Human hand holding mobile phone with social network notification on screen.

I’ve never been popular. Throughout my life — elementary school, middle school, high school, college and beyond — I’ve been considered a “shy” girl, and sometimes a “sweet” girl, but I’ve never had more than a couple of friends at a time. I’ve always wondered why this is. What is it about me that makes it so hard for others to like me? And honestly, nothing makes me feel the pain of rejection stronger than social media.

Social media is, for me, a sickening drug. It constantly makes me feel bad about myself, and it even triggers compulsive behaviors — yet I’m addicted to it. I check and check and check again, only to feel down about myself afterwards. I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find. I just keep thinking that this next time I check, there will be something that makes me feel better (which hardly ever happens, or if it does, it’s incredibly fleeting).

The ways I feel bad from social media are countless. The biggest thing is how it affects my self-esteem, how I measure my self-worth based on how many “likes” I get. When it undoubtedly comes up shorter than others, I always wonder why I’m so unpopular, and from there, I go down that self-doubt and self-shame rabbit hole again. Not to mention comparing myself to others. She’s so much prettier than me! Look at how fit she is! He has so many more friends than me!  These comparisons are absolute murderers of my self-esteem.

The other main way it makes me feel bad is how it triggers my anxiety and compulsive behaviors. For some reason, whenever I do my routine checks on social media, my mind starts to feel cluttered and unsettled, but in my head, the way to relieve it is to check over and over again until it feels “right.” I also notice I repetitively check my activity log on Facebook to make sure I haven’t done something embarrassing online, even though I didn’t do anything — I just have to repetitively make sure to reassure myself. Even if these compulsive behaviors have calmed down, I notice being on social media spikes my anxiety for a while afterwards.

Of course, social media isn’t always negative. It can be a great way to reduce feelings of loneliness sometimes, or to distract yourself, or to stay in touch with loved ones who feel far away. I bet it can even build self-confidence sometimes, too! But for my mental makeup, it becomes this toxic and addicting thing.

So lately, I’ve been trying to practice self-care in terms of social media. I’ve tried so many different things to help this addiction including journaling how I feel before and afterwards, keeping track of how often I go online. But the best thing I’ve started doing is just leaving my damn smartphone at home. If I have it with me, I just don’t have the willpower to resist looking. It’s become so freeing and liberating to be without it! When I’m at home, I’ve noticed myself even throwing my phone across the room, just to get myself to stop obsessively checking. Unfortunately, it’s not always reasonable to leave it at home, like when at work, when I need to make sure I’m safe, or when I need to be able to get in touch with others. But I’ve been trying to stretch my comfort zone recently, like going on hikes or grocery shopping without it.

Some other things that have helped are having an accountability buddy (my partner will help remind me when it’s obvious I’m getting sucked in), and trying to make my life more full of other activities so I have less of an urge to look (especially since I often look when feeling bored). I also keep reminding myself of this quote by Wendell Berry:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:

Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”

I still have a long way to go with my social media obsession, but it’s something I hope to keep working on. The days when I keep my social media usage to a minimum make me feel better and healthier, than even exercising or meditating ever do!

How does social media affect your mental health? What are some strategies you use to keep time spent online from spiraling out of control?

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Thinkstock photo via Anikei.


This piece was written by Holly Riordan, a Thought Catalog contributor.

Anxiety makes me question whether there’s something wrong with me — for being afraid of talking to strangers, for being afraid of looking “stupid,” for being afraid of stepping out from my bedroom door.

I wonder why the group of girls that just walked past me started laughing — even though chances are it wasn’t about me at all. I wonder why some stranger has been staring at me — even if they only glanced.

I question every move the people around me make, because I’m worried that they’re focused on me. That they’re making fun of me. That they hate me.

I even question whether my friends actually like me — even though they’ve proven time and time again they do care. Even though they’re there for me whenever I need them. Even though they haven’t done anything to suggest I mean nothing to them.

But it doesn’t matter if every sign points to the truth, that they’re my genuine, honest to goodness friends. I still question their friendship, because I don’t see my own value.

I don’t see how anyone could enjoy being around me. I don’t see why they would choose to spend time with me when they could be hanging out with someone more fun, more “sane.”

That’s why I always wonder if a group would be having a better time if I wasn’t around. If they’re only being nice to me, because they feel bad for me. If they’re going to talk about me behind my back the second I leave the room.

I can’t stop doubting myself, wondering whether I’m making the wrong moves. I question whether the words I wrote in a text sounded stupid. Whether my stories are too boring. Whether my laugh is too annoying.

