Is this the real reason bloggers have anxiety?

February 10, 2017

A few months ago, a short, satirical piece was published in The Sunday Times, titled: ‘24 Hours with a Beauty Blogger’. An easy shot. I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve seen written by journalists (read: educated and legitimate writers), targeting the work of bloggers (read: vacuous twenty-somethings, lacking the credentials to voice a legitimate opinion). The tone was ever the same – a passive aggressive account of a blogger’s contrived attempts to get likes, laughs and adulation from her Instagram followers. No doubt the article was an easy win for an established journalist, writing in a broadsheet to an audience who I presume were not ardent Zoella fans.

Whilst the piece wasn’t hugely offensive, there was one aspect that stuck in my throat. Throughout the article, references were made to the fact that this fictional blogger felt anxious. She also mentions being trolled and feeling vulnerable – something she might make a vlog about. The journalist was referencing something I’ve seen an increasing amount of – the teasing of those bloggers who have spoken about, or have referenced, their battles with anxiety. One tweet I saw last year, glibly remarked that in order to be a blogger, you had to have anxiety. An added bonus if you could throw depression in too.

Apparently anxiety was no longer a recognised mental health condition, but a badge of honour; something to be appropriated by the blogging community as a hallmark of a real ‘influencer’. Their worries and panic attacks made them special, relatable and ultimately, authentic.

I’ve watched this storyline play out across social media with feelings of both anger and agreement. Anger because, and wait for it – I too have suffered with anxiety (what a cliché) – and agreement because yes, many bloggers do seem to suffer from it. Huge amounts, in fact. When I googled ‘anxiety blogs’, it returned over 12 million search results. Perhaps there is something to be said for an anxiety crisis amongst the blogging community.

Before we go into the ins and outs of why this might be (aside from the obvious factors of shrinking economies; our inability to get on the property ladder; the realisation that we won’t retire until we’re over 90; the growing threat of terrorism and what’s going on state-side), one thing should be said: anxiety is not to be scoffed at, soft-peddled or belittled. At its worst, it is humiliating, incredibly distressing and enormously unsettling. One thing that I’ve certainly objected to is anyone who has used the term glibly, casually or as a way to gain a sympathetic following. Whilst normalising any mental health condition is great – normalising it to the extent that it becomes a bizarre accessory or PR plug, is not so great.

I’ve spoken before about suffering with anxiety, and how travel particularly has helped me. The first time it reared its ugly head was when I was 22. Fresh out of university and a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I had a clear idea of how my life would go. It involved a good career in London and that enviable London lifestyle. Whilst I got the job and the flat, not everything went to plan. I struggled to make London my home. Fast-forward to an ill-fated trip to Topshop and the stress of change came to a head. Carefully examining a dress, I suddenly had the bizarre sensation that I was no longer in Topshop: but watching the whole scene play out via a television screen. My heart started to thud, adrenaline flooded my body and I couldn’t catch my breath. Physical symptoms aside, I also felt terrified. I wobbled frantically down the stairs, trying to make my legs work – looking like I’d either drunk too much or had an unfortunate accident – and managed to get to my car, where I sat shaking (embarrassingly, I’d also walked out the store with the dress in my hand. Disclaimer: I did return it).

After a summer of CBT, however, and I was coping well, again. I tried to not give panic attacks the attention they demanded (a bit like a spoilt child), and they faded. However, a few years and one bad relationship later, my anxiety was back – but this time in a new guise. The Artist Formally Known As Panic Attacks was now delighted to announce its return through patterns of unhelpful, worrying and irrational thoughts. Life became a blur of miserable days, marked by incessant worry. I remember driving home knowing that although there was nothing wrong with my life, I felt like I couldn’t get my head above the clouds of worry to see it. A tearful appointment with my doctor followed and I was prescribed anti-depressants to help.

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Now, a word of warning to whoever not only jokes about anxiety, but jokes about people who take anti-depressants for it: please don’t. When given that packet of pills, you’re helpfully informed that things ‘might get worse’ for a while, until they start to work. Such great news! A few days in and I felt crazy. I’d wake up at 4am, feeling sick with anxiety and not be able to eat. My weight dropped to under 7 stone and I spent much of my days wishing I was my cat, who seemed to be enjoying life more than I was. The whole thing was humiliating and meant I couldn’t even visit Tesco without a family member accompanying me.

