Try to think back to the days before social media. At the end of the day you probably watched TV, talked with your family, or even read a book. You might still do these things still, but now try to remember the last time you were able to unwind at the end of the day without being interrupted by pings on your phone or the siren call of another five minutes of scrolling through feeds. Social media has infiltrated every aspect of our lives and, while the benefits of our increased connectedness are numerous, it is hard to deny that the ratcheting up of media consumption has also ratcheted up our levels of stress and anxiety.
All News is Bad News
A day spent browsing various social media feeds will almost inevitably end with you wondering why the world is falling apart. We are exposed to so many news stories in any given day, the sheer mass of them is enough to make you anxious. Given the fact that news stories tend to be negative (people living ordinary, happy, every day lives isn’t exactly newsworthy) it is easy to feel like things are just getting worse and worse and it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes us personally. It’s no wonder that doomsday believers are so vocal! It’s not easy, but it is important to remember that things make the news because they are unusual or extreme. It may not seem like it when your feed is full of murders, diseases, and all sorts of crimes and fear mongering, but the majority of people are still living ordinary, mostly happy, lives.
A Cacophony of Voices
Even if the news feeds weren’t full of the absolute worst parts of humanity, the sheer quantity of media that we consume would be enough to raise our anxiety levels. In order to be “in the know” and “current” one is expected to be aware of everything that is happening online at any moment. The pressure to know what’s trending, what everyone is talking about online, is insidious. For many of us, we could wile away hours online and still not feel like we are on top of everything that we are expected to know. A constant stream of information crowds out our thoughts. Even when we consciously unplug in order to find some peace, we may be plagued with thoughts about what is happening online and wondering what we are missing and if we will be able to catch back up quickly once we log back in.
Everything’s a Competition
Our social media feeds aren’t just full of news stories, though. It’s also full of perfectly lighted, photoshopped, airbrushed images of other people’s lives. The selfie has become an art form in recent years and, with everyone putting only their most perfect and sanitized versions of themselves up for the world to see, it is so easy to fall into the trap of comparing your own live with what other people post online. I think this is something that we all know, intellectually at least. We know that our friends aren’t necessarily sharing the messy, unglamorous aspects of their lives, and only putting forward the best bits, making their life seem a lot different in real life than it does online. But even knowing this, it’s easy to get swept up in this unspoken undercurrent of competition. Competition makes it hard to reach out to our friends and family when we need help, and knowing that makes it easy to become anxious and isolated.
Do It For The Selfie
When you look through your news feed and see all these beautiful images of shining kitchens, smiling children, and fun vacations, you can look around at your own life and feel so dissatisfied. This can lead you to take on more hours at work than you can manage, or push you into yet another fitness regimen , or convince you that you must buy a new wardrobe or repaint your bathroom. Many of these things are, ostensibly, good ideas that might improve your life, but when they are all taken at once and driven by an almost neurotic pressure to achieve the unachievable perfect instagrammable life, it can only lead to burn out, depression, and anxiety. No one is perfect. We know this, but what we see every day in our social media feeds tries to tell us otherwise. Social media tells us that if we just tried harder, smiled more, and really believed all those motivational quotes photoshopped over pretty landscapes, our lives would be perfect. So when our lives are inevitably less than perfect, we feel ashamed and anxious, worried that we just aren’t good enough.
That Coveted Flow State
Another aspect of social media that creates anxiety has little to do with the actual content that we are consuming. Whether it is a selfie or a news article or a recipe for the perfect pumpkin banana bread, just the simple fact that those notifications are pinging in the background affects our behavior and thoughts. Now more than ever, our social media life and our real life are merging together because we are always connected, one way or another, and constantly being interrupted by notifications on our phones or computers. Lately much ink has been spilled on the realization that true multi tasking is a myth, and that full attention given to any one task at hand is the best determinant of success. This same concept applies to interruptions. We may not have consciously chosen to be on twitter or facebook or whatever else while we are writing or working or reading or whatever else, and yet when we hear that notification go off, we stop what we were doing and check it. Studies have shown that being interrupted even momentarily completely throws off our train of thought and makes it harder to get back Into the flow of your work, and remaining in that flow or single minded headspace is what is truly necessary in order to be productive in any aspect of your life. This applies to more than just checking emails at work. We are even allowing ourselves to be interrupted from the hobbies and passions we love, which over time contributed to feelings of depression and anxiety.