Social media is truly whatever you make of it. You can create a new identity, disguise what you don’t like about yourself, and show the world who you want to be – which often says more about who you are than just being yourself.
But for me, and I’m sure for a vast amount of others, social media platforms bring about an unforgiving demon: anxiety.
Social media has been an anxiety trigger for me for almost as long as I have been online. I could speculate forever about what it is exactly that makes my face flush, my heart race and that weird rash on my wrists appear, but I think it is no coincidence that it started around 2006, when I discovered photos of my then boyfriend with another girl. Urgh, the cliché of it all.
Much of my social media anxiety stems from uncertainty – you have very little control over what you are going to see. As much as you can block, hide and delete the one person you wish you never had to encounter, they always seem to turn up in tagged photos, pictures with friends or because someone thinks you will really appreciate a screenshot of them making a dick of themselves.
After that initial brush with stomach-wrenching shock, I couldn’t cope with logging into any social media accounts for a long time. If any of you suffer from anxiety, you will know all too well the heart-pumping, stomach-dropping ‘am I going to vomit?’ routine that accompanies totally mundane and routine events that you just can’t deal with sometimes. HAHA, no biggie.
What is more interesting however, it’s only in the last couple of years that I have recognised it as the source of some of my anxiety issues, or in fact, that I have anxiety issues at all. Like many people who suffer from anxiety, for me it doesn’t stem from deep-rooted insecurity or from being a natural worrier – I actually consider myself to be pretty confident and reasonably chill. However, I find myself being frequently overwhelmed, and experiencing many of the physical manifestations of anxiety. Until anxiety began to come to the forefront of discussion, I brushed off my symptoms and reactions as part of every day life.
I guess I’m a never say die type. Panic attack on a train? Probably because I didn’t have breakfast. Inexplicable need to flee a party? It was just overcrowded. Insomnia and sleep paralysis? Never been a good sleeper. Subsisting solely on Ben & Jerry’s because you’re to queasy to eat anything else? Living the dream my friend.
Anxiety to the front
In an ironic turn of events, the rise of anxiety awareness in social media has allowed me to understand and confront my own difficulties with the disorder – and understand that it is just that, a disorder, a trick of the mind and body. Having dealt with a host of mental health difficulties, both personally and through the experience of friends and family, there is nothing so important as separating symptoms from prognosis. When you can tell yourself ‘I am suffering from anxiety, this is not me.’ You begin to give yourself back the power over your own body, over your own emotions, and over your own outcomes. You can begin to tell yourself ‘I am feeling anxious right now’ in the same way you can tell yourself you have a headache. Whilst I by no means mean to belittle anxiety issues (I have many times been the victim of a patronising ‘just calm down’ speech) harnessing the power to separate yourself from your anxiety is an invaluable skill – but one which is incredibly difficult to master.
I’ve recently taken a break from posting on social media, as a result of someone who has built a tiny empire out of supporting fellow girls, telling them they can be anything they want to be, inspiring, collaborating and facilitating the growth of millennial-brand feminism. Telling the world that feminism is for everyone. Except for me.
I specifically, in no uncertain terms, was told that I couldn’t possibly be creative, intelligent, kind, or genuine. Continually receiving feedback that I was being called weak, stupid and unimaginative. By someone who knows nothing about me. The anxiety around social media crept back, hand in hand with crippling self-doubt. It did not help that it was delivered at a time where I was doubting who I was myself, and grasping to find a means of self-expression again.
I’m a true believer that every now and again we need a critic to challenge us, to show us who we really can be and what we really are capable of. This year has sucked so hard on so many levels, and there’s another post coming shortly about losing your personality to a sordid mix of love, corporate law and mental illness.
For now, this is the first post, about my 28 goals for 2017 – rock the shit out of social media, and kick social media anxiety. You are smart, funny and passionate and no one – not cheating ex, not internet preacher, not stomach churning nerves, not that fucking bizarre rash, not panic attacks, not less than 11 likes on an Instagram post, and certainly not a faux sister – can stop you using social media however you want to use it. Learn more about who you are every day, and how to conquer the things that hold you back even if it means being caught out by your weaknesses.
I’m trying hard to leave social media anxiety in the past, by shamelessly making my voice heard, my pictures seen, and my likes felt. I’m not going to go into how much of a façade Instagram can be, and how inadequate only seeing the best of other people’s lives can make you feel, but I am going to make sure I make my social media platforms are a happy place to be. For myself, for my followers and even for my hater(s).