The impact of social media over anxiety and insecurity

Scrolling through social media has become more of a routine than our morning coffee for many, and it’s more than just double-tapping and swiping – it’s a journey through a mix of inspiration, expectations, comparisons, and the occasional bout of anxiety and insecurity.

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Let’s talk about the unfiltered truth of social media. It’s not just a platform for cute pet videos and food pics; it’s a space where women navigate a roller-coaster of emotions, from ‘Why don’t I look like that?’ to ‘Do I even belong here?”, “Am I achieving enough?”

Let’s understand why something so present in your life, social media, can trigger so much anxiety and insecurity, and also, what to do about that.

Anxiety and insecurity are complex reactions, triggered by more factors combined, from your past traumas, to your belief system, your lifestyle, and your environment. So your social media becomes a large part of your daily environment, therefore it can have a real impact on your emotions and mindset.

The impact of social media over anxiety and insecurity

This article is for you if you are feeling negative emotions and not sure yet how much social media is contributing to that.

For example, are you feeling

  • increased stress, anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • depressive symptoms
  • social isolation
  • jealousy and envy
  • perfectionism
  • difficulty concentrating?

      If the answer is yes, I hear you. You are not the only one and also not the only one concerned or confused about your symptoms.

      Of course, this is not a medical assessment or medical advice, but the message here is to become aware of possible aspects that could keep you stuck in these struggles. And if social media could be contributing to your struggles, by becoming aware, you can remember that there are solutions, and strategies to reduce them.

      If you had a chance to read another article I published on anxiety and insecurity you might remember that for every situation we see (in reality, in our imagination or just on social media) we generate a reaction, that sounds like a thought or a belief. And depending exactly on our belief or thought, we will feel a specific reaction, an emotion.

     So, if I’m scrolling, minding my reels and I say something like: “This is funny”, then I feel pleasure, amusement. If I say something is disgusting, I feel aversion, repulsion. Easy to understand, right?

But what if I keep scrolling and the algorithm suggests some specific topics and I say “I don’t look as successful or put together as her”; what do you think I will feel?

Most probable anxiety, sadness, insecurity.

So let me ask you, do you ever get negative thoughts while scrolling through social media?

Any of the examples below sound familiar?

  • “I don’t look as successful or put together as others.”
  • “What will others think of me if I don’t meet these standards?”
  • “Am I achieving enough?”
  • “Do I look good enough?”
  • “I need others to validate my worth through likes and comments. I am a failure if no one likes my post.”
  • “I must be perfect in every aspect of my life.”
  • “Who am I if I don’t conform to societal expectations?”
  • “Why can’t I have what others have?”
  • “I should be doing better; I’m not good enough.”
  • “I need to fit the mold of a successful professional woman.”
  • “I’m constantly stressed and anxious.”

What do you think, is there a connection between your thoughts above and the emotions of anxiety?

If you see a connection, understand that you are human, and you are not able to control every single thing that influences you, but become aware how continuous exposure to filtered/selected content can elevate stress levels. Become aware how comparisons with idealized images on social media may contribute to feelings of inadequacy. How does that happen?

It happens because prolonged exposure to negative thoughts and constant comparisons, without you seeing a solution to fix that minus you perceive you have, can lead to depressive feelings.

And as a consequence, anxiety about not measuring up may lead to withdrawal from social activities, being just a step away to encouraging you to isolate.

And let’s not forget about two other emotions that consume our well-being, the envy and jealousy. Constantly seeing the perfectly selected achievements of others may trigger jealousy and envy, keeping you in a loop of pressure to meet unrealistic standards.

And last but not least, if you fall into the category of people that are using too many hours per day your phone, imagine this constant information overload on your brain. It gets too much to process at some point, leaving you overwhelmed.

Why does seeing others and their life and success trigger so much insecurity and anxiety in us?

Here are a few mechanisms that might explain the impact of social media

When you see

  • how much money people say they make, (apparently almost everyone makes 6 figures now),
  • how much they travel to blue crystal waters and oceans,
  • how dresses look on a woman’s body, where never no bloating is going on,
  • how mothers can look perfect while filming a perfectly happy baby,
  • how people have this flawless journey with nutrition, easily seeming to get their healthy meals..

1. You might end up sitting on your couch, seeing only the ideal image.

You start expecting perfection in your own life, idealizing life, success and beauty. And if you do a reality check-in, you see yours for what it is: a life that’s different than the ideal/standard.

You are still working hard for your money, and it’s not coming in 10 days as the internet guy said, you still feel bloated, and you still don’t really like your job. And you are still overall in a process of growing, and it doesn’t feel like rainbows at all at this moment.

So it’s easy to feel the inadequacy.

2. And if you are an anxious woman in general, your brain is wired to compare, it’s your pattern.

Then, instead of walking in the nature and seeing trees and sun and relax, you go online where you dive deep into a pool of things where you can socially compare for hours: beauty, money, lifestyle, success, education, status, marriages, babies, businesses, outfits, opinions, talents.

