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Social media anxiety

Today I want to share practical advice on how to manage social media in order to reduce anxiety that you feel about it. I simply want you to feel empowered and intentional about social media, as opposed to overwhelmed and lost in a sea of chaos. At best, it should feel meaningful and fulfilling.

I’ll be clear:

  • Use social media in a way that feels right to you. If you are happy with how you use social media, ignore this post. You do you. I am 100% behind that!
  • There is no one “right way” to use social media. The tips I share in this post are prompts that you may want to try out if you feel stuck. If you disagree with anything I say here, that’s fine.

Let’s dig in…

How Social Media Triggers You

What is a trigger? I would describe it as an immediate and visceral reaction to something. That thing may annoy you, or it could set off a negative memory.

In the past several months, I have seen many people take a break from social media. Sometimes they announce this, sometimes they close their accounts entirely, sometimes they simply disappear. You may see them pop back up a day or a week or a month later. Many others have expressed frustration to me in what they see when they browse social media, and confusion in terms of how they should use it themselves.

Why is this? Because so many people are trying to cope with a changing world, and find those changes shoved into their face like a fire hose when they log in to social media. For some, they see upsetting post after upsetting post. For others, they question their own responsibility as to how to best “use their voice” in social media. Do they share their opinions on certain topics? Does that help? If they don’t, is their silence a statement in its own right?

Now, I work with creative professionals. So for most of these people, they are not simply concerned as to how they should use social media, they are concerned about hwo they can have a public presence as an author or artist. This can be anxiety-inducing in other ways. They simply don’t know how to engage others around their creative work: their book, art, music, photography or other projects.

For them, a trigger could be that they keep posting status updates which fall on deaf ears. After awhile, they begin to wonder if their voice even matters.

The rest of this post focuses on specific ways to feel more empowered about social media, with less anxiety.

Go Deeper Than Everyone Else

When it seems that the world if filled with (sometimes) flippant, moment-by-moment status updates, do the opposite:

  • Go deep on a certain topic.
  • Go deep with your connection to a single person.

This is part of why podcasts have seen such a renaissance in the past couple of years. They are filled with long conversations that explore topics deeply.

For how you connect with others, instead of focusing on increasing the quantity of who you connect with: how many followers you have or how many likes a post receives, instead focus on truly making someone’s day. How can you bring joy into someone’s life in how you use social media?

Optimize for joy.

Be More Intentional

Many people feel lost on social media because they focus too much on reacting to what others share. They first consider social media each day by reading four dozen status updates. By that point, they are triggered, and can only view their own use of social media as a reaction to what others have shared.

If this is the case for you, consider how you can be more intentional with social media. How you can consider what you share not as a reaction to something else, but from sharing something deep within you.

This is partly why I got rid of my TV set more than a decade ago. It wasn’t that I didn’t like some shows, it was that having the TV in my home became an overwhelming physical presence, and a source of constant background chatter. My days were spent reacting to what came from it.

When the TV was removed, my days were more intentional. Even today, I will watch TV shows via various online streaming services, but doing so is 100% intentional. I watch the shows I want when I want.

Choose what you let into your life and the manner in which you let it in. For social media, this allows you to engage with it with a sense of control. It also allows you to take a less binary approach to it, of either deleting a social media account, or feeling constantly triggered by it.

When you are more intentional, it allows you to play the long game with social media. Meaning that it provides a structure to use it in a way that is positive over the long haul.

Focus on Your Message

You get to decide what you talk about, and how you talk about those topics. What is the focus of your creative work? What effect do you hope it has on others? How can you use social media not to simply promote your work, but instead spread the deeper themes that your work focuses on?

Instead of being part of an echo chamber talking about the same topics as everyone else, why not decide what you feel is important and use social media to share that?

When I first started my blog back in 2006, many of my posts were reactive to headlines. This felt validating because people would link to my posts since I talked about the news of the day. But after awhile, I realized I was competing in the same rat race as thousands of others each day. That my relevance lasted for a brief moment when that news item was new, and then it diminished in importance.

So I switched my blog to focus on the messages I wanted to see discussed more. The posts became deeper and less reactive. And that changed everything.

Celebrate the Connections You Make, Not the Metrics You Miss.

I have heard many creative professionals express frustration that when they share something on social media, no one hears it. I’ve heard it expressed as, “It’s as if I am in a crowded room, but don’t have a microphone.”

Personally, I think that is good. If you are in a crowded room, you shouldn’t have a microphone. Your voice should not magically drown out that of others, prevent people from connecting with each other, and ensure your voice is universally heard. You need to earn that, and oftentimes it is more effective when you do it one person at a time. Just because social media could potentially reach dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people at a time, that doesn’t mean it should.

