How social media affects my anxiety

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“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose…Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” – Sherlock Holmes: “A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle

I am by no means anti-social media. I have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and I post often on all of them. I also frequently check all of them; I love knowing what my friends are up to, I love keeping up to date with potential industry opportunities, I love being inspired by the many wonderful like-minded people out there and I love using social media platforms to help further campaigns I am passionate about. And let’s be honest: without social media, barely anyone would be reading this blog.

But, as we all know, social media is not remotely all positive. I’m not going to talk about the general negative aspects of social media here – I’d only be repeating what’s been said many times before by far more qualified and knowledgeable people than myself (and it wouldn’t be particularly relevant). This post is to outline the ways in which social media can actually help my anxiety, and also the ways in which it makes it ten times worse.

Pros:

  • It brings me back down to earth

When I’m in a dissociative panic or just generally feeling those all too familiar feelings of rising anxiety, social media can actually help. At times like this the two best things for me are a.) to distract myself completely and b.) to interact with other people in any way I can. Social media ticks both boxes. If I focus completely on (for example) replying to my unread Whatsapp messages, I can’t give 100% of my attention to my anxiety. Equally, engaging with other people brings me out of my head and so if for some reason it’s not possible for me to see people in person, I can still engage with them through social media platforms and therefore bring myself out of my panic and into the world around me.

  • It inspires me to plan for the future

Planning for the future, both immediate and far distant, always helps my anxiety. I don’t know why – possibly because I’m quite a proactive person by nature and also maybe because making plans helps me feel more certain that things will get better, whether that’s tomorrow or this time next year.

Social media helps me to plan. If I search for job opportunities or short courses on LinkedIn, I feel excited about all the potential routes my life could take from here on in. If I have a look at what inspirational people are up to on Twitter, both friends and celebrities alike, it inspires me to crack on with life and get moving. It doesn’t matter if I never actually follow through with the opportunity, I just nearly always feel a surge of excitement and positivity after using social media to have a look at what options are out there. Even something as simple as making weekend plans with friends helps so much. Essentially, I need to be brought out of myself when I’m in the clutches of an anxiety attack and so whether that’s researching jobs, applying for short courses or arranging a Saturday brunch, social media can help me feel both more grounded and uplifted.

Cons:

  • It stops me being present

Present awareness is such an important coping mechanism for me, but it’s hard. In this world of constant distraction and stimulation, it’s very difficult – actually, impossible – to be 100% present all the time. And yet present awareness is one of the best ways for me to ground myself and keep those anxiety demons at bay. While social media is great for engaging with the world and making positive plans, it’s still important for me to stay rooted in myself and to remain aware of what’s real. Getting carried away and spending too much time on social media can be detrimental to my anxiety as it means I can spend far too long looking to the future (or worse, other people’s lives) and not enough time remaining rooted and grounded in who I actually am and what I’m actually doing. Making plans is great and can be hugely beneficial – but it’s important to keep checking in with the here and now, as my mind puts up its best defences when it’s stable and present.

  • It clutters my mind

And now I’m finally going to refer back to the above Sherlock Holmes quote!

In order for me to successfully manage my anxiety, I need to have a clear head and an uncluttered mind. As I’ve previously mentioned, that’s incredibly difficult in our society today so I need to help myself wherever I can. Aimlessly scrolling through Instagram for no reason whatsoever is not helping myself. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent” – how true. My mind can only absorb so much before it starts retaliating and creating unwanted thoughts (the bane of my anxious life). As stated above, social media is great – but for me, there needs to be a purpose. If I’m hunting for a job, I’ll look on social media. If I want to check in with some friends who live far away, I’ll use social media to do it. That’s all fine. What’s not fine is cluttering up my mind with all those hundreds of thousands of images from Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Tinder, therefore giving my mind far too much unnecessary information to process and thus attempting to stretch those elastic walls that Sherlock so articulately describes. That never ends well.

To sum up, then: social media can be brilliant – I wouldn’t be able to share this blog without it – but you can always have too much of a good thing. I just need to remember to be sensible where my anxiety is concerned and avoid the “one step forward, two steps back” conundrum through avoiding aimless scrolling for the sake of it, and always remaining as present as possible.

LOW OF THE WEEK: There wasn’t really one obvious low last week but there is a general cloud of uncertainty while I wait to hear whether or not I’ve got a place on an MA starting in September (it’s been 4.5 months and counting…!). Being stuck in a stagnant phase of waiting is never great for my anxiety!

HIGH OF THE WEEK: Seeing “The Book of Mormon” with my housemate (who is also one of my best and oldest friends). We both love musicals and have been planning to see this one for ages – and it definitely didn’t disappoint! Such a fun evening with one of my favourite people.

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