Nearly one in five Americans are now suffering from anxiety disorders, with the rate of this condition increasing by over 25 percent since the outbreak of the pandemic. Luana Marques is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School of Psychiatry and a Massachusetts General Hospital clinical psychologist. “Anxiety disorders represent the most prevalent mental health disorder in the U.S.”
Online communities, including those on social media, have been a popular way for anxiety sufferers to find support, understanding and help. These interactions are beneficial if they’re done with care and consideration, experts say. If not, the social media platform can exacerbate or worsen existing symptoms.
Anxiety is a serious problem that can affect your social relationships, job performance and interpersonal relations. Marques says that anxiety leads to the belief that thoughts can be facts. This can sometimes mean that the brain jumps to conclusions and misinterprets what is real. Marques states that anxiety can lead to missing opportunities in personal, professional, and private life.
Holly Lauritzen is a mother to five children aged 38 and from Nashville, Tennessee. She knows well how anxiety can affect oneself as well as one’s loved ones. Lauritzen was exposed to unique stressors growing up, which led her to develop an anxiety disorder when she was 10 years old. This condition eventually lead her stomach ulcers being diagnosed in fourth grade. She recalls her mom asking Lauritzen, “What could cause this to occur ?,’”?” “The doctor answered with one word: “worry.”
Lauritzen experienced anxiety over many decades. However, it eventually reached its peak in last year, when her 16-year-old marriage was suffering. Her husband had grown tired of her mood swings, irritability, irrational thinking, short temper, and doomsday mentality. “He finally shared with me his very real and raw feelings and said he wasn’t sure how much more he could take. Although it was the most frightening conversation of my entire life, it was one I needed and one that had to be done.
Lauritzen started to better manage her anxiety after meeting with her doctor. She also began using the information from her therapy sessions and medication. She says, “For many years I was unable to grasp the basic knowledge that I knew, and my family required more.” “I felt finally ready to work hard and request help.”
Although therapy and medication are two common options for treating anxiety, experts say Lauritzen made the first step by admitting that she was suffering from anxiety. Angela Neal Barnett is a Fellow at American Psychological Association. She is the author of “Labeling Anxiety” Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, and Fear. It gives us a starting point. “It gives us the opportunity to heal.”
Neal Barnett’s phrase “Naming the problem in order to tame it” can take place privately between patients and their therapists, or between spouses at work. This may be useful for close friends, family, and even when sharing one’s experiences on social media.
Andrew Selepak is a professor of social media at the University of Florida. He calls social media “a double-edged knife” in documenting stressors and anxieties. Selepak says that social media can be an area where anxiety may increase, people compare themselves to others’ best and self-doubt grows. Some research has shown that using social media can lead to negative consequences. Some users may experience anxiety and depression symptoms.
Selepak says that social media is a way for us to be informed and inspired by others and to feel empowered and able face our fears and anxieties, sometimes for the first.
Marques shared similar sentiments. “As human beings, we all need to belong. When we see another person expressing vulnerability in the same area where we may face emotional challenges, it is likely that we will feel connected and to understand them.
Lauritzen discovered firsthand how powerful sharing your “anxiety story” with others. She shared her journey, which she called it, to more than 1.2million followers on Instagram about the decision she made to get medical attention and to take medication for anxiety.
She and Brad, her husband, have gained popularity with various DIY home design tutorials and tips for decorating the home they posted to Their Faux Farmhouse’s Instagram account. Lauritzen started sharing her anxiety journey last year. She says, “So many people wanted me to share how I finally got help.” Once I was ready to share my story online, it became a joy. It was so therapeutic to share my journey with mental health.
Lauritzen claims that she realized quickly that many of her friends had anxiety problems of their own when she began sharing. She received a flood of “messages from camaraderie” in her email. These messages were all about how her sharing about anxiety made people want to share their mental health issues. She was touched by one of the messages that she received, especially since it was from another mom who had finally found the support she needed following Lauritzen’s openness about her anxiety. It stated that “for the first time in 25-years, I no longer experience anxiety daily.” I received help that saved my marriage, and it greatly enhanced my parenting skills. If you hadn’t shared your story, I wouldn’t have known that this feeling could exist.
Marques believes that speaking out about anxiety in the same way Lauritzen did can have a huge impact on people’s lives, and help to reduce stigmas around mental health. Neal-Barnett explained that anxiety talking can help reduce feelings of isolation, which is known to worsen symptoms. According to Neal-Barnett, anxiety patients often feel they are alone. We can feel supported by others when we share our stories with them.
Cindy Graham is a psychologist who founded Brighter Hope Wellness Center, Clarksville, Maryland. She explains how opening up to your fears can cause physiological reactions in the body. “It is also believed that expressing these concerns can be helpful in evaluating the validity of negative thoughts and feelings.”
Oversharing or public vulnerability can lead to new issues. This should be taken into consideration before posting online. Graham warns that it is important to know your vulnerability and be prepared to share them because not all public reactions will be positive. It is possible to be trolled and hated online, and sometimes even positive feedback about positive actions can outweigh the good intentions. She says that social media is a good place to manage your story, but it’s important to be open to others commenting on it.
Experts also advised that no one should share their mental health history or results without consulting a licensed professional.
Neal Barnett warns people not to be pressured to talk about the parts of their lives they don’t want to, but she believes there could be some advantages to sharing this information if it is done correctly. She says, “It’s your anxiety and story. The decision to share it is yours.” “Your story matters, but as you share, keep the words of Maya Angelou in the forefront of your mind: ‘It is ok to know everything, you just don’t have to share everything you know.’”
Selepak believes that social media can work for the good if used with care and consideration. He says that social media was created to connect people. Social media has the power to either help or hurt, regardless of whether someone is sharing their anxiety on Instagram or group members discussing common struggles via private Facebook groups.