Four mere syllables. Seven mere letters.
Yet s.u.c.h. a forceful nature. Bully-ish. Controlling. Consuming. Exhausting.
A word with which I am all too familiar. A word that has always been a major part of my life. Pushing me around, forcing my mind to spend hours at a time set on a closed circuit of “what ifs,” “whys” and “worst-case” scenarios without a stop sign in sight.
After wrestling with this relentless beast for more than 30 years, I have come to know its grasp all too well, most especially my “triggers.” But learning those triggers did not come with ease, nor without struggle and significant learning.
One of my most challenging years with anxiety was my fifth year of teaching. I had by far my most challenging group of students ever in my 12 years as an elementary educator. Not to mention throughout this same time we were trying to start a family of our own, which turned out to be more difficult and stressful than we could have imagined.
My anxiety peaked.
It’s not the only time it has done this. I’ve experienced it all throughout my battle with this monster: mountains, valleys and rolling fields of emerald-green grass. But that year in particular was the time when I became an expert in my triggers. Those same 12 months were also consumed with beginning to compare myself — our lives and our wants/needs — with those of others around us. Luckily, at that time and for four more years, I stayed far away from all types of social media.
A plethora of answered prayers, a whole lot of learning and two precious girls later, I found myself in a much more “settled” place. And with some pleading and encouragement at a holiday get-together with some close friends, I was finally persuaded to join the world of Facebook.
Little did I know I would also very quickly discover an entirely new type of anxiety — solely based around social media.
I’ve found when you are not surrounded by the constant flood of disheartening news stories, thought-provoking posts and beautiful, “picture-perfect” photos in a continuous newsfeed, the need to compare and question isn’t nearly as prevalent. But when these opportunities arise by the minute, it’s a completely different story.
And suddenly, an entirely new set of triggers arose…
- Comparisons. Constantly. There were times when a simple photograph could leave a pit in my gut.
- Fear. An introduction to an instant influx of horrid breaking news, bringing all of those “what ifs” to actual fruition.
- Sensitivity. Continuous questioning and self-doubt. Why would someone like her photo but not mine?
- Increased self-consciousness and need for my perfectionist side to rear its sometimes-ugly head.
There were — and still are — countless days of significant struggling. Days when social media is the sole cause of my ceaseless worries. I’ve spent six years becoming familiar with and learning to overcome a completely fresh set of switches that, at any given moment, could cause my sleeping ogre to awaken.
If I have learned anything from overcoming the “like” of Facebook and other social media outlets, it is this:
1. Keep my “friends” list to a minimum. I try to stay around 250 to 260, surrounding myself with those who I feel genuinely have my best interest in mind and would/will support me in life’s adventures.
2. Think carefully before posting. I am an over-analyzer by nature. So I tend to be very guarded, and when it comes to sharing on social media, I really don’t share much. The less I share, the more my anxiety tends to stay at bay. But I absolutely love being able to have that connection to family, friends and my favorite businesses, especially when spending so much time at home with four little ones.
3. Choose one or two social media platforms and stick with those. For me, it is blogging and Facebook. Trying to keep up with Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and beyond would not only pull me away from my daily routine and caring for my family and home, but it would also only feed into more opportunities to intensify my anxiety.
4. Try not to take things too personally. For a self-proclaimed people-pleaser like myself, this was a tough lesson to learn. Just because someone does not “like” my post, photo or personal page does not mean they don’t like me. There are times I am away from social media enough that I miss out on days of posts and pictures. Life is busy, and not receiving a “like” doesn’t mean you aren’t important to others! Your life is not meant to become a set of ranks or numbers. And your self-worth and personal value in absolutely no way should be based on a “like.” You are so much greater than that!
5. If you are in the middle of a bout with anxiety, take. a. break. Step back. For as long as needed. Fill your time with other activities. Read a book. Take a walk. If you belong to a certain faith, spend that time strengthening your beliefs. Or perhaps plan something upcoming and fun, like next month’s birthday party or Halloween bash. And while you are “away”? Don’t consume yourself with what others might think of your absence. There is no need to explain, unless you feel like sharing: “I just needed some time with myself to refocus.” And leave it at that.
6. Use it all (social media outlets) for the greater good! I concentrate most of my time on blogging and sharing personal stories, struggles, triumphs and experiences in hopes of encouraging and inspiring others through my blog and my blog’s Facebook page. Those opportunities with social media not only greatly combat my anxiety, they also have an amazing effect on my spirit and mind.
From one person with anxiety to another, keep your head to the sky, beautiful soul. Overcoming the “like,” the opportunities for comparisons, the self-consciousness and the fear of missing out is no easy task. But always try to remember, you are greater than a number. You are more than a post.
You are an incredible person. Your value cannot be discovered within the intricate workings of a computer or the latest iPhone. No, sweet friends, your worth purely lies within your heart and soul.
Image via Thinkstock.