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Photo via Mike MacKenzie/Flickr (CC-BY) Remix by Jason Reed

Swipe This! My social media anxiety has turned into actual, crippling anxiety

Here's how to let your inner perfectionist go and care less.

Sep 22, 2017, 5:30 am

IRL

 

Nayomi Reghay

Swipe This!” is an advice column about how to navigate human relationships and connections in an age when we depend so heavily on technology. Have a question? Email [email protected]

. . .

Dear Swipe This!

Social media gives me massive anxiety. Lately, though, it’s been through the roof. In the past, I’ve taken breaks from Instagram, deactivated Facebook—and in some ways that helps. But I always end up back at square one, stressing over what to post and how much to post. And now it’s gotten to the point where I log on, look at everyone’s stuff, but I don’t want to post at all.

I recently went on vacation to Europe and it was the best. I was solo for a lot of my trip and I loved it. I wasn’t thinking about social media and I felt so happy and free. I took a ton of pictures and about a zillion selfies, because that’s what I do when I’m happy. Then, when I came back from my trip, I went on Instagram to post some photos. But I just couldn’t do it. I kept obsessing over which image should be the first image. I needed to get it right. And then, I couldn’t decide which one would be right. So I didn’t post at all!

I don’t know why I care so much about this. I don’t want to care! But I guess I care?!?! 

I also feel angry at the whole system. Like, why do I have to see every moment of everyone’s lives? Why do we need to validate every moment? And if I’m not constantly posting like everyone else, do I even exist? Did that amazing vacation even happen?

I USED TO JUST POST SHIT WITHOUT THINKING! WHO HAVE I BECOME?

Sincerely,

Damned If I Post Damned If I Don’t

. . .

Dear Damned If I Post Damned If I Don’t,

Do you remember middle school? How social life suddenly ramped up a bit and everything became more exciting but also a whole lot, well, ickier?

Social media often reminds me of a middle school party because it is equal parts alluring and repulsive. Everything feels electric and important and full of promise, even though, most of the time, very little is actually happening. In fact, even when nothing is happening, it can still feel extremely high stakes. Why? Well, the cool girl is here! And our crush is here! And there are snacks and sodas and we’re all amped up on salt and sugar—or, in the case of social media, dopamine-triggering likes and comments! And, oh yeah, all of our moms are here to see how the party’s going. Hi, moms!

Like a middle school party, social media can feel particularly awkward if you are someone who values authenticity. Because while everyone is fooling around with fun personas and flattering filters, you have the creeping feeling that ultimately, underneath it all, you are still you.

You seem to think that your anxiety is “extreme,” but I seriously doubt you’re alone in feeling like there’s no way to get it right. I also don’t blame you for sometimes wishing you could leave the party.

The good news is, you are no longer a prisoner of middle school get-togethers. And if you survived those, you can survive this. The only prison you have to contend with is the one in your own brain. And while you can’t necessarily “change the system” you claim to loathe, you can, and you should, take control of your relationship to it.

You seem to be keenly aware of all the ways social media encourages us to seek validation from our peers. And I agree with you that this can make us want to present the most perfect version of ourselves. But I can’t help but notice that, in your case, the person adding all this pressure on you to get it “right” is, in fact, you.

You say you are angry at “the whole system,” but it seems you’re also quite angry with yourself. You have the impulse to share a joyful image, but before you can even post it, you critique yourself harshly, believing the image isn’t good enough. And then, to make matters worse, you put yourself down for even wanting to participate in the first place. You seem to have decided that only once you find a perfect way to participate—posting just the right amount of just the right stuff and, let’s not forget, caring just the right amount about how much validation you will get from it—only then are you allowed to enjoy social media.

This seems to me wildly unfair. The part of you that wants to post just wants to connect and have fun. What could be wrong with that? Why is it OK to take selfies and goof off and smile when you’re alone on vacation in the European countryside, but not OK to share that happy self with your online community when you return to the real world?

Is it really so shameful to admit that you’d like to be seen?

The truth is, for better or worse, everyone is allowed to take up space on social media. There are no gatekeepers. You do not have to be perfect or even a “cool kid” to get an invitation to this party. And that means you—yes, you—are allowed to take up space.

I understand why you’d think it’s a little bit self-indulgent to say, “Hey, everyone, look at me and my fabulous vacation!” But I get the impression that you take it a step further. You think that by posting you are not only saying, “Hello, I matter!” but “Hello, I matter the most! I am the main event! Everyone, come look at meeee!”

Maybe as a child, you were taught that those who demand attention are superficial and shallow. Or that people who enjoy looking in the mirror too long are vain. But guess what? Goofing off in the bathroom mirror is fun! And so is sharing a glammed up selfie! Maybe there were times in the past when you couldn’t get the attention you desired because someone else was already stealing the show, and so you learned to shut down that impulse. But it is deeply human to want to be seen and you should not be ashamed of it.

There’s no doubt that social media is a flawed tool for connection. We are still learning how to use it and that growth process is inherently awkward. But the reality is, what we do when we take up space online is far more complex and beautiful than seeking superficial attention. Model Hari Nef talks about the beauty of taking up space in this short video.

https://instagram.com/p/BOPqxcGDU8J/

I love how Nef explains that people insisting that they matter, that they have a right to take up space, is its own small revolution. She also points to the need to avoid collapsing in on ourselves. It’s a delicate balance, and we haven’t quite figured it out yet. But that doesn’t mean we should blow up our little universes.

You can make room for yourself while making room for others. But you can’t do that if you’re letting your inner perfectionist run the show. It’s impossible to be kind to others when we are being unkind to ourselves. And make no mistake, your inner perfectionist wants nothing to do with kindness. She will tell you that you are the absolute worst person in the world, the biggest freak, and a total loser. And then she’ll tell you to go prove you’re better than everyone else. Your inner perfectionist always shows up under the guise of wanting to help you win, and she always sets you up to fail.

The secret is, you don’t need her. Because when you’re at play, when you’re here to have fun, you don’t have to compete in the first place.

I love this video that went viral in 2016 of a little girl doing a morning affirmation with her father. My favorite line is “I’m not better than anyone. Nobody is better than me.”

Morning Motivation Starting off with positive affirmations can set a great tone for how your day unfolds. Learning this from an early age can be very beneficial in the esteem and confidence of a child. We are all Destined for Greatness!

Posted by The DFG Movement on Wednesday, September 7, 2016

You are not better than anyone. And nobody is better than you. When you accept that, your urge to compete dissipates. Your inner perfectionist falls away. And you get to be you.

So the next time you are having a freak out about social media, instead of pressuring yourself to figure it all out, I wonder if you can ask yourself what feels fun. Maybe it’s stepping away from the screen to go for a walk in a neighborhood you’ve never explored. Maybe it’s texting a good friend. Maybe it’s listening to a song you loved a long time ago. Can you find ways to play that feel nurturing and good? And then, when you do have an impulse to post, can you operate from a state of play? Can all of it matter just a little less?

Stop letting your inner perfectionist run the show. Let the person who took all those goofy selfies take the wheel. She sounds like she really knows how to have a good time.

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*First Published: Sep 22, 2017, 5:30 am