Social anxiety can make you feel like a shut in, cutting you off from the people around you and making it difficult to connect to others. With the advent of the Internet, however, new possibilities for interacting with others have become available. Social media, instant messaging and other forms of Internet-enabled interaction allow us to connect to each other in ways that werenít available a generation ago, but itís important to remember that they arenít a magic cure for anxiety issues.
Fighting Anxiety on the Internet
The Internet can be a godsend for those with severe social anxiety. Not only can you do a significant amount of shopping and have the items you buy shipped right to your door, but you can also make friends and enjoy social interactions while staying safely within your comfort zone. Your monitor or screen provides you with a separation from the people with whom you interact, reducing your anxiety and giving you an easy way to cut yourself off from them if any encounter becomes too intense.
This is an important aspect of online interactions, since it gives you a tremendous amount of control over your social interactions. You can choose how much or how little you feel like interacting with others and can simply choose not to respond if you need a break. Unlike face-to-face interactions, thereís little to no chance that someone else can force an encounter to continue beyond your comfort zone.
Social Media and Depression
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks associated with online interactions. Research has shown that individuals who heavily utilize social media, especially in lieu of other forms of interaction, are much more likely to suffer from significant depression than those who forego social media as their main source of interaction.
The cause for this correlation isnít yet known, although it may have something to do with the physical isolation that heavy social media use implies. Youíre separated from others and in control of your interactions, but that separation can have a negative effect on your mental health. The more you rely on the Internet to keep your social anxiety at bay, the more at risk you put yourself for other problems.
A Tool or a Crutch
This isnít to say you should avoid using the Internet to help reduce your social anxiety symptoms. Online shopping can be a definite boon and convenience, while social media and other forms of online communication certainly have their place. The key is to find a balance between your time spent online and time spent interacting with others in the real world. It isnít always an easy balance to find, but itís well worth the effort it may take.
Unfortunately, trying to cut back on your Internet use if youíre heavily dependent on it can be anxiety inducing in and of itself. Research is already being done into Internet addiction and adding Internet withdrawal to social anxiety can result in a rough transition. If you must cut back on your time spent on social media or other online activities, make sure you do so gradually. The last thing you want is to make your anxiety worse while youíre trying to make things better.
Whether using the Internet to socialize helps or hinders you depends on how itís used and how often. As much as you may enjoy it, however, it doesnít address your underlying anxiety issues. Being an active participant in your treatment program can only help.
~ Glen Community Support