Social and Physical Health as per the Health Triangle. To understand exactly how Social Media relates to Social Anxiety I have carried out some research recently and the points below, although not exhaustive by any means, highlight significant links:

Sleep Impact: Extremely important, however, many of us use our phones too soon before choosing the hit the hay, making it harder to doze off. The light from our phones and tablets just inches from our face suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel tired. Yet how can we feel tired if we have gotten worked up with anxiety or envy from what we have seen on Social Media? Answer, you can’t because the brain is on high alert, preventing us from falling asleep. Of course, it is widely known that lack of sleep does not help us when coping with everyday life.

Therefore, I try and omit the use of media devices for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1 hour before going to bed and it seems to help the quality of my sleep. 

Distortion of Memory: How many times have you taken a selfie and then again and again because it doesn’t look right? News flash, it does look right because that’s how it is and should be remembered! Social Media allows us to look back with a smile on memories and recount how past events occurred, but because of the perfect selfie scenario to post on Social Media for recognition, i.e. likes, it can also distort the way in which you remember certain occasions from your life. Furthermore, if we are expending all our efforts on capturing the best picture for our Social Media followers to like then we may not be considering other aspects of our surroundings which we could enjoy in “real time” for true memories. In other words, we can undermine the pleasure of our experiences by spending too much time on our phones and missing the “real” moment which should be a positive experience and good for our overall wellness.

We must be careful not to “try and create” a vision of a moment just for Social Media that is an airbrushed version. Its about the moment not the fake memory to ascertain likes for recognition!

Comparison fever (envy) & self Esteem: It’s often difficult to avoid being envious when all you see are positive messages and perfect pictures of peoples lives, but we must remember that nobody wants to hang their dirty washing out for the world to see. Human nature wants us to be revered and liked so generally its only the good stuff. In fact, Envy can be a positive to driving you on for better things if we manage our expectations. Nevertheless, if it is always in your face then you are bound to become a little envious. What tends to happen is we then try and emulate or copy what we have seen and this, referred to as “Spiral Envy” does nothing for our Self Esteem.

The big issue coming from envy is that we can develop a low self esteem when we see all the “falseness” as we compare how we are doing relative to others. Likes are bad for this as we are pinning our hopes and happiness in a variable that is completely beyond our control. It goes back to magazines showing airbrushed pictures and focusing on weight for example, and Social Media, with all the apps and tools available can do the same for our self esteem if we allow it and believe everything we see. This in turn is bound to make us more susceptible to anxiety issues.

Try focusing on the good things in your own life to boost your self-esteem.

Isolation & Withdrawal: Because of the lack of personal connection, it can lead to a lack of a sense of social belonging and fulfilling relationships. I have seen this with my own eyes in the behaviours of kids today, and not just my own. Spending more time on Social Media and games displaces face-to-face interaction so that when there is a real social occasion there appears to be a lack of skills to connect. This can make people feel excluded and the knock-on effect is that they are reluctant to go to such occasions and therefore can become isolated and withdrawn.

This is also linked to our self-esteem as if we are exposed to such highly idealised representations of the lives of some of our friends, it can lead to envy and the somewhat distorted belief that others have such better, happier and more successful lives, which may increase perceived social isolation as we get the inferiority complex and would prefer to avoid confrontation with such enigmas!

In summary, these are just 4 points I have raised but there are many more. It is clear that population has increased, social lives have changed and therefore there is more people to judge and be judged but by linking this with say isolation, withdrawal and lack of human connection we can build a picture of the increase in social health anxiety.

Unfortunately, we seem to live in a society that is more selfish, vindictive and less chivalrous than ever before and whilst Social Media definitely has benefits to our lives, we could all do more to perhaps manage our interactions a little better for the sake of our health. After all, they do say (whoever they are) that everything in moderation is a good thing!

Take care…. Darren

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