Aug 10, 2015

Social Media for the Socially Anxious

First: I am not a mental health professional. I would have to be very Doogie Howser-esque for that to be the case because I'm eighteen, but I am not Doogie Howser. I'm more of a Leslie Knope, to be real. Also, I am going to be talking about techniques that work for me and which are likely to work for you, but it's entirely possible they won't.


My psychiatrist and I don't know exactly what flavor of anxiety would be the most apt description for me. Here is what we do know:

  • I am an anxious person, to the point where it frequently becomes unhealthy.
  • Going outside can be something between a hassle and an apocalypse, depending on the day.
  • Talking to people scares the living daylights out of me.
Even if I know someone—even if that someone is my best friend, who knows absolutely everything about me—I have to get myself in the right mindset to spend time with them. Like, I prefer making plans to go grab something for lunch days or even a week in advance. When we go to a store or somewhere public, I take pains not to leave the other person's side even for a minute. When my BFF went in a clothing store at the mall two weeks ago with me and wanted to try on a few shirts in the dressing rooms for evaluation, I worked myself up to the point of becoming a sweaty mess. What if someone else comes in the dressing rooms while I'm waiting for her? What if they look at me funny for helping my friend (who's, you know, a young woman) decide what clothes to buy? This is the local mallit could be someone we know. What if they think I'm here with her because I'm gay? I'm going to be outed to the entire town, aren't I. On and on and on.

Despite this, I'm very present on Twitter (hi there, I'm @mobrienbooks). For me, any sort of situation in which I could embarrass myself is anxiety-provoking, but especially public ones like this. Twitter is a cesspool of situations that stress me out, real and likely to occur or otherwise. So I figured I'd throw some tips that work for me out there in case any of you go through a similar thing.

1. CBT, motherfucker.

If you're not familiar, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the bee's knees and the cat's pajamas and meow at the same time together in one cohesive unit. It asks you to change (or at very least challenge) either your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. You can do just one—in fact, that's generally encouraged. Because the therapist who taught me CBT believed thoughts were easiest to challenge—and since that's what I know and have learned—I'm going to start there, but make no mistake: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all influence each other in profound ways.

A typical cycle when I'm drafting a tweet (because I do draft and hold onto tweets, sometimes for days or weeks, because I don't know how they'll be received) goes a little like this:

I don't know what I'm talking about. —> I'm an idiot and no one wants to hear my advice or opinions on anything. —> I won't post this. —> ...because I don't know what I'm talking about.

Now, there are plenty of things I don't know much of anything about. I don't know about sports or geography or what it's like to be a woman of color. That said, I know the industry-standard font for fiction manuscripts. I know what it's like to be a gay teenager/technical adult living in New Jersey in 2015. I know approximately how much to feed a small or medium-sized dog. But anxiety makes me start to doubt those things, too—and that's when I (usually) implement CBT.

Do I really not know what I'm talking about in regard to the industry-standard font? Let's examine the evidence: I've finished six manuscripts. I'm an editorial intern at a mid-sized publisher. I've been writing seriously with the intent of publication for four years. Therefore, yes, I think I do know that Times New Roman, size 12 is your best (slash only) option. Because of that, I don't think I'm an idiot whose advice no one wants to hear. So, yes, I think it's fine for me to tweet that tip.

I'm not saying CBT always makes anxiety disappear. I'm not saying it even works at all in some situations. But I am saying that it is a godsend a lot of the time, and I'd be in a worse place mentally without it.

2. Rationalize!

This goes hand-in-hand with the first point. Anxiety is oftentimes the blatant ignoring of logic. A great deal of anxious people admit they know their fears are irrational and even silly. We just can't stop the thoughts, which lead to the feelings (and we know our friend cognitive dissonance says we can feel two conflicting things at once), which segue marvelously into the actions, which work along with the thoughts in sometimes surprising ways. An anxious mind can't always be trusted—by which I mean we have to challenge the parts of ourselves that blare false alarms at all times.

Think: Okay, I'm well-versed in this subject I want to talk about online. I've experienced it; talked and listened to a great number of people who have experienced it; or, most frequently, both. I know my shit.

And think that last line over and over again—omit "shit" if you're not of the cursing persuasion. I know my shit. I know my shit. Do I know my shit? Yes. How do I know I know my shit? Because I'm well-versed in this subject I want to talk about. I've experienced it/talked and listened to a great number of people who have experienced it/all of the above. Use logical (or empirical!) evidence to support that point, assuming you have it. Breathe. Post the thing.

3. Value yourself.

This is beyond difficult for many, and I won't sit here and list all the good qualities you, personally, have. But, assuming your self-worth is there (and I so, so, so so so encourage you to reach out to someone to discuss getting help if it isn't), you can probably name a few good qualities about yourself off the top of your head. For example—and admittedly from someone with a very healthy sense of self-worth—I'm empathetic, a good listener, and a strong writer whose skills are only sharpening. Use some of those if you need a starting point.

Now, if you've thought of some (but certainly not all) of your strengths, you might find these are preeeeetty damn good things. You might've said "I'm kind," "I'm strong," even "I'm a good person." If you did—good fucking job, you! I mean that with all of my heart. As a reward, skip a paragraph down.

If your positive qualities were more like "I'm good at coloring" or "One time I did a nice thing for somebody" or anything obscure, isolated, or not genuine, ask a friend or a family member. Hell, ask me if I know you. Chances are they say "better" good things about you, like that you're selfless or brave or the most intelligent person they know. Do you believe these things? Sit with them for as long as you want, and if you find you do agree with them—good fucking job, you!

So you have some good qualities about yourself lined up. Now write them down. Write a poem incorporating the main word (e.g. "open-minded" or "creative"). Look back at the past week and think of three incidents, no matter how small, when you lived up to that description. Write the exact line you thought of or that someone you trust told you into a story, word for word. Get it inside your head that these are truthful however you can. Because—and I take a lot of pleasure in telling you this—they are the truth. They are. I promise.

I've found a lot of my self-doubt correlates with my self-value. In the most general of terms: I don't think I can talk about this because I don't think I'm good enough to talk about this. If I challenge the "I'm not good enough" part, a whole lot of new doors open up to me.


I very much hope this was helpful in some way! What was your favorite part? I liked that, too. And I'm always, always available to talk to you on Twitter (I pretty much live there at this point) or via whichever means of contact is most comfortable for you.


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