Seeing the word ‘anxiety’ every day across various social media support communities for mental health began to define who I was.
When you suffer from extreme anxiety or something similar, perhaps loneliness or depression, the social media support communities can feel like a blessing in disguise.
After all, managing anxiety for an anxiety sufferer is a necessity for living a good life. As is feeling like you aren’t the only nut-job in the room.
I lived for over fifteen years with severe social anxiety. Intermingled with this were periods of agoraphobia, claustrophobia, and general anxiety disorder. At 16 years old is seemingly came out of nowhere. I didn’t have the faintest idea of what I was dealing with and nor could I express it in words.
How do I tell someone that I feel sick to my stomach daily, for no apparent reason?
How do I express to my parents that I want to peel myself out of my own skin because I feel so uneasy, constantly on edge?
And, how do I explain these physical responses when I feel as though I am mentally fine?
After the first five years of hiding, embarrassment, and shame surrounding this mental health disorder that I simply did not understand… it felt like a warm ray of sunshine as the rise of social media support communities showed their support, shared their knowledge, and explained to the lonely anxiety sufferer that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I thought I had finally found my people.
I thought I could finally find some anxiety relief.
Social Media Support Communities Offer Comfort In Solidarity
…the number of social media users worldwide in 2019 is 3.484 billion, up 9% year-on-year…NCBI
I have always been a firm believer that a problem shared is a problem halved. Perhaps it’s a bit cliched but isn’t that because there is some real truth to it? Isn’t that why cliches become a cliche in the first place?
The whole, “He ran off with his secretary!” cliche has stuck around for a reason! And, as someone who lived behind a facade of happy smiles and larger-than-life fun when I felt paralyzed on the inside — I know the power of unburdening ourselves by sharing our stories with others.
Even saying that now doesn’t feel comfortable. A facade of happy smiles?! I am a happy, bouncy, talk at 100 mph kind of person… so I don’t believe they were false smiles but they certainly hid a painful truth. That I was struggling, didn’t know how to express what was happening, didn’t know how to manage, and I didn’t believe that anyone could understand.
Looking around me, all I felt I could see were strong and content individuals. Getting on with life. Thriving in their relationships, building their careers, and finding pleasure in day-to-day existence.
All I could feel was desperation.
After those first five years of hiding, I came to the realization that my life could easily grind to a halt if I let my anxiety take control. At that moment, I decided I needed to be more open with the people around me, let them in, and this was powerful. The support came in from every angle. Not everyone understood it. Not everyone knew how to respond to it. But the general consensus was, “I’m here for you if you need me”
And that is everything. But it isn’t quite the same as someone turning around and saying, “I know exactly how you feel” Now that is something spectacular.
Social Media Support Communities Are Where You Can Finally Find Your Tribe
I’m not here to express my hatred for social media and especially not for these social media support communities.
There are benefits to this new way of connecting with others that is truly inspiring. Really, when I think of how far we’ve advanced technologically, it’s a wonder we aren’t already governed by robots. Give it time.
There is now an abundance of support communities across the internet that are very specific to the various needs of the people.
People searching for support with their anxiety, depression, loneliness, weight loss, motivation, grief, heartbreak… you name it, an account can be found. And this is magnificent.
My biggest pain throughout my journey of overcoming this affliction came during the first year or so of trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I did not have this support.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but looking back I wince at how things might have been different if I’d have received a different kind of support early on.
My mum insisted that I go to the doctor. Of course, I didn’t argue with her. She was almost furious that this was happening to me, whatever this was. Later conversations revealed that she was worried that I was perhaps bulimic or manic-depressive. She thought I might become anorexic because my relationship with food became so unhealthy.
(This was not because I didn’t like food… I LOVE food. Always have, always will. But because I felt nauseous all the time, I well and truly lost my appetite)
So I went to the doctor who first asked me if I was pregnant, four times just to make sure. Then proceeded to offer me some anti-nausea pills before telling me that they are in fact a placebo to see if we can’t trick my mind into ridding itself of the sickness… Fat chance of that now. I wasn’t offered therapy. The possibility of anxiety, stress, or anything else never came into the conversation so I still didn’t know that it was even a possibility. I felt helpless and broken.
The doctor couldn’t fix me, so who could?
And that’s where these social media communities come into play. Finally, you can jump online and find your tribe of 1000 supporters strong. Even more, thousands upon thousands!
Two of the top anxiety support accounts on Instagram, have almost one million followers! You only have to take a brief scroll through the comments to see the gratitude and appreciation from followers who may well have spent a lifetime trying to find people who understand them.
Even more so, find mentors who can guide them through a journey of recovery.
