Overcoming Anxiety to Find the Courage to Be Yourself



“Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come.” - Healthline. Anxiety disorders are medical conditions that are characteristic of overwhelming nervousness, worry and fear that is chronic, sustained, and can grow progressively worse. The 6 most common anxiety disorders are Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder.


Social anxiety disorder can show up in different types of social situations and my experience in dealing with social anxiety was specifically online, unknowingly buried beneath childhood experiences of excessive self-consciousness. Dealing with social anxiety made me feel like something was wrong with me, a few years ago I didn't understand what anxiety was. I was so sensitive to my online experience (overthinking, pressure for perfection etc.), I saw it as a reflection of my true self, my sense of self worth - a mental illusion.


Social anxiety can manifest as self critical analysis/ self-criticism, inhibition, self consciousness, a need for external validation, approval seeking, shyness, fear of situations in which you may be judged and an inferiority complex.



Being anxious online caused me to want to neglect parts of myself because I tried to assimilate to certain social norms in pursuit of acceptance and fitting in. A coping mechanism I had created in my earlier years. I also faced fears of being misunderstood and judged, fears which reflected my nomadic childhood where receiving acceptance in ever-changing new environments gave me a sense of belonging. And according to Psychology Today, “a sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter.”


When I got more clarity in terms of the root causes of my online anxieties - and how they mostly stemmed from a need to "fit in" which both reflected and created a lack of self-acceptance - my journey of healing accelerated.

When we come into the world our love and acceptance of ourselves, our truth is pure and unfiltered, but as conditioning from parents or society starts to influence us, we can disconnect from our inner truths. In my earliest schooling years I had developed a deep longing for belonging whilst simultaneously feeling like I didn't belong. When I got older and started to compare my path to others’ highlight-reels I forgot my truth and the value of being different, I was reliving the experience of my younger self who needed belonging; thus discarded parts of myself to fit in with the status quo and misaligned with my core.


Very Well Mind states that social anxiety is caused by genetic predisposition, childhood experiences, environment, societal influences and brain structure or biology, thus it is important to understand that social anxiety disorders stem from unaddressed emotions or traumas stemming from the aforementioned.




Ego as a Fuel to Social Anxiety

“Your ego is your conscious mind, the part of your identity that you consider your ‘self’”. - Vocabulary.com

One can have an inflated sense of self or deflated sense of self, depending on your self-concept/ sense of identity. And one of the ego’s many tactics of self-preservation is comparison. This comparison is grounded in competition and judgement. The ego sees some as superior and others as inferior than it.

Additionally, the ego’s need for more is what causes us to be anxious. The more external things we have to validate our existence; career, success, material possessions, likes, followers etc. then we’ll be happy, then we’ll feel like we are enough but the ego never feels enough.



You are Not Alone

The pressure to present our best selves and to create this idea of a ‘utopian lifestyle’ can make anyone who’s going through something real and challenging feel isolated or prone to judgement because of the online culture of curating and showing our highlight reels and the parts of ourselves we deem “worthy” enough to share. This way of being can make one feel unworthy, create unrealistic ideals or cause low self-esteem due to not fitting the mould of a “perfect” or “insta worthy” lifestyle, career, physical appearance etc. for digital consumption or sharing.

The truth is life is complex and layered and everyone goes through challenging and “insta unworthy” times, however normalising sharing real moments (challenging or not) might take some time, since there are people who thrive on the pains, losses, shortcomings and challenges of others because of whatever traumas or painful experiences they personally haven't dealt with.

With the myriad of challenges we are facing globally and in African countries, individually and collectively, it's no wonder that anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health or neurodevelopmental disorder, with an estimated 275 million or 4% of the global population who suffer from anxiety disorders and according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in South Africa, 1 in 5 South Africans are affected each year.” And according the World Health Organization, globally more than 264 million people suffer from depression.

If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder or depression it's important to know that you are not alone and you should not fear the stigma attached to mental illness, especially in black communities, instead try to seek support, both formally (e.g. psychologists or therapists) and informally (e.g. family and friends).







Your Self Image

Social media is not real life, only an infinitesimal facet, but when you are experiencing anxiety, perhaps stemming from comparison or fear of being judged, this can reinforce a negative self image that can spill over into your real life. Technology is dangerous where it touches on our weaknesses. However, when you are able to develop a self image that is authentic to you, you forgo the need to compare or assimilate to the “perfect” highlight reels of some of the most visible people online, your motivations change and your experience of social media can change too. And most importantly you can learn to love yourself inspite of how others see you. This starts with self-awareness and the awareness of the triggers of your own anxieties.

In Maxwell Maltz's book, Psycho-cybernetics, he says, "stop measuring yourself against "their" standards, you are not them and can never measure up, and neither can they measure up to yours - nor should they. Once you see this simple self evident truth, accept it and believe it, your inferior feelings will vanish."





Being aware of my own triggers and root causes has allowed me a deep sense of healing, and a feeling of being deeply connected to my authentic truth, I can recognise when an individual’s curated “content” is misaligned or aligned to my own vision of my highest, truest and deepest self and the unique aspirations I have for my life as well as my day-to-day personal experiences. And I think if we all become aware of our triggers and root causes, it's how we can start to use these platforms in a way that is true to us and fulfilling for each of us.

It's important to also recognize that your self-worth is much greater than how your life looks on social media, your worth is not determined by any of the things we measure, rather it is immeasurable because your existence is in itself a miracle and you are much greater than you could ever even comprehend.


Credits:

Photography: Shannon Daniels

Writing and Concept: Phendu Kuta

Clothing: Viviers

Hat: Studio Lennie


Additional Information:

The 7 Best Online Anxiety Support Groups of 2020

Global Mental Health Websites

Therapist Directory (South Africa)


References

Goalcast. n.d. 6 Ways Your Ego Deceives You -- And How To Beat It By Revealing Them. [online] Available at: <https://www.goalcast.com/2019/05/21/ways-your-ego-deceives-you-how-to-beat-it-by-revealing-them/> [Accessed 16 March 2020].


Healthline. n.d. Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And More. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety#disorders> [Accessed 16 March 2020].


Maltz, M., 1960, Psycho-Cybernetics.


Sadag.org. n.d. South African Depression And Anxiety Group. [online] Available at: <http://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=577:south-africa-a-heaven-for-anxiety-disorders&catid=78&Itemid=161> [Accessed 16 March 2020].


Sadag.org. n.d. South African Depression And Anxiety Group. [online] Available at: <http://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=577:south-africa-a-heaven-for-anxiety-disorders&catid=78&Itemid=161> [Accessed 16 March 2020].


Verily. n.d. Social Media And The Wound Of Anonymity. [online] Available at: <https://verilymag.com/2019/08/social-media-and-the-wound-of-anonymity> [Accessed 16 March 2020].


Verywell Mind. n.d. Understanding The Causes Of Social Anxiety Disorder. [online] Available at: <https://www.verywellmind.com/social-anxiety-disorder-causes-3024749> [Accessed 16 March 2020].


Who.int. n.d. Depression. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression> [Accessed 16 March 2020].


World Economic Forum. n.d. This Is The World's Biggest Mental Health Problem - And You Might Not Have Heard Of It. [online] Available at: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/01/this-is-the-worlds-biggest-mental-health-problem/> [Accessed 16 March 2020].