Social Anxiety in a World of Social Media

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I get it. It’s uncomfortable to put yourself out there socially. You may be afraid of being found as unlikable, or worse. It’s just so much easier to “connect” with people on social media where you can control what parts of your life other people see.

Here’s the thing though: social media can (and likely will) make your social anxiety worse. It provides this façade of being connected while only giving you a highly curated, manicured, and deceptive window into other’s lives. Eventually, you start worrying about other people’s reactions to your post. You may worry you’ll start to annoy people or seem like you're attention seeking.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the research:

One study found that multitasking with media (think: being on your phone while someone is talking to you) prevents you from forming deep in-person relationships and contributes to depression and social anxiety.1

Another study found that almost all participants experienced some form of Facebook-induced stress, and this stress was directly associated with physical health problems. Interestingly, higher numbers of Facebook friends correlated with higher levels of stress and health problems. 2

So what can help your social anxiety? Gaining social skills to be confident in every social situation that may arise in your life. Think of it like exercising. Everybody hates working out when they first start. But the people who make exercise a habit keep at it. And then one day, they don’t hate it anymore.

It really starts by focusing on making incremental progress. A runner may only be able to walk around the block at first. Then they’ll be able to walk a mile and eventually run a 5K or further. A weightlifter may start by lifting a two-pound weight, then move to five, ten, and 20 pound weights as their strength improves. It can be the same with social anxiety: you have to start small and grow slowly.

Here are some ways you can start:

1. Keep your social media circle small.

Delete random high-school friends and everyone you don’t have an in-person relationship with.

2. Pay attention to your emotions while on social media.

If you keep feeling anxious when you see a particular person’s post, then stop following them.

3. Get comfortable with FOMO (fear of missing out).

You don’t have to be a part of everything. Find the one or two activities, topics, events or relationships that truly bring you joy and focus on those.

4. Set a time limit for yourself before you get on social media.

On an iPhone you can use the built-in timer. Just set your time limit and set the “When Timer Ends” to Stop Playing. (This is found at the very bottom of the ring tones.) When the time limit is up, your phone will automatically return to the lock screen.

5. Identify your purpose and motivation for getting on social media.

If you know you want to use social media to build real relationships, you can be intentional about seeking out photos to comment on rather than just scrolling through everyone’s feed. If your motivation for getting on social media is boredom, then don’t get on. Call someone, talk with your parents, or go for a walk. You will feel happier and less anxious than if you get on social media.

Offline Exercises to Break Away from Social Media & Improve Your Social Anxiety

  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour and get eight hours of sleep. Turn off all electronics starting at 8 PM and go for a walk or read a book until you’re tired enough to go to sleep.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Start exercising. It can be as easy as 7 minutes a day. 3
  • Commit to looking people in the eye when you’re talking with them. Put the phone in your pocket and don’t look at it during the conversation. This will be hard, so start small by committing to five minutes of focus.
  • Find someone you would normally connect with on social media and call them. Note: Texting doesn’t count. You actually have to call them and have a conversation.

I know this can be scary to get started. The important thing is that you want things to change. If you want to change and you don’t think you can do it alone, please talk with your parents. Trust me, they want to get better (and they really want you to get off social media).

If you need more help than they can provide, feel free to reach out to us at OPI. As part of our program, we have life coaches that can guide you through the process of freeing yourself from the need to spend all your time on social media. And if we can’t help, we’re happy to try to find someone who can.

"Your time as a caterpillar has expired. Your wings are ready."

Explore Further

1 Mark W. Becker, Reem Alzahabi, and Christopher J. Hopwood. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. February 2013, 16(2): 132-135.

2 Campisi J, Bynog P, McGehee H, Oakland J C et al. (2012) Facebook, stress, and incidence of upper respiratory infection in undergraduate college students. Cyberpsychol. Behav. Soc. Netw., 15, 675-681.

3 Can 7 Minutes of Exercise Really Help Keep You Fit? (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2017, from