And that was an important to consider – what was guiding my social media use.
Therapists Are Expensive Unless They Are Free
The truth is that therapy is likely the best option when trying to conquer an affliction such as this. To have the hand of a trained professional is arguably always going to have a more profound effect on our progress than what these social media communities can provide.
Yet the problem remains that for a vast majority of people, the cost of therapy is too high.
For those living on a low-income, 100 dollars an hour four times a week is simply not a possibility. It could be the best 100 dollars we ever spent! But that means nothing if we simply don’t have it to spare.
This is why there is something to be said for the businesses or individuals who bother to take the time to post something every day.
An uplifting quote, a new technique, a quick reminder, some ‘I know how you feel’s”… This is in no way a replacement for great therapy but for those, like me, who don’t have the means to pay for the support — these tribes of people will be your greatest cheerleaders. And there’s a lot to be said for that.
So, in true millennial fashion, I set up my own account last year as I was just beginning my own blog. It began with a focus on anxiety and anxiety recovery and I felt good about this.
After learning and self-education, I finally felt as though I reached a moment in time where I had overcome the worst of it. I was living a better life and I felt as though I knew the means by which to do so. Now I wanted to give back.
And so I set up my account named, The Anxious Talker.
These Social Media Communities Didn’t Provide The Relief I Had Hoped For
Something unexpected happened. After setting up my new profile, I began posting the usual images and captions you would expect to see on a social media support community page. Along with this, I followed a bunch of accounts both big and small that claimed to do the same — offer a community for anxious people to find support and gain knowledge of this condition.
And what I was left with was a feed full of much the same; top tips, how-to guides, pie charts, and uplifting quotes.
To all intents and purposes, this should have done the job that I was looking for, to feel less alone and more confident in my ability to overcome my anxiety.
Because of course, that is the goal right? Figure out how we can cope and manage in a way that is healthy for us but with the support and guidance of people who actually understand. Yet I was left disappointed.
Or, perhaps worse, I was left feeling agitated and overwhelmed.
You see, every day I was jumping into my Instagram app and scrolling through and the same mental health jargon kept hitting me in the face:
IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY
ANXIETY, ANXIETY, ANXIETY…
Whilst I wasn’t looking to avoid this illness, because I was well aware of the damage that could do to the recovery process, I felt as though I was constantly being hit in the face by an anxiety stick.
A reminder of what I’m battling with every single day. It already took up a lot of my time, attention, and effort, and here I was with a feed full of anxiety-related posts drowning my Instagram.
Without question, there are many helpful tips and tricks to be found. But scrolling through all of the noise, repetition, and regurgitation means that it takes effort to find those nuggets of gold.
They are out there.
Like wandering through a TK MAXX warehouse… you know that there is some quality stuff to be found at bargain prices but it might take five hours of sifting to find it.
Not everyone enjoys an empty quote
Some quotes are beautiful. When you come across one that you’ve never heard before and it hits you right in your heart space on a day where it just so happens to be the exact thing you needed to hear… it’s a very light and easy form of temporary relief.
Yet, a lot of these quotes feel shallow to me. Many have been seen one thousand times before and slapped on a different rainbow background and some don’t even have the decency to be grammatically correct!
When I finally came to realize the hard work involved in battling with your own inner dialogue, these quotes feel like fluff on the page for the most part. Because they don’t encourage change and they don’t offer a solution.
It Made My Anxiety Worse
Quickly, I realized I had made a mistake. This profile I had created was set up with anxiety as the focus. This meant that not only was I being overwhelmed by other people’s anxiety-based content but I was creating my own! The word in itself flashed across my screen so many times in a day, it was impossible to find some relief.
For me, the problem in following all of these accounts (despite their good intentions), was that it was beginning to define who I was.
I am Emma and I have anxiety. I live with anxiety. I am an anxious person. I am anxious Emma. I have to cope with my anxiety every day. Anxious is just who I am.
Each time I took a gander through the feed or thread on my phone, it was becoming further ingrained into my subconscious that anxiety is a huge part of my life, and that’s fine, but it’s not who I am.
I accept that it is a part of me but it is not the only part of me and yet, without some distance from it, it engulfed my entire existence. Whenever I turned on the screen it was the first thing to pop up…
A constant reminder of a problem that can’t be fixed by even the most inspirational of IG posts. While a lot of people reap the benefits of being part of these communities I was becoming frustrated and detached.
On my lowest days, diving into these communities and seeking the wisdom they all promise only made me sink lower into a state of helplessness because seriously, how many times does a person need to read, “It’s okay not to be ok”?!
It was time for a new approach.
