Have you ever commented, “Same”, under one of the many extremely identifiable memes on Instagram that satirize the social inadequacies that seem to mark this current generation of socialites? Those memes that make fun of the unconventional nervousness we get in social settings, how even the simplest of tasks become extremely difficult to do due to crippling social anxiety and depression. Why do so many people, particularly those of the current generation, relate to this so much?
I did some hands on research and spoke with various individuals from ages 18-25 on the matter. In speaking with many of my contemporaries, I find that many of them diagnose themselves with “Social Anxiety”. I was surprised at how many of them, like me, have a hard time just ordering food at a restaurant.
I took my research to the internet and social media, and found a lot of the same thing on a broader scale: Millennials don’t like socially obligatory situations. The anxiety that they claimed came from social settings manifested itself with one or a combination of symptoms that include: increased heart rate, scattered thoughts, sweaty palms, difficulty breathing, the feeling of panic, feelings of depression, and loss of orientation. These and other feelings of emotional discomfort were activated whenever the individual found themselves interacting with others, usually strangers, in usually newer or unfamiliar environments.
Once again, this research wasn’t done with just some focus group, this was all found amongst most individuals within the said age group. Even if you don’t view me or my findings as a reliable source of information which, trust me, is completely understandable, you can do the research yourself and see just how many generation x-ers claim to have social anxiety. I’d put up some fancy statistical number, but that’s not what this article is trying to establish (you can also do statistical research on your own, don’t take my word for it). The question is: Has this always been the case amongst individuals in their twenties? Is it a part of growing up? Does it even have to do with age? Why does this seem to be an unspoken epidemic in modern culture?
I did more social research by way of interviewing individuals who were 50+ years in age. I explained to them the kind of anxiety and discomfort experienced by many young adults just from “awkward” or pressing social interactions. All of their responses were the same: The thought was completely foreign to them. One gentleman, in his mid 50s, expressed that even though he and a few of his contemporaries were bullied as a early teens, standing up to social challenges like that were the norm of his day. The majority were very outspoken and took a lot of initiative regarding their social issues, so it wasn’t uncommon for individuals to obligate themselves to overcome social challenges. Another man in his early 80s, expressed that, with the exception of a few mistakes that are common for a young man, his twenties were the prime of his social life, and that there didn’t seem to be such a thing as “social anxiety”. At that time, a little over 60 years ago, men of that age knew and went after whatever they wanted, and didn’t care think about what anybody else thought. All of the seniors that I had spoken with on the matter expressed that social functions when they were coming up were never hindering or nerve-racking, but were actually quite emotionally refreshing, as they should be.
What’s the difference? Well interestingly, the legal definition of the clinical condition “Social Anxiety”, is essentially “…the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, [and]… the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to [avoidance], feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.” From what I’ve evaluated from my social research, men and women from earlier eras, although still competitive in nature, faced less feelings of inadequacy due to giving less concern and emotional energy to the fear of being judged by others. That’s because they didn’t view social interactions as a means to fear or to force a perception of themselves, but rather, just as it was, as a way to get to associate and build relationships with respective established circles of friends, and to expand said social circle by getting to know new people.
True, there have always been show-offs and people who use social gatherings as an opportunity to make themselves look good, but this comes from an abundance of confidence in one’s self. Whereas, feeling the need to impress others, to measure up to some social standard for fear of being judged, comes from a lack of confidence amongst other emotional deficiencies. Why the change in emotional fortitude over the decades?
Here I go again, attacking social media. Before I get into the psychological sciences of the matter, allow me to justify my constant scrutiny of social media outlets by first establishing how beneficial and socially expanding they can be. By means of these outlets, we can connect with people we never thought we’d be able to just 20 years ago.
On the flip side, social media has notoriously become a platform by which we, as was mentioned earlier, force a perception of ourselves. We know that person who craft and tailor their image on social media so that they reflect a certain persona of who they want to be or who they want be people to see them as. At the same time, it is also responsible for perpetuating and spreading standards of cool and lame, and beautiful and ugly. Having these standards so prevalent in modern society makes it exponentially harder for young adults to develop their own identity, as most of them are always looking at an asserted “higher” standard or status.
Pickup lines, eyebrows, jaw lines, over confidence, six packs, big butts, physical talents; we see these qualities and facets of people that seem to be perfected by individuals on social media, or satirized by comedic means if one does not “perfect” them, and we can’t help but put ourselves next to these standards as reference points. Suddenly, you look in the mirror and all you see is double chin, or flat butt, or boring personality, and you project this on to others, assuming every one is judging you for what you lack or what you have too much of, and now you’re a socially anxious person assuming the world is harshly superficial.
Once again, I’m not saying social media is necessarily to “blame” for this, we can’t blame everything on Twitter or Instagram. And of course I’m not saying that anything has to stop on those fronts; society is always changing and the way things are now are the way they are. However, on a positive note, I would recommend remembering that social media shouldn’t be a representation of who you should be or who is popularly accepted socially. You are who you are, and if there is a quality you want to improve within yourself, do it for yourself, not because it gets you closer to being somebody else. And most importantly, try your best enjoy social media and any social interaction for what it’s purposed for: Your pleasure and happiness, not for you to feel judged or inadequate.