At a time like this, social media can become a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it can be a vital source of connection, of sharing information and social interaction – which is more important than ever now that most of our physical interactions with our friends and family have stopped.
On the other hand, it’s all too easy to fall into a deep, dark social media hole at times like these. We all have much more time on our hands, and much more to worry about – so if you find yourself horror-scrolling the timeline until 2 am every night, you’re not alone.
In recent years there has been study after study linking social media to low self esteem, anxiety, depression and a whole host of other negative physical and psychological attributes. And it is certainly true that during times of crisis, the inescapable cycle of news and avalanche of hot takes can leave you feeling utterly overwhelmed and exhausted.
But, similarly, social isolation is likely to have a hugely detrimental impact on the mental health of many. We are only at the very beginning of our coronavirus lockdown journey, and lots of people are already feeling the dip in mood and heightened anxiety associated with long-term loneliness.
So, we need to find connections with other people wherever we can. Social media might become more important than ever in the coming weeks. And we need to learn how to use it in a positive, helpful way.
Clinical psychologist Dr Roberta Babb, says that our interaction with social media has to come with responsibility and accountability.
‘The amount of information on the internet and social media about the coronavirus is overwhelming, relentless and a lot of it is from a negative/distressing perspective,’ Roberta said.
‘Frequent exposure to this adverse online environment can have a significant impact on your mental health. Excessive use of, and passive engagement with social media can fuel feelings of difference, anxiety, guilt and anger/frustration, depression, isolation as well as the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and Fear of Other People’s Opinions (FOPO).
‘It can also exacerbate low-mood, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.’
The key here is to make sure you’re not being ‘passive’ in your consumption of social media.
Roberta says that active, positive engagement with social media can be an empowering experience in an anxious time.
‘Social media allows us to be connected to others in the next room (if we are in isolation) and all over the world,’ she explains. ‘The feeling of mass connection and sense of belonging can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation which is vital during a global pandemic.
‘Social distancing, social isolation and quarantine can leave us feeling disconnected, neglected, undervalued, unimportant, helpless and worthless.
‘Positively engaging in social media can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost feelings of self-worth, creativity and a sense of personal agency during a time when we can feel extremely helplessness and powerlessness.’
So how do you make sure you’re engaging with social media in a positive way? Roberta has provided some simple tips which should make your online experience less stressful during this uncertain time.
Change the subject
Positive engagement in social media can involve initiating or participating in interesting debates which are not pandemic-related.
Being curious about people’s thoughts about a book, film or activity is also a way of generating interest and constructive discussions which promote learning opportunities, social bonding and the challenge the place of unhelpful attitudes and narratives.
Celebrate your achievements
Positive engagement in social media also includes appropriately sharing things that you are doing well, or that may be different for you during this unprecedent time of change – both things that work and maybe did not work so well.
This may be focused on how you are managing to keep yourself occupied during a period of self-isolation, your top tips for tackling the DIY job that has been on your list for the last four years, your suggestions of how people can declutter their wardrobes and create packages of items that can be given away, donated to charities, or sold online to raise money for others or yourself.
Create online communities
You may use social media to find new and creative ways to do group activities online together. This may be exercises classes, sewing lessons, watching a film at the same time and then discussing it (Netflix Party), gardening or potting tips or classes, language lessons, study/tutoring sessions or classes, meditations, music groups or even just coffee mornings.
You are only limited by your imagination, and it is amazing what you can do from the comfort of your home which enables you to connect with people.
Promote worthwhile causes
You can use also your extra time on social media to research and promote worthwhile causes and raise awareness on important issues that may have been neglected due to the fast-paced life we have been accustomed to living.
Positively engaging in social media with topics that you feel passionate about can help you find your voice and increase your self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.
One of the major problems with social media is the fact that it has conditioned us to be ‘always on’. As a result, Roberta says that many of us have developed a fear of boredom or stillness – an inability to sit with ourselves and just ‘be’.
She says that to overcome this, we need to develop a deeper understanding about our relationship with social media, and our motivations for using it in the first place.
There are also more tangible negative elements of being on social media too much. The anxiety of waiting for the next piece of disastrous news, feelings of helplessness in the face of so many upsetting stories, the pressure to post even when we are feeling terrible.
But Roberta has some tips to mitigate these negative effects:
Set time limits
Limit the amount of time you spend on social media sites and hold yourself accountable to the time limits.
If this is too difficult, install a social media blocking app which can help reduce your distractibility, and increase your productivity.
Limit the amount of news you consume
If you are anxious about the state of the world, and are feeling overwhelmed by all the painful things that are happening, you may want to limit the number of news sites you visit, or posts you read about a certain issues such as the rising rates of infection or death toll.
Limit time with your devices
Limit the time you spend on your phone and devices. Leave them in another room if you are going to cook, for example.
Create social boundaries, and put your devices away when you are doing other tasks or talking to other people, so you do not become distracted.
Do things that aren’t online
Try to develop a hobby or interest which is social media or phone-free.
Turn off notifications, and radically accept that you will not know everything there is to know about the pandemic, and that you do not have to know everything. Find out where you need to get your essential need to know information and make that your information source.
Build a routine
Make sure you have a constructive daily routine and nighttime routine, no matter how basic.
Try to limit your time on social media just before going to bed, and when you wake up. Give yourself the opportunity to wind down and wake up the natural way.
Take a social media holiday
Create a post letting people know that you are taking a break because you need some space and that you will be back.