You might have heard that social media is a terrible way to spend your time if you are socially anxious. You shouldn’t be talking to people through your computer, you should be talking to them in real life!
But for the millions of people living with social anxiety or other mental health issues, the prospect of reaching out to people in person can be daunting at best and terrifying at worst. Enter, social media friends.
Not everyone will feel more comfortable meeting people and conversing online, but for many people with social anxiety, it is much easier. No eye contact, no instant back and forth (but rather, time to think through what you say), and no long-term commitment. If you’re not feeling up to socializing one day, you just don’t log in.
Not only that, but you can make some pretty good friends through social media. Especially if you choose where you hang out carefully, you’ll find like-minded people interested in the same causes, the same hobbies, or who are struggling with the same problems. It’s as though the Internet has served up to you the perfect group of people to be friends with. You’d be hard-pressed to find something similar in real-life with that level of both specificity and ease.
When does social media use cross over from helpful to harmful when it comes to friendships and relationships? I think we all have the classic example in our heads of the gamer who sits in front of a computer all day long and never leaves the house. That might be the extreme, but it’s not that far off if your only source of connection is through your computer.
In this scenario, social media is best viewed as a tool to spur on real-life social connections. Yes, every once in a while you should step from behind your computer and meet up with people in real life. But, you can arrange that through social media too. Facebook is excellent for organizing events through event pages or group chats. Long gone are the days when we had to use clunky email threads to stay in the loop.
And finally, if you’re from a generation that has grown up with social media from the get-go, it could be that some of what I’ve discussed is a moot point. Social media is already interwoven in the social fabric of your life. You live on the Internet as much as you live in your community, neighborhood, dorm, or other location. To suggest that you cut off your social media friends would seem ridiculous.
Instead, your focus could shift to making the most of it: how can it help you plan an outing this month? Who needs to hear from you or who is lonely? Which of your friends do you consider a confidant? Who are your five closest friends? Who do you see regularly? Answers to these questions will help you determine if there are areas of your life where your ideal social life does not match your actual one. And if you find those areas, make a plan to take action on improving them over the next 90 days.