If you are frustrated that you are sharing status updates and no one seems to react to them, perhaps you should change your expectations of what a single update can do. In other words: social media is not about metrics, it is about connecting with other human beings. The word “social” is the more important part of the phrase “social media.”

This is a Process, not a Secret Formula

There is no perfect system for managing social media. Some days you will feel one way; other days, you will feel something different. Your mood and attitude will evolve.

I’m not trying to give you some perfect social media system, because anyone who does is lying to you. This needs to be personalized to you and fluid because you are a multifaceted human being.

How do people who are wonderful at social media do it? By persevering through the difficult stuff. By sticking with it when they are scared or confused. By trying new things when things seem staid. By focusing on the people they connect with, not the technology of social media.

Find the process that works for you. If you feel good about it, then stick with it.

Create a Support System to Address Anxiety, Mental Health, and Depression

The lives of creative professionals are filled with risk. First, they are juggling many things: a day job, kids, health, community responsibilities, a home, relationships, finances, and so much else. On top of this, they are digging deep within themselves to craft their creative work, and then making that public, exposing themselves for judgement.

Anxiety is something many of them juggle every day. Some face true depression. Regardless: I think we need to be open that addressing mental health.

This is partly why I run a mastermind group for creative professionals. Because it helps to have a a group of colleagues to validate the complexity of what it means to do creative work; and to be able to get support from them when needed. This is actually why I switched from offering courses to focusing solely on the mastermind and consulting. When you focus on close collaboration, a sense of trust develops that is as valuable — if not more — than information you glean in the text or videos of a course. In my experience, that sense of trust and camaraderie is more rare.

Some people who read this will be turned off by it because it seems touchy-feely. They may feel that if we admit to experiencing anxiety or depression, that it is a sign of weakness.

But I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to encourage you to talk about it in the places and with people where you feel safe.

I’m no expert, but in my experience in working closely with hundreds of creative professionals, I would encourage you to:

  1. Identify the challenges you face which leads to anxiety.
  2. Create a support system to address it. Not solve it, because anxiety isn’t something you can simply “solve.” Instead, creating a system is meant to help reduce anxiety somewhat, and then help address it when it comes up.

The first step? Have a conversation with someone about any anxiety you face each day. The second step is to take action to address it, not simply use that conversation to “vent,” but then trap yourself in the same anxiety producing behavior day after day.

Next steps

This is a topic I dig into in a huge way in my upcoming book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. If anything I said here interests you, I would encourage you to check out the book. Thanks!

-Dan

  • Feeling the power of this post, Dan. Been there: felt the SM anxiety to the point where I’m sure it was making me physically–and mentally–ill. With your help, and what I learned in your incredible courses, I’ve conquered my fear and built a highly supportive team. Even better, I’ve learned how to identify the “triggers” and to either address or avoid the ensuing behaviors. As a fledgling author, I realize that maintaining my mental health by controlling how I work with social media is critical to my overall well being. Thanks for this one, and I look forward to reading your book.

    • Wow — thank you so much Mary! So nice to hear about your personal journey with this. And I (as always), appreciate your support.
      -Dan

  • Such a pertinent post, as always, Dan! I felt as if you had read some of my recent Facebook updates as I dove into your very well-thought-out analysis of social media. You pinpointed many layers of the onion that I myself had not quite been able to articulate to others as to my periodic absence from social media.

    For me, social media is more of a burden than a joy overall. I don’t mean to sound negative, but I have found that – like you said – more and more people are using it as a dumping grounds to say whatever they want (which they’re entitled to do), but there’s so much toxicity, uncertainty, and even aggression and volatility out there. It really drags me down.

    Then there was a major issue – a misunderstanding – that happened to me via Facebook. In the end, I made the attempt to remedy the misunderstanding, but the other person was entirely closed to discussing anything and completely dropped me like a hot potato.

    At that point, I had to step back and reevaluate my reasons for using social media. I realized that, all along, I have been intentional about what I post – being careful not to write anything personal against another, never naming people or blaming anyone. I have been honest on social media if something particularly tough has come along, because I really strive for authenticity, but overall, I realized that most of what I post is to inspire and encourage others in this sea, this mess of negativity.

    I had a few people validate that, which surprised me, when I announced that I was considering taking a hiatus from social media for a while. Several people independently of each other said, “I really hope you don’t stay off forever, because I don’t get on social media often. But when I do, I check your page, because you nourish my soul.” WOW.

    So now I am working on “optimizing joy,” as you say. I think the world needs more of that, anyway, rather than the doom-and-gloom message we are getting. Thank you for this very focused and intentional post, Dan! Very encouraging and spot on.

    • Wow — thank you so much! Sorry to hear you had that experience with the misunderstanding. That can be so incredibly difficult. Nice to see you are continuing to explore social media despite this.

      Loved what you shared here — THANKS!
      -Dan