Caitlin Covington Says Social Media Fame Caused Crippling Anxiety: 'I Wanted to Stay in Bed All Day'

Caitlin Covington has over one million Instagram followers, and her “Southern Curls and Pearls” blog is a successful shopping site, but the influencer admits her social media persona is “definitely not” an accurate portrayal of her life.

“In a lot of cases it’s art, and you want your art to be beautiful,” the North Carolina native tells PEOPLE. “But that is in no way a reflection of that person’s real life and the struggles that they’re going through.”

Covington never intended to become a career blogger. The passion project she started in 2011 to chronicle sorority life at UNC Chapel Hill gained traction around the time Instagram started to become popular. Her posts began garnering more likes and shares than she ever anticipated, and as she became a star on social media, she found herself suffering from crippling anxiety and depression.

“I had never experienced anxiety or panic attacks until I started blogging,” the 28 year old says. “All of the sudden I had all of these eyes on me, and they were starting to pick apart my personal life.”

“People can be so cruel on the internet,” she says, and it was only a matter of time until it became too much: “I could be doing something simple and then all of a sudden I would have a panic attack.”

Covington’s anxiety began interfering with her ability to function. She found herself ordering groceries online solely to avoid interacting with people. “I’m a very social person,” she says, “My husband and I love to go out and see friends — it was really unlike me to not want to be in any social situation at all.”

“I just wanted to stay in bed all day — I definitely think that I was depressed, and I didn’t even know I was depressed. I didn’t enjoy daily things anymore. I didn’t take joy in anything really.”

Courtesy Caitlin Covington

As Covington was planning her 2018 wedding to Chris Dorsch, she realized what was meant to be one of the most exciting times of her life felt unbearable.

“It was no longer about me and my husband,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking about us getting married and how I got to spend my life with him — I started thinking, ‘Oh my gosh there are gonna be 800 thousand people that are gonna be watching my wedding and judging it … it was really sad.’ “

Covington opened up to her fiancé and mom. They encouraged her to make some lifestyle changes and see a doctor who ultimately prescribed the anti-depressant Lexapro.

“The medication helped me a lot,” she says. “I woke up one morning after I’d been on it a couple of weeks, and I remember I went and I made coffee and I tasted it and I was like, ‘Wow this tastes so good.’ Then I made breakfast and I took it back into the bed with me. I watched Good Morning America and I ate my breakfast and after that I remember thinking, ‘I have not enjoyed a morning like this in the past five years.’ “

“I would normally just wake up with immediate anxiety — I’d check my comments and my emails and I’d think about everything that needs to get done … when I went on the medication it let me slow down and I started enjoying everyday things again.”

Covington also revamped her self-care routine: she took up meditation and yoga, got more sleep, began to eat healthier and put less pressure on herself by saying ‘no’ more often to projects that didn’t interest her.

Courtesy Caitlin Covington

Instagram recently rolled out a controversial feature that will selectively hide likes and views. Instagram head Adam Mosseri said “the idea is to try to ‘depressurize’ Instagram, make it less of a competition and give people more space to focus on connecting with people that they love, things that inspire them.”

Covington says she’s in favor of the Instagram changes. “I’ve seen women of all ages base their self-worth off of their Instagram likes and it’s not healthy. You are worth so much more than your likes.”

Courtesy Caitlin Covington

Her advice to those suffering from mental health issues or bullying in any form is to ask for help. “I talked to my mom, I talked to my husband, I talked to my best friend and they all encouraged me to go to the doctor … If I hadn’t had that circle of friends and family telling me or supporting me, I don’t know if I would have gone,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Covington is no longer afraid to share the reality behind her glossy photos. “I have a lot of flaws,” she admits, “My marriage isn’t perfect and my life isn’t perfect … but I know that even if my blog were to fail, or if everyone decided to turn their back on me and they hated me, I would be okay … I have a family, my husband loves me no matter what. I feel really secure now.”

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