Social distancing requirements and quarantining protocols have many people spending more time alone than ever before. The desire to overcome that loneliness may have you turning to social media for emotional connection. While logging on to chat with friends can be a great mood booster, spending too much time scrolling social media feeds can have a negative effect on your mental health.
Here are three ways social media is affecting your mental health during COVID-19.
1. Social Media Can Cause Information Overload
The article The Psychology of Uncertainty: How to Cope With COVID-19 Anxiety notes that long-standing research has shown long-term news-watchers can develop an elevated sense of fear. With an endless amount of information, and misinformation, in the palm of your hand, you may begin to feel like all of the world’s problems are right outside your door.
Social media provides unprecedented access to information. During COVID-19 many major news outlets are offering free coverage for the pandemic which, according to Adriane Ling, PhD., a psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in New York, can have positive effects like removing financial barriers that would otherwise restrict your access to credible news sources, and negative effects such as an abundance of doomsday headlines.
To protect your mental health, Biren Patel, managing physician of behavioral health at Kelsey-Seybold, recommends “reading the news instead of listening to or watching it in order to help limit the amount and the type of content a [you are] consuming.”
2. Social Media Feeds Into Your Uncertainty
From conflicting advice about mask usage to too good to be true “cures” for COVID-19 logging on to social media can leave you confused and overwhelmed.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General said in the Forbes article Clarity and Honesty Are Key to Fighting a Pandemic of Misinformation, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”
While misinformation is nothing new, COVID-19 has caused a surge of it on social media. Timothy Mackey, associate adjunct professor at UCSD School of Medicine and the lead author of a study on the topic published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Public Health and Surveillance notes, “From March to May 2020, we have identified nearly 2,000 fraudulent postings likely tied to COVID-19 health products, financial scams, and other consumer risk.”
The uncertainty that arises as the result of so much conflicting information about every aspect of COVID-19 from the return to school, to social distancing, to face masks, can lead to increased anxiety. If you’re worried that your thought patterns are hurting instead of helping check out 3 Unhelpful Ways of Thinking that Contribute to Anxiety and Depression by Cedar Tree Counseling’s Richard Keezer.
3. Social Media Allows You to Avoid Your Actual Stressors
Research shows that as many as 49 percent of adults have self-reported depression symptoms during this pandemic. That’s over 10 percent higher than the historic norm of 37 percent. Scrolling your social media feed lets you avoid the real stressors in your life, like unemployment or family issues. But the more you let your underlying stressors simmer, the more likely you are to see long term effects.
Dr. George Brandt, a psychiatrist with the Centura Health system in Colorado and Kansas says, “Chronic stress can increase your heart rate and make you more prone to ulcers. It’s not good on multiple levels. And for those of us who already deal with higher levels of anxiety, doomscrolling can exacerbate the fault lines already in place.”
Cari Shields, women and couples therapist at Cedar Tree Counseling discusses 3 Ways to Address Stress in Your Life, which can help you get to the root of your problems instead of avoiding them by distracting yourself with social media.
The desire to stay connected to friends and family during this time of social distancing and quarantine is understandable. But be aware of the effect social media can have on your mental health. If you or a family member need help to deal with the stress of COVID-19 our team of therapists is ready to help.
Jessica Korzyniewski contributed to this article.
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