Let’s start by asking ourselves a few questions:
- How much time have I spent on social media in the last 24 hours?
- Has my time spent on social media increased or decreased since the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?
- What emotions have I experienced in the last 24 hours?
In psychology, the study of how social media impacts mental wellbeing has thus far yielded mixed results. While some studies show distinctly positive effects of social media use, other studies show largely negative effects. For example, Ahn and Shin’s (2013) findings demonstrated that the relationship between subjective wellbeing and offline communication is mediated by connectedness and avoidance of social isolation. If an individual seeks connectedness, social media usage can help facilitate this goal thus increasing wellbeing. Conversely, if a person is trying to avoid social isolation, social media usage can also facilitate this goal thus decreasing wellbeing. As you can see, social media usage can be a double-edged sword.
Understanding the impact of social media usage on our mental wellbeing at this specific moment is essential. Google Trends show an exponential surge in ‘corona’ searches globally since January. This means that more people are searching for and sharing this information across social media platforms like Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook. When we are faced with new uncertainties, our minds naturally try to make sense of the chaos we experience. By increasing our levels of anxiety, our minds propel us to search for facts that make sense. However, we run the risk of increasing our distress if we cannot cope with the information, if the information is inaccurate and increases anxiety, and/or if we become oversaturated with information.
Now go back to the third question posited to you at the beginning of this article. If you are experiencing more unpleasant emotions than usual, now is the time start limiting your exposure to information as an effective way to manage difficult emotions. Here are a few ways to place healthy boundaries around social media:
- Determine which sources give you accurate, up-to-date information (e.g. World Health Organization, Centre for Diseases and Control, your local health authority)
- Put a limit on how many times you search for coronavirus related news
- Ask friends and family to limit the amount of coronavirus related news they are sharing with you
- Replace social media time with other activities that will boost your mood (e.g. return to an old hobby such as writing, learn a new skill like a different language, try at-home workouts from YouTube)
- When using social media, incorporate positive news outlets in the mix (some of our favourite Instagram accounts are below)
If you find you are experiencing high levels of mental distress that you cannot cope with over a pronounced period (over 2 weeks), please reach out to a health professional to discuss your concerns.
Ah, D., & Shin, D. H. (2013). Is the social use of media for seeking connectedness or for avoiding social isolation? Mechanisms underlying media use and subjective well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2453-2462.