Existential TherapyMental HealthSocial Media and Anxiety: From an Existential lens

I am reminded of a time when news from around the world would reach us once in 24 hours. When magazines for entertainment/ creativity would reach us fortnightly. When movies could only be watched at the time a TV channel aired it. When we would wait for months/ years for a play/ band to come to our city for a show.

I am reminded of a time when we would have to meet with, or actually pick up and the phone and CALL our family & friends to know how they were and what was happening in their life. When we could see their recent pictures only when they brought out a photo album over a cup of tea or a meal. When we would know about their whereabouts and travel stories on receiving a postcard.

By no way, am I upset with the presence of social media and all of the aforesaid (and much more) happening within seconds. But I am (and so are you) deeply affected by a humongous amount of content being available within seconds, on the devices glued to our hands and screens to our eyes.

We do not want to be controlled by notifications (or the lack of them) but invariably, we are compelled to constantly know what is happening in the world. This post is not to highlight the ill effects on your mental and physical health because of technological anxiety (feel free to ask your medical/ mental health professional or read more on that). This post is to highlight, from an existential counseling/ psychotherapy lens, on why this is happening and what you can do about it.

Humans have an innate desire for connection and to feel related. The fear of missing out (FoMO) is driven by the same desire.

In words of Dr. Yalom, “No matter how close each of us becomes to another, there remains a final unbridgeable gap”.

Sometimes to bridge this gap, we do things out of fear, instead of willingness to grow. To deal with our fear of isolation, or not wanting to be lonely, we resort to quick (and sometimes maladaptive behaviours) like being in relationships that are not fulfilling, constantly searching for love, being a part of a large group etc. Compulsively checking social media can be one of them. Feeling anxious about isolation can lead us to develop bonds- irrespective of how healthy they may be.

These connections are not based on growth, but as a quick fix to calm the anxieties within us. They are based on survival, not on meaning and purpose. These are measures taken out of desperation, not on intention. The feelings are temporary, not long lasting.

To be more aware, feel free to watch ‘The Social Dilemma’ and ‘Nosedive’ (Black Mirror) on Netflix. There are multiple research papers and documentaries available on YouTube.

To understand what you can do if you engage with social media compulsively, sit with yourself and define your intentions and bandwidth. Below are some questions you can answer for yourself. We are all unique and so are our capacities regarding the type & amount of content we take in. Try to understand what kind of a relationship you would like with social media.


Exploration Prompts:

  • What type of relationships do you prefer in your life?
  • How do you usually cope with isolation?
  • Do you like to spend time with yourself?
  • Do you visit social media because you want to?
  • Do you sense a fear of missing out for yourself?
  • Why/ how do you like to connect with people?
  • What is your intention in relationships?
  • What are some alternatives to social media?
  • The idea is to be more self aware, build healthy and authentic relationships and address your isolation more meaningfully.

Spend time with yourself, know more about your desires, fears, goals and be more intentional about where and how you spend your time.

Your smart phone and other mobile applications may have options to keep a check on your screen time.

Feel free to turn on these alarms and notifications if you think that would help.


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