How Social Media Affects Our Mental Health During a Pandemic
While social networks are informative and entertaining, be careful to limit your screen time for the sake of your mental stability.
It's funny that it’s all called “social” media, because, despite the fact that we’re interacting with many other people, we can feel isolated.
For many of us, social media has become a constant in our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic as we continuously toggle between the seemingly endless train of platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat... And what the heck is a TikTok video?
While all of these options and opportunities for connection and information may seem positive, they can also have a negative effect on mental health, particularly during a time of isolation and quarantine. Something that should be an outlet can become an oppression of sorts as we inadvertently become chained to “the feed.”
Plugged In: When Enough is Enough Social Media
It feels more and more like the world is happening online, as television newscasters cover the day's tweets. As we watch one screen and check two other screens to see what people are saying about something on a fourth screen, it’s not surprising that we can end up feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and alone. Funny that it’s all called “social,” because, despite the fact that we’re “interacting” with many other people, we can very much feel isolated.
In our Mother’s Day story about mental health during social distancing, we spoke with Sarah Mallard Wakefield, M.D., Associate Professor, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine. Her thoughts on social media were too valuable to be limited to mothers.
Wakefield advises being very intentional with social media.
“Orient what you’re using social media for very carefully,” she said. “Use it to connect and experience things with other people, and do positive things. If your use of it is inundating you constantly with COVID-19 and pandemic information, it’s very overwhelming to the brain. It’s too much information to process and [there’s] not a lot you can do about it.”
She strongly encourages people to put their phones down, switch the TVs off and take healthy breaks like getting sunshine and exercise.
“Limit the intake of troubling news,” she encouraged. “It’s good to be informed but not inundated.”
Wakefield also recommends at least two hours a day of staying away from COVID-19 news. Use this time to get outside, do something you enjoy or connect with people you love directly.
David Trotter, Associate Professor in the TTUHSC School of Medicine and a licensed clinical psychologist, agrees with limiting exposure to social media.
“We know that watching too much of this tends to make people pretty anxious,” he said in a recent TTUHSC expert Q&A interview. “And focus on facts, not fear.”
Trotter encourages people to try to focus on the good happening right now.
“Foster your own hope,” he said. “Find ways to stay calmer. Look for ways to bring down physical tension and lower your arousal levels.”
When things get chaotic, Trotter said, it’s important to get back to basics.
“Make sure you're taking the medications you’ve been prescribed,” he said. “Make sure you’re accessing care when you need it. Make sure you remain connected with others creatively, such as by having a conversation with the neighbor over the back fence."
Watch Trotter’s full interview for more great mental health tips and information specifically related to social distancing.
Know When to Log Off of Social Media
There’s no question that social media is here to stay. But don’t let the name fool you.
There’s a handy button found on each social platform containing the two most-freeing words at your disposal whenever you need a break:
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