And if you usually tend to put yourself down for not measuring up, imagine how many triggers for envy and powerlessness you get in a day.         

So what happens if you keep seeing the norm, the trend, you keep comparing, and you realize you’re not measuring up?

3.You have a tendency to put pressure on yourself to conform.

And this is one of the most common challenges for young professional women regarding social media’s impact on anxiety and insecurity: the pressure to conform to idealized standards. The constant exposure to curated representations of success, beauty, and lifestyles on social media can create a sense of inadequacy and deepen the fear of not measuring up or being a failure.

It’s simple: if everyday you go into a room only with scientists, you might end up thinking you are not intelligent enough. If you work only in a room full of models, you will feel less beautiful soon. If you are all day in a virtual space full of perfect people, what are you going to feel about yourself?

And one other concern I’ve seen in my work and I consider it a risk for increased anxiety and insecurity is this perceived connection between the validation through likes and how worthy do you think you are.

4. Measuring self or professional worth through likes and followers.

If your profile is quiet and your posts get more or less ignored, you might end up thinking you are rejected or undesirable. And if you are a professional, working to grow your business and make your voice heard, you might be stuck in this sabotaging fear for posting. You might have the wrong belief that if a post doesn’t get you likes or followers, your opinions are not good enough.

What do you think? Do you agree?

I know you most probably knew that social media can trigger comparisons, but I hope you become more aware that if you have anxiety for a while now and if you have negative beliefs about yourself, like being less than others, feeling afraid of rejection or failure, you are more prone to experience a stronger negative impact if you don’t select your social media information with care.

But how do we manage this issue?

And of course, without deleting social media accounts, you may say.

Addressing these negative beliefs involves your intention into promoting self-compassion, challenging the unrealistic expectations, and encouraging yourself to define success and beauty on your own terms.

Embrace some of these beliefs and see how they make you feel:

  • I am enough.
    • You are already complete and valuable just as you are. Your worth is not determined by external standards. You were valuable before using social media, you are the same valuable now
  • My life path is unique and personal.
    • Embrace your individual path and achievements. Your life and your experience have nothing to do with social media, your life is so much more than that.
  • Being authentic is better than being a standard image.
    • Your authenticity is your greatest strength. Embrace who you truly are, and let that shine. This way you will get the job, relationship, life you need, according to your true needs.
  • Self-Compassion Matters.
    • Be kind to yourself. Everyone faces challenges, and it’s okay not to have everything figured out. Every person on the internet with a seemingly perfect life, still tries to compensate for some emotional pain they might have.
  • Success Comes in Many Forms.
    • Success is subjective and diverse. Define success on your own terms, considering your values and aspirations.
  • Social Media Doesn’t Reflect Reality.
    • Remember that social media is a curated highlight reel. It doesn’t depict the full, complex reality of anyone’s life or the real life struggles they face.
  • Celebrate Your Achievements.
    • Take pride in your accomplishments, no matter how small. Celebrate your victories and acknowledge your growth. Use more time for celebrating yourself than watching the other peoples’ lives.
  • Your Voice Matters.
    • Speak your truth and express your opinions. Your voice has value, and your perspective is important. Not the number of likes you get.

And here a few ideas on how to use social media in a positive way than hurting yourself through it:

  • Mindful Social Media Use:
    • Strategy: Set intentional boundaries for social media usage. Designate specific times to check platforms and limit overall screen time. Being mindful of the content consumed can reduce negative impact. Make sure to unfollow any profile that makes you envious, insecure or anxious. Stay away from profiles that promote values that go against your values. Refuse to accept comments if you don’t feel comfortable with it. Refuse to answer any messages that make you uncomfortable.
  • Follow authentic people, that present the real side of a concept.
    • No matter what the topic, listen to multiple approach ideas and opinions, seeing the good and bad in everything, avoiding this unrealistic standard of perfection. Search to follow profiles that promote honesty, healing, validated information about your interests, health, lifestyle, mental health, professional growth.
  • Digital Detoxes:
    • Strategy: Schedule regular breaks or “digital detox” periods where for any hour spent on social media you also choose one hour to disengage from social media. This allows for a mental reset and
  • Take more power in your hands and create a profile or post more your own opinions and true voice.
    • Promote your healthy values, share your stories, inspire others with your honesty. And keep in mind: if you use social media to grow your business, never consume more content than you produce.

Each of these strategies aims to promote a healthier relationship with social media, enhance self-esteem, and create a more positive mindset. Social media can be a wonderful tool for getting motivated, informed, being part of a supportive community, meeting people with similar values, getting inspired by role models. It is a matter of selecting with intention and attention what you consume, make sure to consume it with moderation and choose to analyze through your own values the final information.

If you need help with managing your anxiety and insecurity I am here to help.

Learn to overcome anxiety and insecurity – sign up for my free webinar! BEAT ANXIETY NATURALLY IN 45 MINUTES

Teodora Goloiu,
Clinical psychologist, cognitive behavioral therapist and trauma specialist with 12 years of experience

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