Friendships and relationships are difficult for me. If someone asks me out, I question their intentions. I question whether I have what it takes to sit through a dinner without embarrassing myself. I wonder how long I can keep someone interested before scaring them away.

I don’t know how to talk to people. I don’t understand people. Sometimes, I don’t even understand myself.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to socialize. I never know what to say. What to do with my hands. How much to smile. How long to look them in the eyes.

Instead of listening to what someone is telling me, I get distracted by my own thoughts. I focus on what I’m doing — how I’m coming across — instead of what they’re actually saying. I’m busy questioning every gesture I make, every breath I take, because I’m terrified of looking dumb.

But mostly, I question whether I belong on this planet. I question whether I have a purpose, if I mean anything to anyone. If there’s a reason for me to keep on existing.

Anxiety makes me question everything — especially myself.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Thinkstock photo via finwal

It’s 2 a.m.

I went to bed at 8 p.m. because I was exhausted. Again. I’m always exhausted.

I slept for maybe two hours but was awake by midnight. I lay still. Listening to the sound of the wind blowing around the house. My husband is away again. My 7-year-old fills his space in the bed. I listen to him breathing.

Around 1 a.m. I switch on my phone. Check Facebook and Twitter. Then the worry sets in. Like a fog coming in from the ocean it creeps slowly over me. Firstly I worry about the wind. Will it blow down a tree? Then it’s about work. I glance across at my sleeping baby and realize he’s all grown up now. He’s pulling away from me. Won’t kiss me at school. Doesn’t need me nearly as much as he used to. I yearn for the babies we didn’t get to meet. I grieve again for the babies my infertility has taken from us.

By 2 a.m. my hands are sweating, my heart is racing and I can’t steady my breathing. I would cry if I had the energy. I recognize the panic attack, but I can do nothing to abate it. A million thoughts run through my head. Doubts and fears at first. Self-loathing next. Then a deep loneliness and sadness.

The dialog in my head is constant. Backwards and forwards I go, trying desperately to steady myself all the while falling further into the darkness.

“You need to go to sleep. You will be exhausted in the morning.” “What’s the point in sleeping now. It’s already nearly 3 a.m. Why don’t you get up and do some of the things you are worried about?” “What’s the point in working? You’re rubbish at everything.” And so it goes further and further down the pit of despair.

I pull my son into my arms, and finally the tears flow. He struggles free, and I can barely catch my breath. I would run away, but my body weighs a thousand tons. I feel detached from it. It’s not who I am. My head is dizzy, like it’s stuck on the Waltzer at the fair. Spinning out of control. Colors, pictures, sounds, memories rush by but nothing stays. Nothing sticks. My head is speeding, but my body can’t move. I lay in bed watching the minutes tick by. 3 a.m. 4 a.m. 5 a.m. Finally I drift off to sleep and wake to the sound of my alarm. Exhausted and puffy eyed.

I try to push away the memories of last night and busy myself with the daily chores. “Today I will be productive,” I tell myself. “Today I will get things done.” But my eyes are slightly glassier than they were yesterday, my body more sluggish, my mind is hazier. Everything is harder today. Everything takes longer than it should. My concentration dwindles. Trying desperately to reconnect my body and my brain.

Panic attacks at 2 a.m. are more common than I would like. The recovery seems to take longer and longer — 2 a.m. used to be mean night time feeds and sleep-deprived baby cuddles. Now 2 a.m. is my panic hour.

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First off, if you haven’t seen “This Is Us,” go do yourself a favor and watch all of the first season. Make sure to have a box of tissues by your side too. I have never been so invested or attached to a show like this before. That’s saying a lot if you know how much I love “Gilmore Girls.” This show is much different than that and from most shows today. It hits all the right emotions in me in every single episode.

Spoilers below.

The one thing I have loved the most about this show is the awareness it’s bringing for mental illnesses, specifically anxiety. Randall, who is a middle-aged African American man, has experienced anxiety attacks all of his life. They showed us him having anxiety attacks as a child while writing a paper, having anxiety attacks before his daughters were born, and now having anxiety attacks because he just has a lot going on in his life.

The writers didn’t make us aware of this until the last two episodes of the first season. I love the fact that they did it this way because they first showed us that Randall is a man with a successful career, a wife, and two beautiful daughters. He seems to be the perfect man who has no flaws — until his anxiety starts to build up and he starts having anxiety attacks again. I’m not saying this makes him imperfect; it just makes him seem more human. He ends up having to be hospitalized for awhile until he is better. The writers don’t focus on the hospitalization as much as they focus on how he made a comeback from it.

