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How Social Media Helps and Hinders Me in My Battle With Anxiety and Depression

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I’m a self-proclaimed social media junkie. Not only is social media part of my career, but it’s also my life. It’s where I can get most of my news. It’s where I can connect with friends, family and colleagues. It’s where I can post my seemingly endless food and travel photos. And most importantly, it’s where I can feign happiness on my darkest days.

In recent years, my social media activity has spurred the same uncomfortable responses from friends:

“You’re always having so much fun!”

“How do you stay so put-together all the time?”

“Why does your life look so perfect?”

The truth is, every time I get these comments, I desperately want to admit I’m a fraud. I want to admit I only publicize the parts of my life I want people to see — the parts that keep me going. I want to admit that just hours before that snap of my girls night out, I was at home, crying in the fetal position as I experienced yet another existential crisis.

But I don’t, because it’s easier to keep up the illusion than burden them with a conversation they weren’t trying to have, and a conversation I’m not ready to have. I carry on and pretend I stack up to the rest of my friends who appear to be having equally exciting — if not more exciting — lives themselves. And then I take a step back and wonder: how many are just like me — depressed and anxious souls hiding behind profiles of perfection? In dangerous moments of insecurity and FOMO, it’s easy to forget that social media doesn’t give you the entire picture of someone’s life.

I’ve been doing a disservice to myself and to others by staying quiet. I’ve realized sharing stories not only fights the stigma, it humanizes us and builds greater awareness and understanding of our mental health struggles. It’s time to talk about it. These are a few ways social media has helped and hindered me as I battle anxiety and depression.

1. By boosting, then destroying my self-esteem.

In my day job, I carefully craft posts to paint a flawless portrait of my organization’s brand. At home, on my personal channels, it’s no different. I’m perfecting my own image to others through photo filters, strategic hashtags and a strong caption game. Afterward, I go into the evaluation phase. I analyze the metrics and fixate over the amount of engagement with my posts. The likes. The comments. The shares. And when a post doesn’t perform as well as others, I look for trends so I can give my audience what they want the next time around. It’s a never-ending cycle of draft, edit, post, analyze and repeat. It’s also a tangled web of emotions, especially in the analyze phase: “Aw, [insert acquaintance’s name here] liked my post.” “Was [insert friend’s name here] being snarky in that comment?” “Why doesn’t this photo have more likes? Do I look funny? I wish I were as photogenic as [insert photogenic girl’s name here].” The overanalyzing goes on and on.

2. By allowing me to communicate without direct human interaction.

As someone who works in communications, yet struggles with social anxiety, I’m a walking, semi-talking contradiction. I like to think my flair for writing has made up for all the times my anxiety has stopped me from stringing together coherent sentences when speaking. Social media has given me a platform to express my thoughts more loudly, clearly and openly without uttering a single word. It allows me to show people the parts of my personality they don’t always see when they interact with me in person. As a result, I surrender to one of the most harmful symptoms of social anxiety — avoidance. There are times when I don’t feel the need to meet up with friends because we already maintain a decent relationship via social media, and the thought of a social gathering is overwhelming. What if my anxiety takes over and makes me appear socially awkward (again)? What if I stumble on my words or spew word vomit (again)? I hide behind my devices to avoid potential embarrassment, strengthening my anxiety in the process.

3) By providing a distraction.

Social media can satisfy my need to escape the depressive thoughts that circle around inside my head. Sometimes, I’ll find comic relief by poring over a ridiculous amount of memes, videos, and gifs. Other times, I’ll visit worlds ways away from my own by reading up on my favorite celebrities, fictional characters and fandoms. But the most self-sabotaging escapism occurs when I look back on past photos to remind myself of better times. Whether I’m looking at funny visuals, reading entertainment news or reflecting on memories, the scrolling can last for hours. Once I put my device away, I develop an urge to look at it again. My productivity levels go down. I forget how to be present. The depressive thoughts return.

I won’t eliminate social media from my life, but I will take the steps necessary to change the ways I engage with these platforms. This starts with limiting my screen time and practicing mindfulness. Over the past few months, I’ve designated time for weekly yoga and meditation classes. I’ve used productivity apps, such as Forest, to shut myself out of my phone. I’ve even gone on an Instagram and Snapchat hiatus by deactivating the apps and deleting them from my phone. (If you’ve never taken a break from a social media platform, I highly encourage it. It’s not as hard as it seems.) These small but important first steps have already made me feel less reliant on social media, and I look forward to seeing more progress in the months to come.

Ironically, I’ll be sharing this post on social media, and you’ll probably be reading it from a social media share. That’s fine. This isn’t meant to be an anti-social media post. Let this serve as a reminder of the importance of checking in on others and sharing our stories.

No matter what your news feeds show you, no one’s life is perfect. And in so many cases, it’s further from perfect than you’ll ever know.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Originally published: December 30, 2018
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