Her name is Sienna and she wakes up feeling perfectly rested. She really needed a good night’s sleep because life is stressful. The dog walker is frequently late. Her hair straightener is on the blink. Her partner bought home spinach instead of kale. Thanks Andrew. Heaps. But, on the whole, life is grand.
But then she reaches for her smart phone. That’s when the butterflies begin. Her finger hesitates over the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram buttons. One click? Shall I just check them once? Should I update all three at once or just one at a time? Do I need to reply to customers messages right away, or will they forgive me being slack on a Sunday?
Oh and what if I have a negative comment about that less-than-flattering selfie I took of myself in the supermarket queue when I thought the light was right and I wanted my followers to see how cute my 1960s shift dress looked in Woolworths? What if somebody refers to me as mutton dressed as lamb – or worse – a tired old hag (trust me, it’s happened before and took two days to get over the emotional burden of being trolled on my own pages, says Sienna).
No! No way! It’s all too much! Sienna puts down her phone and throws the blankets over her head. Not yet! She just can’t face it. What can’t she face? Reading friends updates? Scrolling through endless cute photos of kitty-cats? Come on it’s not that difficult is it? Yet, for some, the daily task of having to regularly update multiple social media networks is causing a new wave of anxiety – let’s call it SMA – Social Media Anxiety.
This angst can range from feelings of nervousness, being daunted at the very thought of the task of uploading a new photo of your product/book/or God forbid a new selfie. I know this feeling well. As an author, I have two Twitter accounts, one for me, one for my latest book. If I let a day or two go past – that’s it. I’m too ‘scared’ to go back on. So I bury my head in the sand. I pretend Twitter doesn’t exist. Twitter what? I even set up an account for my son, who is dabbling in DJ work. But when I didn’t look at it for a week, I never looked again. Oh, the shame.
Karen Fischer is an author and nutritionist who claims sometimes SMA gets too much for her. Her solution? She banned herself from touching her screens one day a week; usually on the weekend.
“It’s virtually impossible to enforce this rule when I have deadlines, but the feeling of peace and relief when I do switch off is enormous,” said Karen. “Occasionally this just makes the anxiety worse. The longer you leave it, the more messages build up, and you worry that unless you post regularly enough, your business will look unprofessional. I recognise that social media is necessary when you’re trying to promote your business and your books, but I’m in the health business and I feel social media can be a hazard to my health!
Ryan, who runs his own IT small business, is so anxious about social media that his SMA has infested itself in the rarest of forms – he has NO social media. Is he stressed about this? Yes. His competitors are on social media. His wife and children are on social media. His staff are on social media. Perhaps they are writing bad things about him? He will never know. He must know! Knowledge is power, right?
Neriah, who runs a successful home-hairdressing business, also suffers from SMA. Her SMA is so severe, she has therapy. But, such is her addiction to social media, she would prefer to take prescription anxiety medication than do the simplest thing of all – go offline.
Worst of all, Neriah is a closet SMA sufferer. The only people who know about her SMA is her therapist and a close circle of sympathetic friends.
“I’m aware it sounds ridiculous but SMA is very real for me. I mean, as I’m talking to you I’m seriously stressing out about my Instagram feed because if I don’t post at around midday and then again at 3pm every day, people will unfollow me and I need to reach 2,000 likes by August and, sorry I’ve can’t talk!”
In terms of keeping your SMA under control, short of taking anxiety pills, perhaps we all need to give ourselves a 24 hour social media famine. Like anything we abstain from, sometimes it makes you realise how unimportant it really is. Like hair straighteners, dog walkers and kale.
LJ Charleston is a Sydney-based journalist and author of The Mommy Mafia: the urban dictionary of mothers, and Fatal Females. She has three sons; she will love them until the Sydney Opera House sails away.