Communicating with Anxiety

Social anxiety can make a lot of seemingly easy things very difficult. Talking on the phone ranks high on the list of difficult tasks, in part because of the disconnect that exists when you can only hear the other party’s voice and not see their face or read their body language.

Some individuals with social anxiety struggle with using the phone, while others are completely unable to handle it. Fortunately, being able to use the phone isn’t nearly as essential as it used to be thanks to the accessibility of the Internet.

In our connected world, texting and messaging have replaced a lot of phone usage. Social media in general has eclipsed much of our communications and this can be seen as a positive of sorts for those who suffer from social anxiety. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some potential drawbacks to the growing use of social media and messaging apps for communication, though.

A Social Lubricant

Social anxiety makes it difficult to make connections. With social media, though, it’s easy: you click a button and all of a sudden you’re following someone or you’re on your way to being Facebook friends or you’ve made some other connection. It can be a struggle to make yourself click that button if the person you want to connect with isn’t expecting your request, but it’s still usually easier than initiating a conversation or otherwise making a real-world connection.

You don’t even have to start with a friend request or a follow to use social media as a social lubricant. Social media makes it easy to comment in an ongoing conversation without the awkward struggle of physically inserting yourself into the conversation.

Most social networking sites even give you the option of deleting a comment you’ve made if you decide that you want to take it back. Through social networking, it’s possible to become “friends” with people you know and those you don’t, both locally and around the world. Some of these online friendships can even become as real and intense as the real-world relationships those with social anxiety often struggle with.

A Safe Separation

Live communication can even be easier for those with social anxiety if a computer is involved. Streaming video chat by Skype or other media puts you front and center, but there’s still a separation – the person you’re talking to, while real, is still just a moving image on a screen. This creates enough of a disconnect to make communication easier for some, especially given the control they have over it. If things become too intense, it’s usually a simple matter to shut down the conversation or at least switch the conversation from streaming video to text chat.

This separation applies to all forms of social and modern media, not just streaming chat. Facebook, Twitter and similar sites are “safe” because the people you interact with appear as little more than words on a screen. While you may know some of your online friends in real life, the separation provided by digital media can help you avoid awkwardness when voicing your opinion. Even if your opinion is unpopular, you won’t have to discuss it face-to-face with other members of the conversation.

The Downside of Modern Media

The separation provided by social media and chat apps can have a profound effect on those with social anxiety, giving them an outlet to communicate freely without worrying about the judgment of their real-world peers. It can be freeing in many cases, allowing an individual to open up and connect with others in ways that never really seemed possible before. This can become isolating, however, especially when maintained as a primary means of communication over a long period of time. As with any isolation, this can have a negative impact on the individual’s mental health.

A study published in January 2016 found a significant association between social media use and increased instances of depression. The mechanism behind this association isn’t known at this time, although further study into the link is planned. It’s entirely possible that the isolation created by social media is a factor, however, as heavy social media use tends to have a dominating effect on the life of the user.

Care must be taken when using social media and other media options to facilitate communication. You certainly don’t want to lose yourself in that online world. Feel free to explore social media and other modern mediums as an alternate means of communication – just make sure you don’t let it take over your life.

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