The high point of this miserable period was when I eventually decided to call a helpline, who claimed to help anxious people. After nervously listening to the phone ring out, a lady from Leeds answered. Before I had a chance to talk, she had a dramatic coughing fit, before telling me that she’d just quit the ‘ciggies’ and I’d have to excuse her. She sounded like an extremely ill drag queen. I began to tell her how I felt, probably muttering about how happy the cat was, when she stopped me and asked had I tried some deep breathing? Or lavender oil? I’m no medical professional, but given that I was so anxious I couldn’t eat and had begun to idealise the life choices of my cat, I think I was long-passed the benefits of deep breathing and aromatherapy oils.

I hung up.

I had one more encounter with anxiety, a few years later. After a stressful few months I headed to Paris, where I suddenly became incapable of leaving the hotel without panicking. Again, I barely ate and slept, and googled the possibility of being air-lifted home. However, equipped with the knowledge of how to deal with anxiety, it didn’t take a strong a hold. I had weaned off the anti-depressants and had made sure that exercise, healthy eating and the ending of a bad relationship, meant that I was managing it well. Since then I’ve been OK – good – happy, even. Of course, it may come back, but I have a much better understanding of it and an improved perspective.

So, my sob story aside, I fully sympathise with those bloggers who do, and are, genuinely suffering with anxiety. I take my hat off to anyone who is honest about it and willing to let others know that it’s something that can be overcome. It’s important to share these things and to support those who previously felt alone (or in my case, forced to confide in a drag queen from Leeds).

But why, then, are so many of us ‘bloggers’ anxiety sufferers? Initially, the answer seems obvious. There are daily headlines about the detrimental impact that social media has on our mental health. Since 2015, reports have documented the rise of anxiety and depression amongst millennials and regular social media users. Our feelings of self-worth have decreased as the number of our tweets, Instagram posts and snapchats have increased. A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that those who checked social media most frequently were 2.7 more likely to be depressed, while participants who spent the most time online had 1.7 times the risk. It would seem obvious that bloggers – individuals whose lives and often livelihoods are dependent on the trappings of social media – are therefore most likely to experience its wrath. I’m sure we all remember the case of Essena O’Neill, who dramatically quit all social media due to the stress, pressure and anxiety it brought her.

I’ve absolutely experienced the negative consequences of social media. Whilst on a ‘bloggers’ trip to Mallorca last year, we were tasked with ‘creating content’ whilst out to sea on a beautiful boat. All we had to do was play in the water and paddle athletically on SUP boards. It didn’t take long for insecurities to set in. Around me were dozens of gorgeous girls diving effortlessly into the sea; taking shots of themselves in challenging yoga poses on their SUP boards; and flicking their hair back as they left the water. They looked like Bond girls. In comparison, all I had was a collection of disastrous photos of my attempts to dive and efforts to swim underwater. Rather than looking like an ethereal mermaid, I look like a Beluga whale – shining white and brightly in the murk – bloated and bobbing close to the surface. I felt inadequate and immediately wanted to go home to see my cat (whose life I still admired).

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However, whilst the negative consequences of social media are undoubtedly true, I doubt that it accounts entirely for why so many bloggers experience anxiety. So, let’s instead turn the argument on its head. Rather than falling victim to their own blogs, or social media accounts, are bloggers in fact using these platforms to help overcome their anxiety? Blogging isn’t the cause of their ‘illness’, but their cure.

This has certainly always been the case for me. My blog and Instagram account have always provided me with a fantastic, positive and constructive distraction from my personal woes. Rather than sitting and mulling over concerns or worries, I can instead focus my mind on writing; on photography; or simply reading the adventures of others. If there’s one thing that anxiety sufferers know: distraction is key. Whilst journalists may scoff, creating and maintaining a blog takes an incredible amount of work – requiring you to stay driven in order to create new content. From experience, this has provided me with a fantastic distraction and a cause in which to invest my energies, rather than becoming caught up in the endless cycle of anxiety. Blogging also gave me confidence: anxiety’s worst enemy. I remember seeing my therapist during a difficult time and she asked me who I’d like to be. I described a girl who was confident in her own skin, willing to take on new adventures and explore the world. As it was fairly evident at the time that that wasn’t me (my Mum had driven me to my appointment), she asked why didn’t I then adopt that personality for a while, even if I didn’t necessarily believe it deep down?

‘Fake it till you make it’, she told me with a smile, ‘and the rest will follow’.

Whilst I don’t suggest you should necessarily promote an entirely fake alter-ego on your blog, Twins That Travel allowed me to focus on being the person I wanted to become: the person who could travel without anxiety, enjoy the world and feel confident. And, lo and behold, as more and more people read and liked our articles and photography, so I became more confident: beginning to feel like the real deal, rather than an anxious fraud.