Another aspect of this show I appreciate is all the support he receives. He does not seem like an outsider to his loved ones, which is the way it should be! His brother sacrificed his career just to be there for him and to take him to be hospitalized. His wife goes to therapy with him.

His birth father told him he was surprised Randall deals with all of this because he seems to be really put together. Randall replied by saying he is “too together.” These words. If I had to describe someone with anxiety, including myself, I would use these two words.

When his father was asking about his anxiety attack, he used the word “breakdown” and then immediately asked if that was the correct language to use. Wow! Not many people are aware of the correct language to use for people with mental illnesses; most don’t even bother to ask. Randall responded by saying there are a lot of ways to word it, and he threw out different phrases people used. Randall, himself, called it “anxiety” and “anxiety attacks.” They were then able to talk about it more openly because there was a two-way street of empathy.

It amazes me how I can see myself within Randall. Even though he is of a different race, gender, generation, occupation, and economic status I can see myself. I saw myself while he was shaking in the shower crying. I saw myself while he was on the floor of his office hyperventilating. I saw myself while he was calling to cancel big plans because of his anxiety. I saw myself while he was talking to his therapist. I saw myself while he was trying to explain his anxiety attacks to his father. I saw myself when he learned to let loose a little bit while driving with the windows down.

The fact that I was able to see myself within him made me feel even less alone. It made me realize how universal anxiety truly is. I’m sure if this show was in a different language that I didn’t know and I was watching these scenes of Randall I would still feel the same way. Not only is the writing of this show amazing, but the acting of Randall is out of this world. He embodies anxiety attacks so well that it’s kind of freaky. But in a good way. I am beyond thankful for this show and for Randall.

I have noticed a big change just within myself coming out about my mental illnesses. More people on my Facebook feed are sharing or writing about mental health. I have noticed TV not being afraid to bring up mental illnesses and doing it in a respectable way. My biggest hope is for this awareness to keep on spreading. One day I hope the majority are understanding and knowledgeable of people with a mental illness.

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Photo from This Is Us – Facebook

Anxiety is frantic. Chaotic. Loud. Frazzled. Jumbled. Fast. Messy. (Often kept under wraps, of course, masked by a person who may seem like he or she is calm, cool and collected.)

It makes sense to combat its internal noisiness with soft, soothing, music — tunes to slow your heartbeat down, put your thoughts in order, ground you a bit.

For many, that works (and that’s great!). Others find anxiety-reducing effects in bellowing drums, screeching guitars and voices, uncomfortable, angry or even silly lyrics. If you love music and are frustrated it hasn’t been able to help your anxiety, maybe you need to switch up your playlist.

We asked our mental health community to share an “unusual” song that helps relieve their anxiety. Maybe some of these will resonate with you, maybe you’d rather stick to the more obvious options. Or maybe you just need to turn the sound down completely and find comfort in some silence. Whatever you choose is the right answer.

That being said, here are some unexpectedly anxiety-reducing songs from our community:

1. “Monster” by Skillet

The secret side of me / I never let you see / I keep it caged / But I can’t control it

2. “I’m on a Boat” by The Lonely Island (Feat. T-Pain)

Hey ma, if you could see me now / Arms spread wide on the starboard bow / Gonna fly this boat to the moon somehow / Like Kevin Garnett, anything is possible

3. “Under Pressure” by Queen (Feat. David Bowie)

It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about / Watching some good friends screaming, “Let me out!”

4. “Papercut” by Linkin Park

Why does it feel like night today? / Something in here’s not right today / Why am I so uptight today? / Paranoia’s all I got left

5. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

Baby I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake / Shake it off!

6. “Bye, Bye, Bye” by *NSYNC

I loved you endlessly / When you weren’t there for me. / So now it’s time to leave / And make it alone

7. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

Is this the real life? / Is this just fantasy? / Caught in a landslide / no escape from reality

8. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones

You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes / You just might just find / you get what you need

9. “Wake Me Up” by Avicii

Feeling my way through the darkness / Guided by a beating heart / I can’t tell where the journey will end / But I know where to start

10. “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars

Don’t fight the feeling / Invite the feeling

11. “Fuel” by Metallica 

Fuel is pumping engines / Burning hard, loose and clean / And on I burn

12. “Ninth Wave” by Trifonic

13. “What a Catch, Donnie” by Fall Out Boy

I got troubled thoughts / And the self-esteem to match / What a catch, what a catch

14. “The Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson

Hey you, what do you see? / Something beautiful, something free?

What “unusual” song helps ease your anxiety? Let us know in the comments below.

