Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic over the last seven months, we’ve found ourselves wading through the murky waters of loneliness, disconnection, uncertainty, frustration, and loss. The face-to-face human interaction that once existed in our lives before March 2020 was quickly ripped away and replaced with a screen for many of us. With these increased feelings, our tolerance level in handling difficult interactions and opposing views on social-media platforms has decreased. We lack filters where we once enforced them, we start waging war on the words of others, and we dissect the dissonance between us and our friends and family we once thought were so aligned with us. The correlation between our current mental health and our social-media usage in this time of the pandemic is alarming.
In August 2020, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation. Responses were collected from 5,412 adults age 18 and over during the period of June 24-30, 2020 for this report. It was found that “40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health (anxiety, depression, trauma/stressor-related symptoms, and suicidal ideation) or substance use.”
Additionally, the CDC found that 10.7% of the respondents were seriously considering suicide within 30 days before completing the survey. In addition, research Cigna has done annually on loneliness discovered that three out of five (61%) of the 10,000 adults surveyed reported experiencing loneliness, which Cigna subsequently called “epidemic levels.” It is staggering to look at the results from each survey, recognizing that likely three out of five adults in the U.S. who already wrestled with an elevated baseline of loneliness are experiencing further loneliness and isolation throughout the pandemic, resulting in increased mental health concerns.
Netflix recently released a documentary called The Social Dilemma that has shed light on the significant impact social media outlets can have on us. Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, shared, “We’re [tech companies] training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid, we have a digital pacifier for ourselves. That is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” In combining this knowledge of how social media is created to pacify human weakness, loneliness, and uncertainty with the pandemic and our world’s unrest, we discover a recipe for destruction.
How do we navigate a world-wide pandemic and social media outlets that sniff out our every thought, feeling, craving, and action? Here are some helpful ways to approach social media and our daily interactions (online or offline) in this season:
Remember, you have a choice
Yes, you may absolutely not have a choice (or responsibility) for how someone treats you or responds to you, but you unequivocally have a choice in how you respond to them. Maybe that response is a call to action, or it could be a call to get reflective/introspective or to acknowledge your need to set a boundary and block those individuals. You are the only one who has the ability to stop scrolling and trolling through your social media site of choice.
Take a break
Bring mindfulness to your social-media usage. Most smart phones now have the ability to tell you how many hours you have spent on various apps. Look at those hours and determine whether that feels like a healthy amount of usage. Identify the reasons you accessed your social media account to begin with that day (curiosity, boredom, habit, looking for connection), and identify tangible ways to meet those same needs without an electronic device in front of you. Give yourself permission to unplug and recharge in a different way.
Recognize that there’s more than meets the eye
It is vital to remember that we’re only seeing one dimension of a person through their post on social media, and not the fullness of who they are. We can’t always see what they’re struggling with, their desperation for significance and belonging, the offensiveness/defensiveness pouring out of a place that feels far too painful to pry open and process. We are merely seeing a one-dimensional representation of a four-dimensional person with a story that we may never have the privilege of truly knowing.
While simple, these steps are a powerful place to start in caring for our own mental health and the health of those around us.
Leeann Beach, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor with The Willow Center and can be reached at 419-720-5800.
Orlowski, Jeff & Rhodes, Larissa. (2020). The Social Dilemma [Netflix].