Lastly, with anxiety comes the inevitable shrinking of the parameters within which you live your life. I went from someone who lived and worked in London, to someone who didn’t venture far from my family home. I could have got a compass out and drawn a 5 mile radius around my house, to highlight my boundaries. However, part of overcoming anxiety is to challenge these ever-reducing parameters; ensuring you’re experiencing new sights, new experiences and new people. Exposure, in this case, would be the therapist’s choice word. Slowly, as our blog grew and we began to travel more and attend events, my exposure to new things increased. In Orlando a few weeks ago, I was watching the sunset from my hotel room and thought back to when my life was contained within my lounge. I could have never imagined that I would have made it confidently, safely and successfully to Florida. Yet, here I was – alive, well and happy. I have no doubt that it was my blog that had got me there, not just literally, but mentally – helping me on my way to becoming the confident girl that my therapist told me to pretend to be.

When reflecting on why so many bloggers seem cursed by anxiety or depression, I wonder if we have a classic case of the chicken or the egg. It’s regularly been assumed that bloggers are the victims of their own success: reduced to anxious and vulnerable messes by the social media world that they’ve created. I’m not sure I agree. Whilst I have no doubt that social media has a lot to answer for and can have an undeniably negative effect if not managed well, it is also a cause for good: a tool that’s enabled bloggers, like myself, to overcome anxiety and grow in confidence. My blog didn’t come first and my anxiety second: quite the opposite. I wonder if this is the case for many others out there.

I am a blogger who has anxiety, but I certainly hope that doesn’t make me the cliché described in the Sunday Times article. I’m also a blogger who overcame anxiety with the help of my blog – a story that is rarely written about, but one I’m sure is shared by many an anxious blogger out there. I don’t believe that I have to have anxiety to be a blogger (contrary to those ridiculous tweets), but I do feel that much of my blog – its creation and the work I’ve put into it – has been down to my anxiety and my determination to kick its butt.

How’s that for a silver lining?

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27 Comments

  • Reply Sophie Davis February 10, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    Amazing article! ❤

    • Reply The Twins February 10, 2017 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks so much, Soph! Means a lot! x

  • Reply Nicola February 10, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    Incredibly well written and thought provoking piece. I think lots of bloggers use blogging as a creative outlet to deal with whatever else they have going on in their lives, and just because they are vocal about their issues does not mean they are the only ones suffering, or that they are looking for attention. This is a departure from what you usually write about, but it’s one I very much appreciated and enjoyed.

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks so much Nicola – it’s comments like this that keep us blogging! xxxxxx

  • Reply Hannah Shirtcliffe February 10, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    I could read this every day and fall in love ! THANK YOU ❤

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Oh no, thank YOU Hannah for taking the time to read it! Lots of love xxxxx

  • Reply Hannah M February 11, 2017 at 11:56 am

    This post made me belly laugh and feel a bit teary! I’ve also take anti depressants for anxiety but found the best cure was distracting myself with something positive – my blog and writing. So refreshing to hear that it isn’t blogging giving us anxiety, for a change! Thanks for your honesty girls x

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 4:12 pm

      Hi Hannah! Thank you for taking the time to reply to our little ol’ blog post. So glad blogging has helped you too and that you’ve also tackled the little gremlin that is anxiety. Here’s to a 2017 of calm and confidence 🙂 xxx

  • Reply Tink Jayne February 11, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    I absolutely love this post and felt every word of it.
    I too suffer anxiety, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t noticed the ‘anxiety trend’ that’s popped up in recent years, but I believe it’s because it’s becoming more of a topic online, more and more people are opening up about their own experiences and mental health.
    I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘normal’ I think every single one of us has some sort of mental health issue/condition/difference, but we’ve never realised it before because no one ever spoke about it. Throughout history, media & advertising has shown us a life we think we should be living and now social media is doing that too. But social media, as negative as it can be (and it really can, I quit Facebook cold turkey last month) it’s also enabled us to open up to one another and support or reach out to others who are going through what we are going through.
    I’ve seen (negative) people comment that ever since Zoella did her hugely successful anxiety vlog that ‘anxiety has become a trend’. Maybe so. I don’t doubt that there are (some) people out there looking for a ‘thing’ to make them popular/famous or relatable.
    But maybe there is a reason zoellas anxiety video has over 3million views – maybe because a whopping 3million people could relate to it.

