Fingers flying, incessant texting, phones held to ear as secondary appendages gives the illusion we are well connected. We are chattering and snapping and “selfieing” (I think I just made that word up — you can do that these days) all the live long day. Meanwhile scientists quietly dispense reports underlining an incredible finding: We are socially anxious people. Extremely socially anxious. So what gives?

Slowly raise your head away from your phone. It’s okay. You can do it. I am trying the same thing as you read this. Now look around. What do you see? We look like we are fluttering like social butterflies with our devices in hand. But if you dig deeper you will find another tale that tells a story quite sinister in its origins. We are hiding. Plain as day. Humans have found a way to hide right there in the open. We’re a tricky bunch, aren’t we?

We are indeed clever. But what we failed to realize is you can’t outrun human emotions. They will find a way to creep out and run amok. Human behavior is rooted in thoughts and feelings. We will never move beyond that unless we become robots. And while there is a good portion of our population trying, I will make this bold statement: We can’t advance our way out of being human.

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is an intense fear of possibly humiliating or embarrassing oneself in social situations. Social anxiety disorder is not shyness. Social anxiety causes intense fear in the individual, which leaves them prone to avoid social situations for fear of saying or doing something they deem “wrong.” People with social anxiety disorder may isolate themselves in an attempt to avoid the anxious feelings. They may not contribute to class discussions, offer up ideas or take part in conversations.  

See when you feel this way — intensely anxious around individuals in certain settings or in your everyday life interactions — social media does a very good job at letting you hide. And while you hide you are escaping your feelings of anxiety. But what is happening in reality is this: it is crippling us. Phones, tablets, computers are giving us an avenue to pretend as if we are socially comfortable when, in reality, we are not. Social media is a technological ticket to utilizing escapism as a coping mechanism for social anxiety.  

The less you practice your social skills; the more difficult it becomes. And pretty soon you are existing solely behind a device. Not good for you. Not good for any of us. Because what ends up occurring is social isolation, which reinforces social anxiety and promotes feelings of depression.

With social media, we are actually handing ourselves an object that will decrease our mental well-being. Tobacco is to the lungs what technology can be to the brain. Maybe a little drastic in its reach, but it helps to make my point. Both can be utilized for avoidance and maladaptive coping skills.

If that isn’t enough to convince you of the downsides social media can offer when it comes to social anxiety please continue reading. In a 2014 New York Times article, Nick Bilton wrote of an interview with Steve Jobs in 2010 where he discussed his limiting of technology for his own children. We would all be wise to take a hint from the Silicon Valley guys and gals. Reports show they are likely to limit their children and teen’s from continuous access to social media. These are the people that built the media. I say the rest of us should take this as one giant red flag.

Let’s dial down the social anxiety by addressing our social media missteps.  Don’t know where to begin? Let me help you out:

  1. Start rolling back on the ole phone usage.
  2. When you feel anxious put down your phone and start to move. Moving and utilizing the hands in another method will help the brain switch gears.
  3. Make an effort to be social in small groups. Work towards eye contact and small conversation without using a phone as a safety net.
  4. Understand most people feel nervous or anxious in social situations from time to time. You are not the only one. If you are feeling this way odds are a couple others in your group are feeling the same.
  5. If you feel extreme anxiety seek help. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is an excellent treatment to address social anxiety. It works to help you change your negative thoughts (“I suck when I speak”) to (“Everyone feels this way. I actually can hold a conversation”) which then changes the way you feel and behave.

Remember this dear friends: Your life is not the sum equivalent of the number of likes you receive online. Social media is not real life. Media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) is modern day art. Where people can paint whatever picture they want of their lives. And media is only social in the sense of technology.

So take a deep breath. Know you are amazing with your real faults and imperfections just like everyone else. Get out there and embrace your real life without a phone. It’s out there waiting for you!