While social media often receives criticism for its potential impact on users’ mental health, there is another side to the story – one where specifically Instagram Stories can be used as a tool to help people overcome their social anxiety

Back in 2012, I was a shadow of my former self. I avoided all of my friends and the thought of having to talk to strangers left me frozen, dreading every potential interaction and assuming the worst possible outcome. I was suffering from social anxiety disorder, a mental illness that affects more than 15 million adults, and it was taking over my life.

woman on her phone

Statistics show that one in 10 people are likely to have a “disabling anxiety disorder” at some stage in their life, according to Anxiety UK. Furthermore, in the US it’s reported that 36% of people with social anxiety disorder experience symptoms for more than 10 years before seeking help. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Along with medication and talking therapy, I managed to overcome the crippling symptoms of social anxiety by using an app which many of us use every single day – Instagram.

There are more than 21 million active Instagram users in the UK alone, and more than 800 million active users worldwide – with that figure only expected to rise. I found Instagram Stories to be a key part of my recovery, and for the past year I’ve used it to document my life online. As a proud introvert I found this way of communicating incredibly accessible, and it’s undoubtedly given me the confidence to talk to strangers, as well as my own friends, in real life.

Now I meet up regularly with mates, and have rekindled old friendships with people I’d lost touch with because of my illness. It didn’t happen overnight, but Instagram Stories has played a huge part in my recovery and I think it could help you too. Remember to action each of the following tips in small stages, and step away from social media if it’s making your anxiety symptoms worse:

Find people on Instagram with similar struggles

Talking on Instagram Stories might sound terrifying, but you’d be surprised at how many people do it. Search the hashtag #mentalhealthblogger and you’ll find lots of accounts made by people who are experiencing social anxiety but benefit from talking about it online. You don’t have to talk about your own personal issues, but watching other stories will hopefully inspire you to get started.

Set your account to private

By default, anyone can see your Instagram account and anything you post on there. If you’re worried about who will see your videos then I would strongly advise setting your account to private. This will ensure that only your friends will be able to watch your videos, which may help you feel more comfortable than talking to complete strangers.

woman checking her phone

Set a daily intention

If you’re not sure what to talk about on your Instagram Story, why not start with a daily intention? I use a set of positive affirmation cards called I Can Cards, but you could simply set your own intention for the day and discuss how you plan to achieve it. For example, on my Story yesterday I said that I was going to try to get some exercise by going for a walk and doing some yoga. I ended up talking about how much I enjoy yoga, and it really spurred me on to make sure I found time to practise some poses later in the day.

Practise conversation starters

Eventually you’ll find yourself talking randomly – like I do – about your likes, dislikes or even what you had for breakfast that day. It’s amazing how much you can talk, even when there’s no one else in the room! If you’re feeling confident about talking on camera, and you’re hoping to transfer these skills into social situations, then test out some conversation starters in your Stories. You might ask if anyone can recommend a good place to get sushi in your city, or what book you should read next? You can even use the “poll” function to get direct answers from your followers, making it a little more interactive. You don’t have to talk about your anxieties, but just practising small talk is a stepping stone in the right direction towards feeling more calm in social situations.

friends taking a selfie

Experiment with live streaming

This definitely isn’t one for beginners, but if you’re enjoying the normal Stories, then try doing a live broadcast. It’s great because you can interact immediately with your viewers, who can add comments that you can respond to. My advice would be to go into a live stream with a plan and something interesting to showcase. You could show off a new hairstyle, or read some quotes that really inspire you. Unless you choose to save your live stream, you can rest in the knowledge that once you’ve stopped recording, it’s instantly deleted. For that reason, I think live streaming is a great way to practise talking socially without much risk. If you thought you did quite well, then save the video and people will get the option to watch it as part of your story for the next 24 hours.

Although Instagram can be an invaluable communication tool for some people with mental illness, it might not be right for you. If using this or any other social media app increases your feelings of anxiety, then consider taking a break. Try turning your phone to silent and taking a walk outside, or doing a few minutes of meditation.