Facebook and Mental Health: Social Anxiety
February 21, 2019
I didn’t like the idea of people being able to post things about me without my permission or the fact that I had to strictly monitor my privacy settings. I also didn’t like how exposed it could make me feel.
But, as chance would have it, I left my purse at a wedding one night, along with my phone, so I turned to Facebook to help me find it. As soon as I joined and put the message out there, I immediately found who had my purse and my phone, proving that the wide-range accessibility of using Facebook is part of its lure.
I spent the next few weeks reaping the benefits of using it: seeing pictures, being in on what were now public inside jokes, learning details of people’s lives I never would have known without Facebook.
But then the downfall of being on Facebook, of conducting private conversations with loved ones in a public space, became clear.
Who I was or was not friends with became political. If there was someone from my past whom I no longer wished to share my life with, I could deny or ignore her friend request, but then if any of my friends accepted it, it made me feel like (and look like) I was shunning her. And publicly.
The fact that I could see what people were up to every day: who they were with and what they were doing, heightened my insecurity. It wasn’t healthy for me to know how many things people did without me. Things I normally wouldn’t even expect to be invited to, but now that there was a public display of the fun that was had without me, I found myself feeling left out. A feeling I have often enough without social media adding to it.
The amount of events and requests and notifications needing my attention became overwhelming. Even if I turned the notifications off on my phone and my email and only looked at them while on Facebook, I found myself contemplating which events I’d go to. Checking my calendar. Planning my life for weeks before I was ready. Looking at too many pictures. Clicking on articles containing information I wasn’t even seeking. A loss of time.
And being on Facebook and seeing everything that people shared put too much information into my head. Too many pictures of things that would linger. Pop up and derail my train of thought throughout the day.
I also felt stifled. I couldn’t write something to a loved one publicly without going through a rigorous writing process. I started second-guessing myself, thinking I didn’t say something the right way or that I could have accidentally offended someone: my awkward inner feelings were now on public display.
I got anxiety about having to type birthday messages to people: how to make them original, how to make them different than what I typed the year before, whom to give them to. I’d retype messages before posting them, find pictures to make collages, lose time getting caught up in the task only to post it to get the same response that the other hundred people who posted got. It was not only unsatisfying, it was dehumanizing. Like I was but one in a herd: social cattle.
And I won’t even get into how I felt about the things I’d post on my own page.
It felt like the amount of angst I had over even looking at Facebook started to consume me. Like a bad relationship, I became insecure about what I would have to deal with upon logging on, having to mentally prepare myself for blows to my ego and sense of self worth. Scrolling through was like reading a tell-off letter each time: waiting to see something that would make me upset. But like the bad relationships of my past, I kept going back to it. To try to get it right.
I finally decided to end it. To deactivate my account and to rid my life of Facebook altogether. And I must admit, I did feel better. It’s true that the things you don’t know won’t hurt you. I found I didn’t miss knowing everything others did, and I enjoyed catching up with them more in person than leading with, I saw on Facebook you were on vacation, and it looked like you had a great time, deciphering their experience for them before they had the chance to share it with me.
During my time off of Facebook, I started a Twitter account to begin microblogging. I found that, on Twitter, I didn’t know anyone, which allowed me more initial freedom than Facebook where I only connected to people I knew. On Twitter, I was purpose-driven and those I followed seemed to be too. Like everyone was fighting for their own piece of social justice in the world. Which I loved.
On Twitter, I found I could engage people on topics I felt passionate about without exposing too much of myself (the 280 character limit helped too), and since no one I knew personally had a Twitter account, I was connecting to strangers over the topics we had in common, which led me to finding people like myself. And the people I was connected to on Twitter taught me a lot about my neurodiversity by sharing their experiences.
And suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore.
For the first time in my life, I saw others like me. I read about their struggles with sensory processing, social anxiety and their mental health. And I began to understand the ultimate benefit of social media: connecting to others in order to help each other.
I’ve had the opportunity to write this blog for about five months now, and social media had been the medium through which my blog has been shared. And I’m proud to be in a position to share my experiences to help others. To give back.
So I got back onto Facebook.
So I can use as much social media as possible to connect to others in hopes that sharing my experiences and struggles will help others get through theirs. Social anxiety and all.
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This story originally ran on Psych Central on February 22, 2019. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay