Call me Captain Obvious, but these are anxious times.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt daily life—and with COVID-19 infection rates back on the rise, things are likely to get worse again before they get better.
Needless to say, it doesn’t bode well for the 2020 holiday season. Halloween is tomorrow—and that will be our first test. The call to sacrifice our usual traditions this year for the greater good of public health and safety is already crystal clear.
Not only that, but we’re on the brink of one of the most contentious elections this country has ever seen—a history-changing event that, ultimately, may take weeks or even months to reach its conclusion.
So if you’ve found yourself spending more time scrolling through social media to stay in the loop these days, well… you’re in good company. But you know what? You might also want to stop, sooner rather than later…
Social media is a mixed bag
A new study surveyed more than 300 subjects living in urban areas of Wuhan, China back in February. Researchers asked participants how they used social media to access and share health information with their family, friends, and colleagues. (Most notably, WeChat—China’s most popular social media app.)
They used a tool designed to measure Facebook “addiction” in order to assess WeChat use, including its perceived informational and emotional value to users. (For example, participants were asked whether they used WeChat to get answers to questions about coronavirus, and whether the app helped to alleviate stress or loneliness.)
Researchers assessed for health behavior changes—like mask wearing and hand washing—related to social media use. They also assessed emotions using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale and the Secondary Trauma Stress Scale. (It’s called “secondary trauma” when it’s the result of hearing about a traumatizing experience suffered by a significant other, rather than one suffered firsthand.)
Results revealed a mixed bag, to say the least: On the one hand, social media offered a high amount of informational and peer support. Meanwhile, emotional support was lackluster, at best.
In fact, more than half of the survey’s respondents reported depression, which was moderate or severe in a good 20 percent of cases. Similarly, secondary trauma was at least low level in 80 percent of sufferers—and levels were moderate to high in another 20 percent.
The bottom line? Social media appears to be a tool with diminishing returns—especially in these harrowing times.
According to these findings, your Facebook feed may be incredibly rewarding and beneficial… up to a point. But once you cross over to excessive use, your mental health is all but bound to suffer for it. And you’d be wise to reconsider your online habits.
I realize this may seem like odd advice for me to dispense. Clearly, I rely on social media a lot to communicate health information to my readers and keep them informed.
And I’m certainly not suggesting that you have to cancel your internet service to stay sane. (Especially not now, when staying home is the rule rather than the exception—and if anything, finding ways to socialize remotely is more important than ever.)
But if you’re feeling depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, consider temporarily deactivating your profile and giving yourself a break from “doom scrolling.” I promise, your friends will understand. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to keep you up to date on some of the most relevant health findings each week, right here in my Reality Health Check, and in my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives. So, as always, stay tuned.
“Social media use linked with depression, secondary trauma during COVID-19.” Science Daily, 09/29/2020. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200929152149.htm)