What It's Like to Have Social Anxiety As an Instagram Influencer
An LA-based yoga instructor gets real about staying sane when social media is your job.
At first glance, you'd never guess that Jenay Rose, a yoga and meditation teacher, suffers from social anxiety. On her Instagram account, she frequently shares her life in sunny LA, giving yoga and wellness advice and inspiration to her 70,000+ followers.
But sharing these snippets about herself wasn't always easy. In fact, because of her social anxiety, Rose was completely terrified when she first started her account about three years ago. "I would stress out about what photo to post, what to say in the caption, what time to post, and then once I finally posted something, my heart would race," Rose recalls. "I was living in fear of what other people thought."
Sound familiar? It might. After all, many people get shy around new people, or worry about being judged by others. That's normal! But for Rose-and the 15 million other adults who deal with social anxiety-those feelings can be paralyzing.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, social anxiety is an intense fear of being judged, negatively evaluated, or rejected in a social or performance situation. It's much more than just feeling shy or nervous, and people often avoid social situations entirely to avoid these uncomfortable feelings. (Here's how to tell if it's temporary anxiety or an anxiety disorder.)
Living with Social Anxiety
Rose has struggled with anxiety her entire life, although she was only able to label her feelings as such just a few years ago. "As a young adult, I always felt intelligent, but I could never communicate in an appropriate way, and that led to a lot of self-doubt, self-loathing, and depression." She also struggled to make friends. Like a chameleon, she'd take on other people's traits in hopes of being accepted-acting like anyone but herself.
Trauma also affected her mental health. In her last year of high school, Rose had to drop out to become her father's primary caretaker as he underwent chemo treatments for throat cancer. "I remember feeling like a robot," she recalls. "I never really processed what the heck had happened or how traumatic these events were for me." It also led her to experiment with drugs and stimulants for the next several years, even as she entered college.
After graduating from USC, Rose says she had trouble keeping a job. "I really had no direction, and the fear of failure took over," she says. "My anxiety made me a people-pleaser, so I'd do anything I thought everyone else wanted me to do." But living that way just made her even more miserable.
Following a series of jobs and numerous breakdowns, Rose discovered yoga, which became her lifeline. (Did you know there are specific yoga poses that can help with anxiety?) She originally turned to Instagram as a way to track her progress, which led to another lucky turn. The social media platform also helped her connect with other people-something she'd always had trouble with. "If you can use social media for what it is at its core-a tool to connect with people across the world-you can find a lot of inspiration and creativity from like-minded people," she says.
Over time, Rose's 'grams became more personal, and so did her words. "This built my confidence, allowing me to start peeling away the layers of who I was, who I wanted to be, and how I could express myself," she says. Once she gained confidence, she started developing her own voice.
"My journey went from self-loathing to self-love over the course of yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and now fitness," she explains. Because mindfulness and yoga have helped her cope, she wanted to use her platform to share the tools that work for her, in hopes of helping others work through their own mental health issues.
Looking back, Rose sees her anxiety as a blessing in disguise. "I feel like all this time my anxiety has just been a challenge covering my gifts," she says. "I had to experience this journey of incredible struggle and doubts-and fall into a deep pit-so that I could climb back out with an authentic message." (See: How to Overcome Social Anxiety)
The Dark Side of Social
As you may guess, social networks aren't always such a positive place for those with social anxiety, like Rose. After all, anxiety doesn't end once you reach "influencer" status-even if you're a yoga and meditation teacher. "When you deal with something like social anxiety, you develop the habit of constantly questioning yourself," she explains. "When posting content, I often get this little voice of doubt (I call it 'ego') in my head that says, 'Is my content good enough?' or 'Does anyone even care?'"
For her, this constant judgment-both of herself and of others-has been the most harmful aspect of social media. "It's so easy to fall into this place of judging someone else based on a small image in a tiny box," she explains. "But when we do this, we allow our ego and our shadow self (or shallow self) to come to the forefront of our consciousness, lowering our energy, and bringing toxic, negative thoughts into our mind. The only person this really hurts is us." (Related: Can Reiki Help with Anxiety?)
Judgment also comes from within. "After a year of posting fairly consistently, I found myself stressing endlessly about what to post, why my practice wasn't advanced enough, how I wasn't like that person or this person, how I wish I had more followers," says Rose.
Then she got a wake-up call: She pulled a back muscle trying to get into a yoga pose that would look great on camera, just to keep up with people who were more experienced or flexible than she was. "That was a huge awakening for me, so I stopped posting yoga postures altogether, and moved more into lifestyle images," she says. Likes aside, she says they more accurately represent her true life and her practice.
Staying the Course
While Rose still experiences anxiety, she says she's more aware of it and has developed a toolbox of ways to deal with it. "When it hits, I can almost immediately see it in ways I never could before. My shoulders crawl up towards my ears, my jaw tightens and locks," she says. That's her signal to turn to one of her calming tools. Sometimes, she'll do a breathing exercise by closing her eyes, taking long, smooth inhales, and slow, steady exhales. If she has time, she'll change her scenery, get away from the screen, and walk outside. Otherwise, she may repeat an affirmation or mantra. (Here are 20 other techniques for reducing stress and anxiety.)
Rose also works on cultivating more positive thoughts to counteract the negative thoughts. "If the thought comes up, 'OMG, I have nothing to post today and I haven't posted in 24 hours,' or 'Why am I losing followers? Do people hate me?' I replace it with the exact opposite thought," she explains. "So, these thoughts respectively become: 'I'm so grateful to my Insta-fam for their support, and I'm excited to share a new shot!' or simply, 'I am enough. I am enough. I am enough.'" (A worry journal can help reduce anxiety too.)
She finds it helps to share her struggles with her followers, hoping that her experiences can help other people dealing with their own issues. "If I can help one scared young woman (or man) feel a little more confident in who he or she is, stronger in what she's going through, or feel supported by my platform, it is all worthwhile in my opinion," she says.
That's not to say she's got it all under control. "You'd think after 72K followers, I'd have it all figured out," she says. "But I don't, and that's okay with me."
To continue to make an impact and to avoid the pressures of social media, Rose says she tries to focus on staying present and connecting with people above all else. "Instagram is a place to reach people, and that's what keeps me grounded, centered, focused, and sane," she says. "I remind myself that I'm not in a race with anyone but myself, and someone else's success is not my failure. If I am truly coming from a place of giving and service, my light will shine."