The number of people suffering from agoraphobia is on the rise, and blame lies on the shoulders of society’s increasing use of social media, according to a psychotherapist.
“Social media was created to connect people and help them to enhance their social interactions with others. The reality is that social media has become a highly dangerous activity and as such, is socially limiting,” said psychotherapist and author Pauline McKinnon.
“So many people can be bullied, shamed and criticised on social media simply for making a comment or posting something that leaves them open to rejection. The impact on many can be really severe and yet this powerful downside of social media isn't being fully grasped or thoroughly addressed.”
Social phobia is perhaps the most common mental health challenge, developing from judgment and criticism, she continued, noting that fear grows from fear and so we are potentially facing an epidemic of agoraphobic people as a result.
“In my practice, where I assist people dealing with a range of such challenges – depression, anxiety, phobias, etc. I am seeing a lot more people present with issues associated with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is social phobia to the extreme – the overwhelming practice of avoidance of people and places, driven by fear,” she mused.
“It’s not difficult to see that social media powerfully contributes to such problems. When people are afraid – ‘scared’ of being judged online, this fear translates into their physical life as well.”
Research indicates that many phobias, including social phobia, begin with emotional pain, she said. And this pain is formed at any time of life and lived with until personal insecurity is heightened by extraordinary stress, loss, grief or trauma. Whatever the cause, she reflected, something in a person’s life raises anxiety to the point where the body begins to generate alarming reactions of panic and a sense of losing control within the mind.
“When this happens, they withdraw from social interaction with others, for fear of somehow ‘falling apart’ leading to further judgement, criticism and rejection,” Ms McKinnon said.
“To preserve security and for personal protection, avoidance then becomes a way of life for many people. The issue here is that the more a person avoids contact with others, the more the tentacles of fear spread to other objects or situations.”
These can include fear of any social gathering, eating in front of others, writing or signing one’s name in view of another, crowded places, expressing oneself and being in public view.
“As fear gains strength, personal power diminishes and negative beliefs increase as fear invades whole of life situations: a claustrophobic fear of flying, or using elevators or public rest rooms, fear of being alone, fear of new places, and more, which then escalates into full-blown panic and potentially the agoraphobic reaction, the most lonely and life-limiting reaction of all,” she advised.
“I have seen this pattern time and again since I explored fear following my own experience of agoraphobia many years ago. And I emphasise again – anxiety as a mental illness begins as the fear of losing personal control.”
Social anxiety and social phobia have always existed; however, combined with 21st century pressures and the increased use of social media, it has increased significantly, she noted.
“It is little wonder we are now seeing excessive levels of anxiety within the community, more and more incidences of depression, increased mental illness and high statistics surrounding the frequency of suicide,” she said.
“While I can help people in my practice to address and resolve issues involving agoraphobia, the only way to really deal with it, is to reduce the opportunity for it to develop. We need to reduce our time on social media, limit our connections to only those people we know and love or like, block advertisements and avoid engaging online where others we don't know can access our content.”
“Social media for many is highly negative and it is having a negative effect on many people's lives. It’s time we talked about it.”