If you’re on social media, you know “slacktivists” – people who talk and rant about politics, but never seem to get off the couch and into the street (or at least on the phone with their representatives). They share article after article, but are never at the march, never at the town hall, and while they may share a petition here or there, they’re usually not at the delivery.
If they’re so passionate, why not? Some may see it as laziness, and others as a trick new media plays on our minds – giving us the feeling of accomplishing something when we really don’t. But there’s another reason lurking behind the computer screen – social anxiety.
Social anxiety is the third-highest occurring mental disorder in the US according to the Social Anxiety Institute. It’s characterized as “a fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance.” From public speaking to “stage fright,” social anxiety shows up when we’re expected to perform and feel like we don’t measure up.
As a community, here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with social anxiety:
Firstly, we must recognize that social anxiety is, at its heart, a fear of judgment and criticism, particularly the fear of being seen as foolish or incompetent. There are countless examples online and the media of activists being grilled about their beliefs – and failing to answer some tough questions. And sometimes, be it a lack of knowledge or “gotcha” logic, activists slip up and are invalidated. That stokes fear, especially in people who already had social anxiety disorder before becoming politically conscious or vocal.
Secondly, as a community, we need to recognize legitimate concerns people have with taking to the streets or coming out as an activist: employees may be fired as a result of their social justice work, and stalking, doxing and harassment are all-too common. People may become socially anxious about activism due to real and perceived threats to their social standing and their life.
Finally, we need to be aware of how overwhelm can exacerbate social anxiety. We all lead busy lives nowadays and adding activism to the mix will put extra stress on us if we’re careful to manage our time wisely. Even I had anxiety writing this article. I was going to post it a week early, but again, I procrastinated. I became so nervous about the finished product and whether people would respond positively that I put it off… and put it off…
But the culprit was one that’s not often associated with social anxiety and that is overwhelm. I just started a new job and took on a couple freelance projects. By the time I got home and settled in to write this, I was so tired I worried that my article would suffer because of it.
As an individual with SAD who is a political activist (or wants to become one), here are some thing you can do to keep off the couch and into the streets, the town hall, or on the phone with your representatives (yes you can do this from your couch):
- Know Your Limits: If you have legitimate concerns about gaps in your ability to talk about the issues, brush up on them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from more experienced members of your team about what you’re missing or where to go for resources. If you are constantly pressed for time, be realistic about what you can and can’t do before you commit so you are sure to do your best.
- Start in your comfort zone and push yourself a little each day: If you are nervous about calling your representative, start with one phone call or email. Scripted calls work wonders here – you can write a script yourself or look at a pre-made one, so you don’t feel like you are talking on the fly. MoveOn and other resources often have pre-written phone scripts for you to read from.
- Use Resources: If you are anxious about asking for help, Google is a wonderful resource for any questions you may have.
- Remember “Me Time”: Give yourself time to decompress after pushing yourself into new limits and while it may be tempting, do NOT overload yourself! That will only make you more anxious about performing well.
- If you are open to seeking therapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is very effective for social anxiety – CBT teaches people with SAD coping skills to help them work through and rationalize beyond their fears.
And remember- you are not alone! Social Anxiety is extremely common and chances are, longtime activists you know also have it.