It is a typical weekend, and you are loafing around your house looking for something to do. You feel a little lonely, so you turn on your smartphone and open up Facebook to see what your friends are up to. As you scroll through the News Feed, you see a picture of your friends laughing and having fun at an outing. You are hit with a sinking feeling of inadequacy and insignificance. “Why wasn’t I invited?” “Are they truly my friends?” “Maybe I’m not good enough.” These are some of the thoughts that may be going through your mind as you stare at the photo.
Likes, dislikes, and shares galore! We live in an age that is dominated by social media and the Internet. According to a survey conducted by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program of the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1987, “37.9% of incoming college students socialized at least 16 hours per week with friends while 18.1% spent five hours or less” (Eagan et al., 2014). However, in 2014, 18% of the students surveyed stated that they spent at least sixteen hours a week socializing with friends while 38.8% of students spent five hours a week or less socializing with their peers. According to Dr. Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist writing for Psychology Today, the overuse of social media has led to the inability of people to “socialize meaningfully,” which makes it hard for them to “make connections and new friends,” (Kang, 2015). This can lead to feelings of social anxiety.
According to the DSM-5, social anxiety is fear or anxiety over social situations in which the individual may be subject to observation or judgment by others. These social situations would include having a conversation with people, meeting new people, or being observed by people. Senior editor at the Child Mind Institute, Rachel Ehmke states that people in the past used to acquire social skills through experimenting in social interactions while they spent time outdoors or on the phone. Today, many adolescents are missing out on these skills because they are communicating while “looking at a screen,” (Ehmkec, n.d.). Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist, says that children are missing out on acquiring social skills that enable people to read social cues. This is because facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are nonexistent in interactions through social media (Ehmke, n.d.). Dr. Steiner-Adair also states that friendships require risk-taking. When people are interacting in person, they can learn to overcome the fear of expressing their true feelings and listening to what the other person has to say. According to Ehmke, people don’t get to experience the most intimidating aspects of communication because it’s easier to hold back when people are texting each other. People also don’t get to observe the effect their words have on the other party. People may also choose their words more carefully when they are communicating online. Adolescents may find talking on the phone to be “intense” because it involves “direct communication,” which they may not have much experience with, as they have been immersed in the online world. If people don’t get experience interacting with others in person, they will grow into adults who are anxious about people’s “primary means communication-talking” (Ehmke, n.d.). Although social media may contribute to social anxiety, there are ways to alleviate the social anxiety and low self-esteem that is caused by online communication.
With social media dominating our society, it may be good to participate in what people call a “social media cleanse,” or a break from social media. According to Lindsey Lanquist, a contributor for SELF magazine, celebrities such as Demi Lovato and Ed Sheeran have taken breaks from social media when they are stressed (Lanquist, 2016). A Ph.D. and psychology professor at Kent State University, Jacob Barkley, states that “taking a break from technology” can ease anxiety (Lanquist, 2016). People who aren’t always checking their social media platforms don’t have to worry about getting back to people so promptly. According to Barkley, taking a break from social media may also allow for more in-person interaction, which increases connectedness and has been shown to offset “anxiety and low self-esteem” (Lanquist, 2016).
Kang also agrees that one way to boost one’s confidence is to spend time with friends and make new friends outside of social media. Joining groups and clubs in school will allow one to be present rather than be concerned with what’s happening on social media networks (Kang, 2015). The next time you feel overwhelmed by life and all of the information regarding people’s social lives, consider being present rather than focusing on what’s happening on your phone.
Eagan, K., Stolzenberg, E. B., Ramirez, J. J., Aragon, M. C., Suchard, M. R., & Hurtado, S. (2014). The American freshman: National norms fall 2014. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.
Ehmke, R. (n.d.). How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from http://childmind.org/article/teens-and-social-media/
Kang, S. (2015, September 14). Overcoming Social Anxiety in a Social Media World. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-dolphin-way/201509/overcoming-social-anxiety-in-social-media-world
Lanquist, L. (2016, August 31). Does Quitting Social Media Actually Do Anything For Your Mental Health? Retrieved from http://www.self.com/story/does-going-on-a-social-media-cleanse-actually-do-anything-for-your-mental-health