Social Media: The Gateway to Anxiety
by Jason Schreurs
I can’t sleep. I’m manic. My brain swims with thoughts, ideas, plans, and schemes. My wife is away on a trip and insomnia squeezes my head like a gorilla busting open a watermelon. I fumble for my phone on the bedside table and comb Facebook. I’ve gone so far back on people’s walls I’m unearthing their time capsules. I have almost 5,000 “friends” (the Facebook limit) and no one can satiate my need for a high. Besides, only insomniacs post anything at 3 am. I have an idea. If I toss my phone into the laundry basket in our closet, I won’t be able to reach it and I’ll fall asleep. Within seconds, I’m out of bed, fishing through dirty clothes, and find my phone under my hoodie. I jump back in bed, roll onto my back, and return to the blue light of Facebook. The “suggested friends” function is a convenient place to furiously friend-request random people. Anyone in a band I like is a given. My temples pulse and my head throbs. I chuck the phone back in the basket and pray to the punk gods for sleep. The phone taunts me from the closet. “Come get me, come get me,” it coaxes. I can friend hundreds more people and, by morning, I’ll have new feeds to excavate. I slide my legs over the side of the bed and stumble back to the phone, my plantar fasciitis barking at me. Hovering over the basket, my brain buzzing—a glimmer of hesitation. It passes. And, back to my phone.
My friend is a high school teacher. On a walk with him one day he confides that he’s torn up about how his school’s culture has changed so much the past few years. He tells me that more than three quarters of his students spend most of their day on their phones, especially in class. They are so detached, he says, that trying to teach them is nearly impossible. He explains students have an extremely difficult time retaining information and they’re anxiety-ridden and depressed. He says extra credit assignments are almost always ignored and only taken by one or two students at most. Additional effort collects dust. Real-life engagement is waning. Ladies and gentlemen: our next generation.
Allow me to share my concerns about technology. Thought processes have changed. We are less present. We don’t have our own experiences anymore. When we see, think, smell, or taste something, these are not our own experiences. These are collective experiences, and the collective can be unwilling, unresponsive, uninterested, uninspired, and unkind. Invigoration triggers an urge to share. A happening in our day-to-day lives isn’t shared first, if at all, with those closest to us in real time. Meals are scarfed by cameras before we can get a bite in edgewise. Trivial events and societal blips become etched permanently on devices that neither forgive nor forget. We glean vapid morsels and useful tidbits from an ether-tethered world. Fake smiles hide rabid jones-ing. Nervous grins hide fear of rejection. Quiet is redundancy. Silence is deafening. Engagement leads to disappointment. Status updates are status quantification. Our world is jammed with techno-noise.
Leaving the house without a cell phone is considered sacrilege. What will we do if there’s an emergency? We never leave the house without our phones because something cool might happen and we can deliver content to the world in seconds. We might see a sea lion. A new flower could bloom in the park. We might bump into a friend and need a selfie. Our kid might do something cute again. Our dog might do something cute again. These used to be snapshot moments for our memory banks or kept safe in the innards of an SLR camera. The human mind was built to hold up to a quadrillion images. Now they’re jammed with techno-noise.
When I finally kicked social media, almost a year after my diagnosis, anxiety—my sandpaper chest, my full-body flushes—exacerbated my withdrawal symptoms. For weeks, a phantom hand, teased by underutilized pleasure sensors, itched for my phone to post something clever on Facebook. All those likes and comments were within reach. I wanted so badly to post about daily minutiae, witty quips, and semi-poignant observations. I cringe at my social media use now, but at the time I thought I was the funniest, most charming, smartest guy I knew. I wanted that feeling back. A solitary click could reactivate my account, satisfying my cravings. I considered replacing the social media high with another vice, but I had already cut those out of my life and going back wasn’t an option. Gradually, the phone cravings dampened. Space cleared in my head, and I had a better attention span; less scattered. Was I free? Unbinding myself from my phone was a necessary step. A huge chunk of time opened for me to address my anxiety and its connected emotions (fear, hurt, jealousy, sadness…) Breathing helped. Not having to follow the intimate and vapid daily happenings of 5,000 “friends” helped. I’d rather be one step removed from 75% of conversations and have a handful of friends who I truly connect with—real people, real life, real friendships. During quiet times, when my fingers still itch for a screen and those uncontrollable algorithms, instead of being bombarded with fear and anger, which flares my anxiety, I open myself to informed self-compassion.
Am I free? And in the age of Smartphones, freedom is an endangered species.
Jason Schreurs (he/him) is a writer, punk rocker, and mental health advocate. He hosts the podcast Scream Therapy, which is also the title of his forthcoming book, about the link between punk rock and mental health. Jason lives in Powell River, BC. Learn more about him at jasonschreurs.com
|| back to issue ||