A New Approach To Social Media Support Communities
To make it very clear, I have a great deal of appreciation for all of the accounts, influencers, groups, and communities across social media who help to support a lot of people who might feel very alone otherwise. After all, that’s why I joined in the first place. It wasn’t a case of removing myself from social media like many might suggest, but merely repositioning. It didn’t work well for me to focus on the problem — anxiety.
Despite the fact that these accounts aim to promote the solution, it was the problem that I felt was constantly thrown in my face. Admittedly, this is almost certainly down to my own thinking and perspective… but it’s just who I am. And that’s good to know. It’s good to know what works for you. And these communities, as they were, didn’t work for me. At all.
After thirty years of living on this planet, I can begin to say that I’m starting to understand myself better. I respond to tough love, to routine tactics, to productivity hacks and pushing yourself to the limit. At my lowest, I needed exercise in my life because I liked the physical pain and it made me feel strong.
It gave me focus and a way to channel my emotions. This is what I needed.
Support is critical. Camaraderie is everything. There is indeed strength in numbers and finding your tribe of people is life-changing… but this ended up not being the right sort of community for me.
So, I changed my account from @theanxioustalker to @aresilientemma. A focus on mental strength and emotional resiliency… now this is something I can work with. I began following different communities and individuals that were of a motivational nature. Ones that encourage the understanding of human behavior and psychology. Accounts that discuss health and diet as well as success and mindset.
By repositioning the angle at which I was approaching and using social media I turned my focus from the problem to what I believe is the solution.
The Psychology of Repetition
Something that I have come to understand is that a lot of people mistake what is ordinary everyday anxiety (that is an appropriate response to everyday life situations) and anxiety disorder (which is when it becomes an unnecessary habitual response to things that do not warrant it).
What I fear with the presence of ‘anxiety’ everywhere these days is that people may easily become convinced that they are dealing with something more severe than it actually is. And this in turn makes us panic and fixate, which makes things worse. The reason I worry about this is that I have experienced it myself! Yes, I have suffered from an anxiety disorder. But in daily life now, my anxiety levels and responses are what might be considered ‘normal’ for the given situation.
That’s fabulous… until I hop on my laptop and have ingrained on the back of my retinas quotes upon quotes, fact upon fact, infograph upon infograph, of anxiety-related topics everywhere I look.
On a day where I can feel perfectly at peace, it can get me riled up like nobody’s business. The more something pops up, the more it lies at the forefront of the brain. That’s why advertising works so well… If I flash this can of diet coke in your face one hundred times, chances are you might crave a swig of the ‘low sugar’ goodness.
Well, it’s the same with anxiety.
It felt as though someone may as well have stood in the corner of my living room and flashed a card in my face every five seconds that says, “Don’t forget, you have anxiety!”
Or perhaps they’d mix it up —
“I can help you overcome your ANXIETY”
“Don’t worry if you feel ANXIOUS”
“ANXIETY does not define you”
It might not define me but it’s hard to fight against when i’m allowing myself to be exposed to these reminders every day.
From The Problem To The Solution
In complete honesty, I never found any real comfort in the anxiety support communities. And I think that is because I prefer a tough-love approach. I thought I needed to find a group of people who felt the same but actually, this only left me feeling like I was wallowing. In reality, my personality is better suited to following people and accounts who have insane drive, energy, and commitment to making a success of life. Accounts that offer solutions above and beyond a simple “Anxiety looks like…” post.
I think sometimes we can believe that we are helping ourselves by being part of communities like this.
However, this can mean focusing on the problem rather than the solution.
It’s worth asking what you want to be inspired by every day and what type of person you want to be?
I didn’t want to be Emma, The Anxious Talker. I want to be Emma, The Resilient. By redefining this, and shifting how I utilize social media I now scroll through my phone and find the inspiration I was always looking for. I follow people who I aspire to be like, who motivate me to do the hard emotional graft to understand myself better… to self-regulate.
There will never be any denying of how mental health social communities on the likes of Instagram or Facebook help thousands of people across the world. But they aren’t for everyone. Sometimes I was left feeling as though I couldn’t possibly write this post. How might people react to me telling them that these support communities might in fact be doing more damage than they do good? Well, that’s really not what I’m saying.
What I’m trying to say is that when I was really suffering from my anxiety, I thought these communities would help to lift me up… but they didn’t. They only added fuel to the fire. There are other, more beneficial, communities for me to be a part of that are working wonders.
- They make me want to do better.
- They make me want to be better.
- They inspire me.
- They are insightful and motivational.
Wherever you can find all of these things is exactly where you need to be just make sure that you’re in the right place, for you.