I sometimes feel the best medication for social anxiety is my phone. When the going gets tough and the conversation lulls, my phone is the perfect social crutch. These days, you could hardly tell who has social anxiety when everyone gazes at their screens–even the most socially confident and extroverted among us. It’s just normal. Some would say, “Well, that’s life now.”
And because this is an accepted way to live, people with social anxiety may feel a little less motivated to “get better.” Why become a better communicator when basically no one values face-to-face conversation in the first place? Granted, I’m speaking hyperbolically. We can’t overstate the value of being able to communicate face-to-face, and there are still people who enjoy it and value it. Nothing on the phone could ever replace it.
Still, we grip our phones as if they were lifelines. It’s almost like we’re trying to prove we can live without physical proximity. As if we’re gearing for life exclusively in virtual reality. I am not here to accuse without accusing myself. I use my phone to do the very thing that might be damaging us. We were sold a product and we bought into it wholeheartedly.
Each time we turn to our phones to help us through uncomfortable silence, we train our brains to relinquish interpersonal communication to the “Recycle Bin.” It’s no wonder we do, especially those of us with social anxiety. The phone is a portal to mind-numbing distraction. It might even help us pretend that we have no more anxiety. Whether it works or not, we continue to unlock our screens and fill our sights with social media, games, and other content.
But, there’s something else. Keep in mind, this is only my opinion and I’m not some type of social scientist. I just think that, even beyond anxiety, we have another issue that propels us to use our phones in addictive ways. I see it at restaurants and at work. Hell, even with my family at gatherings anywhere they may take place. For some reason, even with in-person human interaction, we simply can’t leave our phones out of the discussion.
I’d be hard-pressed to recall a recent memory of time with my family where someone didn’t pick up their phone and check it. Just last night, in fact, some family members were looking at their phones and laughing at memes from Facebook. We were at a brewery/restaurant, and while it was a good time, it strikes me now just how much we need the content on our phones to create topics or short bursts of entertainment. We live in a culture of, “Hey, you have got to see this!” Is this because we are slowly losing the ability to come up with topics of our own?
Even if we don’t have phones on us, many conversations reference what we see on social media. For instance, “Did you see what XYZ posted on Facebook the other day?” It’s like we just can’t sever the connection. We feel this compulsory need to check our phones. We have constant rings, dings, and vibrations. We crave something new and novel. We salivate at the thought of another crazy post or controversial meme. Why?
My theory is that we are bored, we can’t stand silence, and we are addicted. I am bored, afraid of silence, and addicted. Just tack on anxiety, and then you have a great description of me. And the thing is, this addictive lifestyle won’t help much with communication. It won’t help with developing interpersonal communication skills. It actually softens us up to be hurt harder when anxiety turns to shame.
Here’s the question. If society is becoming less social in-person, why should I get better at speaking? Why should I try to meet people? It’s really tempting to think along those lines. However, the thing about social anxiety is that it causes distress and disrupts the normal growth and development of a person. It causes an internal pain that, in the long run, decreases one’s quality of life. And the truth is, it’s not just people with social anxiety who suffer from phone/social media addiction. Society suffers, in my opinion.
I am not here to demonize phones and social media. It’s just a part of life. It’s really our habits that make the most impact, though. Maybe we can try to be more cognizant of how we use our phones. Maybe we can try to sit with the silence, even if it’s uncomfortable. Maybe we can set limitations on how long we use our phones. Little by little, we can stop using the phone as a crutch. We can wean ourselves off our phones and learn to handle uncomfortable situations. Is it easy? No, not at all. But it might just be worth it.
Compare the way you feel after a social media chat versus a face-to-face conversation. If both types of conversation were engaging and went well, there would still be a difference in how they felt. If the face-to-face conversation felt better than the social media chat, it might be because you connected even deeper and in true “real time.” Take away the meaningless emojis, the “X is typing” ellipsis, and the lack of eye contact, and suddenly, two souls are connecting in a good conversation.
Having said all that, I’ve felt the natural “high” a good face-to-face conversation. It just can’t be replicated digitally. That’s not to say online conversations lack meaning or depth, but even as someone with social anxiety, I hope for more great in-person discussions in my life. They are worth all the training and healing that comes with battling anxiety.