    Loved this article girls, so beautifully written

    x Tink Jayne Adventures

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      Thank you SO much Jane for your lovely, thoughtful comment. It’s exactly comments like this and the support of a blogging community that give a good old kick up the bum to anxiety! xx

  • Reply Amy Townslow February 11, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Articulate, funny and spot on. Anxiety is not something to be casually referred to by bloggers (‘ohmygod I’m so anxious today’), but something that should be taken seriously and spoken about honestly. And exactly – blogging can help people so much more than it can harm them!! xx

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Thank you Amy – it’s always so nice when people take the time to comment on our blog posts, especially more personal ones like this. Nothing winds us up more than people interchanging the word ‘nervous’ with ‘anxious’ or ‘anxiety attacks’! But like you said, for us blogging has helped us far more than it has done us harm. Blogging: 1 Anxiety: 0

  • Reply Suze - Luxury Columnist February 12, 2017 at 12:47 am

    I’m so glad that you addressed this as there is definitely an undercurrent of belittlement of bloggers in some of the traditional print articles that I have read. It’s good to see that blogging has helped give you confidence, I know that’s definitely the case for me as it has continually pushed me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to meet lots of lovely people that I’d never have come across otherwise

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Suze! It really can push you out of your comfort zone and for that reason it’s a great tool for tackling anxiety!

  • Reply Haze February 12, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    This is incredible, such an interesting and powerful read.

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Thanks so much, Haze – that’s really kind of you. x

  • Reply Chloe Gunning February 12, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    You have a lovely way of describing things! I think a lot of us have moments of this, even if it’s not all-consuming. A lovely honest post. Cx

    • Reply The Twins February 12, 2017 at 8:19 pm

      Thanks beautiful xxx

  • Reply Pheobe February 13, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Wow, wow, wow. Powerfully and beautifully written. The Beluga whale comment made me snort. Of course blogging doesn’t always cause anxiety and it’s so right that it helps so many people out there to channel their energies properly, like you say. Well done girls!

    • Reply The Twins February 13, 2017 at 5:41 pm

      Thank you, Pheobe! Beluga whales are beautiful too, right?! xxx

  • Reply Angie Silver February 13, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    A lot of what you said in this post resonated with me. I’ve had panic attacks at really awkward moments but equally I’ve never felt like it something I want to be too open about exactly for the reasons that you’ve described. As a travel blogger I also get really nervous before going on trip, like I won’t live up to the expectations of hotel / destination / brand and I’m always stressing out before going!!

    Blogging can take you so far out of your comfort zone though that I’ve begun to learn to ‘man up’! And many great things have happened as a consequence!

    • Reply The Twins February 13, 2017 at 5:40 pm

      Oh, thanks so much, Angie. I am exactly the same – I get so anxious before trips (the irony!) But I always know once I get there – it’ll be fine and worth it. I always feel so much more confident and stronger once I’ve been. Maybe we’ve cracked it – travel blogging is the perfect remedy! xxxxxxx

  • Reply Lydia February 14, 2017 at 5:10 am

    I really enjoyed reading this – your writing is so eloquent and thought through, it definitely gives “established” journalists a run for their money ;). I think there are so many dynamics going on with the belittlement of bloggers by the media. When I first started my blog all those years ago, it came as a rebellion against the bullshit I was being fed by magazines. You’re completely right that when we talk about the rise in conditions such as anxiety we cannot leave out all of the encumbering factors of Millennial life. We need to look at the female psyche as a whole; how our social development is done whilst trying to navigate the minefield of positive body image, then the conflicting attitudes towards sex and empowerment… Ugh, JUST ALL OF IT. Learning how to like yourself is a real battle, and it’s funny that a lot of these snide articles are written by WOMEN. How can we like each other when we don’t even like ourselves?! Eating disorders, OCD, depression, anxiety… They all too often come beneath the umbrella of the media’s shit-storm of unattainable beauty ideals and sadly from people just really not being nice to each other.

    SO… Anyway.. Back in the day, there was something so empowering about this movement of young women, who looked and spoke just like your friends and shared their experiences in life; whether that was something as “trivial” as a Boots haul or as meaningful as body confidence. Seeing high-street clothes on bodies that didn’t look too different from my own, and make-up applied by teenage girls, it was REAL voices, real bodies. I think the reason the success of bloggers upsets journalists, the media, and society in general, is because Zoella isn’t necessarily the most talented writer, film-maker, or whatever, in the world. She doesn’t have to be. She was in the right-place at the right time, filming herself from her bedroom, and being herself. Anybody could do what Zoella does, really, but her audience loves her because she’s real and relatable. To undercut bloggers for being open and speaking about anxiety again is such a reductive and spiteful attitude and clearly comes from a place of resentment that people aren’t experiencing success in their own lives. Trivialising young women, as though they aren’t capable of knowing their own minds and would wear anxiety as some kind of badge of honor, is unbelievably twisted.