You’re in a meeting. There are about six other people seated around the table, many of whom you’ve encountered numerous times before. They’ve always been nice; you’ve even shared a laugh with a couple of them.

As soon as you take your seat the voices in your mind erupt: “This is your chance to speak up! You better say something valuable and profound! Say something that will make them all thank you for attending this meeting. Be the savior. Be brilliant.” They’ve successfully set the bar so inconceivably high and out of reach, but you don’t notice.

The meeting is an hour long, and you’re already counting down the minutes.

Twenty go by, and no words have come out of your mouth. No stroke of brilliance, no saving grace, no genius. And what’s worse, you can’t make connections out of the things people are saying. Are they even speaking English? You see their mouths moving, but you struggle to make out what they mean. No thoughts enter your mind, save for the voices (which you are trying to ignore) yelling at you to, “say the perfect thing.”

And then a miracle happens. You say something. Something very short, something you hope has some value. But as soon as you get halfway through your sentence, the voices shift in tone. Their demands quiet; they begin to hiss, to roll their eyes and snicker.

“That was the best you can do? Why are you even here? You’re offering no value whatsoever. You might as well not be here. What good are you if you can’t even say one thing that is relevant and useful?”

And so, you’re left there, empty-handed and feeling completely isolated from the six other humans seated around you. You are no longer in that boardroom sitting in that chair at that table. You have receded far into the depths of your mind and you’re fighting your way, clambering to get out of the hole you’re falling deeper and deeper into.

You nod and nod and smile and turn your head every so often. You ask a question (two, if you’re lucky), just so you don’t feel invisible. But it’s too late now. The voices have gotten so loud. “Just shut up, they don’t care about what you have to say. They don’t take you seriously. They think you’re a pretty face with nothing inside your head. You’re stupid and anything you say is going to sound stupid.”

And you try so hard not to give credence to what these voices say. You remind yourself repeatedly that you know exactly what’s going on here inside your head. You know the negativity isn’t a reflection of truth and that it’s your illness taking hold yet again. You try reciting positive affirmations to help counter the negativity swirling around boundlessly. But the voices come equipped with megaphones and violence. They’re foreboding and strong. You get to a point where they are all you hear.

For the cherry on top, the intern makes a few comments, shares her thoughts —nothing philosophical or illuminating but well spoken and clear. On the way out of the meeting you hear her boss say to her, “That was great. I was really impressed how you jumped in there to share your ideas.”

And just like that, unbeknownst to him, he’s handed the voices your kryptonite on a silver platter. Now the voices are strapped up with their gloves on and in the boxing ring ready to take you down.

“Wow, you really are pathetic. If the intern could speak up, why couldn’t you? You could’ve easily said what she said. She’s going to be successful and you’re not because you can’t even speak up in meetings. You’re never going to be successful. This will keep you from ever being a leader.”

Right hook. Left hook. Uppercut. Bruise. Blood. Broken nose. You’ve been knocked down, and there is no reviving you. Your face is on the ground and you’re wait for the ref to start his count.

By the time you’ve departed the meeting, you can’t remember what anyone was talking about. The voices get darker and crueler. They start to convince you that they know what they’re talking about, that they wouldn’t say all these things without merit. That they’re logical and working with proof. This is when it really gets frightening. Your eyes widen and you say to the voices, “Damn, you might be on to something.”

This is when a phone call helps. When a smile goes miles. When a compliment saves lives. When a mental health-related Instagram account posts something that is exactly related to how you’re feeling at the moment.

You remind yourself of tomorrow, of spring time, of the sun, of birds singing, of stillness, of warm summer air, of standing by an ocean and feeling so perfectly infinite, of a glass of great red wine, of a song that sounds like you, of the moments you feel like you are entirely at peace with who you are, of the seconds right before a laugh breaks loose from your throat, of soft fur, of a good hair day, of finding your keys exactly where you thought you left them, of love for someone special, of anything that puts a pure and genuine grin on your face.

Those moments, those memories, those experiences, they are the powerful and the mighty. They are the ones that enter the boxing ring and with one swift and effortless thrust, instantly flatten the negative voices to the ground. Knock out.

They are the ones that will pick you up and wipe your face and remind you you’ve got to keep fighting, even on the days where you just don’t want to have to wake up and fight anymore because you are just so impossibly exhausted, mind, body and spirit.

You keep fighting; never stop. Every fight, every tiny success, every whispered word spoken while caged by fear is a behemoth of a war won. Each is a clear reminder that you are the bravest warrior around. You are. You really are.

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