How to Understand the Link Between Social Anxiety and Communication Technology

Technology Through the Years 

A few decades ago, communication was relatively straightforward. If you wanted to speak with someone, you would either call their home’s landline or drive to go visit them in person. 

Over time, your options expanded as cell phones and personal computers became increasingly popular and more available to the public. 

It was arguably not until very recent years, however, that communicating digitally became the go-to method. Advancements in technology have made texting, Skyping, emailing, commenting, liking, and posting our primary ways of “speaking” to each other.

With a wide range of digital devices, programs, and apps available to all of us with only the push of a button, there is no need to leave our homes—or even our couches—to communicate with people all over the world.

Social Anxiety and Communication Technology

Because we now have so much modern technology available, many of us have come to rely far too heavily on our devices to communicate with others. We are creatures of habit, and the more we turn to our digital worlds, the more easily we can turn from our actual one. 

In order to understand how this affects our behaviors, we must understand social anxiety as a concept. 

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety is a mental health condition characterized by extreme fear, embarrassment, and self-consciousness during social situations. Social anxiety is much more extreme than shyness. Someone suffering from social anxiety will feel irrational anxiety when faced with social interactions. 

People who struggle with social anxiety are not able to healthily interact with their peers and others. Social anxiety can be so overwhelming that people choose to avoid all types of social interactions in order to avoid perceived judgment, rejection, or humiliation. 

Social anxiety grows with cyclical avoidance. For example, if someone with social anxiety is invited to a party, they will likely decline the invitation and avoid the party. This avoidance is a defense mechanism to protect themselves from any potential negative outcomes.

The avoidance and the lack of a negative outcome reinforce to the socially anxious individual that avoiding is the best coping mechanism. The more this person avoids future parties, the more anxiety they will feel if they eventually do have to attend a party. 

How are social anxiety and communication technology linked?

Social anxiety and communication technology are heavily linked. Communication technologies such as social media and video chatting provide a way for the socially anxious to communicate safely. Communicating on their own terms means never having to interact face-to-face. 

Just as with the example of the party, a socially anxious person who regularly uses communication technology will grow more comfortable with that technology and come to rely on it in the future.

This communication technology reduces anxiety in the short-term, which is helpful for a time. The usage, however, actually further perpetuates a fear of social interactions over the long run. 

The less we use basic face-to-face communication skills such as smiling, making eye contact, shaking hands, actively listening, and even simply being in the same room as other people, the less comfortable we become with these skills. This means that we will feel increased anxiety the next time we are asked to use them.

The bottom line? Social anxiety increases as communication technology usage increases. 

Seeking Professional Help

If you struggle with social anxiety, you are not alone. Many people of all different ages are struggling to maintain their in-person communication abilities in our increasingly digital world. If the struggle seems too much to bear, anxiety counseling may be able to help. 

Professional anxiety counselors work with clients to decrease feelings of fear, nervousness, and uneasiness in social situations. Anxiety counseling takes time and practice, but the results are well worth the investment.