    But with that being said, I’m not going to try and hold up Zoella as some kind of moral compass for online transparency; Gleam knew exactly what they were doing when blogging went from this very underground and innocent hobby to a multi-million industry. Somewhere around then is where I, personally, became disheartened by it all. When I started my blog, I had no idea you could make money or anything from it, because none of that stuff had happened yet. It all underwent a massive evolution and the pressure to churn out an editorial standard of content was just too much. Over time, I lost my sense of self-worth and taking endless pictures of myself for beauty reviews and outfit posts became incredibly toxic. It’s one of the major reasons I read travel blogs and lifestyle stuff now rather than endless beauty reviews that do little for me other besides encourage my latent materialism and self-confidence problems.

    I do agree to some extent with the jokes journalists will make about blogging because the general social-media circus that comes with it, let’s be honest, is pretty ridiculous. I feel that I was constantly treading a fine-line in all of my relationships because the need to take photos and blog about everything can suck the fun out of a lot of things. Like let’s be real, the fact that you’re taken on a boat for the soul purpose of getting this amazing content about your experience of it is pretty weird right? You’re forced to live in the after-thought of the Instagram rather than the now, and I feel like that’s where bloggers HAVE to be so careful. The fact you can speak about your experience on that trip from a place of sincerity and honesty is SO refreshing. Isn’t that why we’re here in the first place? If we wanted to torture ourselves we would just go to Vogue. We started our blogs to be a real person living real lives, surely that’s the whole value of it – which is what, IMO, sets your blog out from so many others. Because I have to be honest and say that too many people have become sucked into the social media shitstorm of blogging in 2017.

    Anyway, I’m so glad that blogging has benefited you and shaped you into the person you are now; which is clearly a very strong woman who isn’t afraid to be real and speak about the things that matter. I’m so glad that your blog has been a positive experience for you and that you have managed to overcome your battles – I’ve struggled with anxiety and OCD myself and really admire your honesty. I don’t have the same story as you; beauty blogging effected me in an incredibly negative way, but I think that just being a Millennial in general had a lot to do with that. I think that as bloggers, writers, whatever, we should all be striving towards using social media in a healthy and positive way, and the only way we can do that is to be honest, real, and true to ourselves. We have to find and hold onto our self-worth of value, because despite how beautiful those Bond girls are, ALL of us are human and are dealing with our own demons, no matter how perfect our Instagram feed.

    PHEW. ESSAY OVER. Anyway, thank you for this. I will definitely be coming back to read more of your posts!

    Lydia xoxo

    http://www.instagram.com/lydiarosesmyth
    http://www.twitter.com/lydiarosesmyth
    http://www.lydiarosexo.blogspot.co.uk

    • Reply The Twins February 14, 2017 at 10:32 am

      Thanks so much for your really thoughtful response, Lydia. I loved hearing your thoughts and agree with so many. Firstly, I can imagine the pressures involved with beauty blogging. I look at some beauty bloggers and wonder how they even managed to get their lipstick so perfect, let alone film immaculate, beautifully-lit videos. It makes me feel insecure! Thankfully, travel blogging seems a little less pressured in that respect, but still has its downfalls (e.g. the boat incident). ‘Content creation’ when you’re travelling is, like you said, also bizarre and often contrived, which I hate. Sometimes I get back from somewhere and don’t remember anything memorable at all – it’s just a blur of frantically capturing IG stories or good photography. There’s no time to be mindful on some of those trips – which defeats the whole point of why I wanted to travel! But, ultimately, I think blogging goes give a platform for many girls/guys to voice an opinion that undercuts a lot of that rubbish and can be enormously positive, even if it makes you think twice about how you want to ‘blog’. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply – I really appreciated it xxx

  • Reply Aftab February 14, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Loved this freshest and most real post i’ve read in a long time. Absolutely amazing job!

    • Reply The Twins February 14, 2017 at 10:33 am

      Thanks you lovely thing xxx

  • Reply Kelly February 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    I really, really enjoyed reading your take on this topic! I’ve also noticed the number of bloggers who suffer from and write about anxiety, and I’ve wondered about those statistics and causes as well. I know for me, I’ve always used writing as an outlet – even long before blogging was a thing.

    I had my first ever anxiety attack on my 13th birthday, which ended up sending me to the hospital (DEFINITELY the worst birthday party to date!). I really struggled with anxiety attacks and general anxiety/depression until I was around 18, and during that time I filled up 7 pretty big journals. I honestly think that during those years, expressing myself through writing – even just in my own private journals – was key to making it through the roughest years of my life.

    While thankfully my anxiety is MUCH more under control these days, I still use writing as an outlet…but instead of journaling, I use my blog. I’ve always assumed there had to be other bloggers who were in similar situations, so it was good to read that you have the same thoughts on the matter!

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