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It’s complicated: Our relationship with social media

Image of soldier lying down, looking at his phone Social media during downtime can be a tricky activity in these days of pandemic and social distancing. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Keith Thornburgh)

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We’re in the midst of a challenging, emotional time as most of the nation is working from home and many service members are deployed in support of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scrolling through social media posts about COVID-19 may intensify negative feelings, especially for those struggling with depression or loneliness.

Impact of Social Media on our Mental Health

It’s true that social media can help connect and reconnect people. However, it may increase feelings of isolation or remind people of what they don’t have and what they feel they’re missing out on.

Many states are experiencing mandatory stay-at-home orders, parents are teleworking and children are participating in virtual schools. The impact can be taxing; understanding how to cope with the stress and anxiety of this “new normal” is critical. Turning to social media is an obvious way to stay connected with the outside world, family, and friends. Finding the right dose of social media is the key.

Social Media Pros and Cons

Researchers discovered that social networking sites, such as Facebook, have psychological benefits like connection, communication, and a sense of belonging. At the same time, several studies indicate that prolonged use of the internet might be associated with signs and symptoms of depression and low self-esteem and loneliness.

So, what’s a social media user to do? There are ways to navigate tricky times. The key is awareness.

Limit Social Media Influence on Mood

Yes, there are circumstances when social media can help with the blues. However, those who are vulnerable to negative social comparison or never-ending gloom and doom news should take steps to protect themselves. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Notice when exposure to others’ happiness brings you down. Use the free T2 Mood Tracker mobile app (Android, iOS) to see if your moods change with certain activities (such as using social media).
  • Limit social media use if you see that it affects your mood. Take a break — you’ll have plenty of time to catch up.
  • Talk with a trusted friend about your feelings. Reality checks with peers about their experiences while coping during the COVID-19 pandemic can help; it’s likely that others face similar challenges.
  • Manage stress by getting enough sleep and exercise. Also, watch what you eat and how much you drink — a bad diet and too much alcohol can negatively affect your mood.
  • Manage your expectations. COVID-19 news and updates are all around us. It’s a global pandemic and the world is reminded daily about case counts, deaths, and what local communities are doing to stop the spread. Give yourself a break from media coverage and focus on what you need to know for yourself and your family.
  • Plan a pleasant activity that is doable. Walk on a trail, take a bubble bath, or find a mentally healthy way to connect with family and friends. After you return to social media, you may decide to post photos from your activity. If you need suggestions, try the free Positive Activity Jackpot mobile app for Android.

Maintaining life balance and focusing on positives can help us all navigate social media during these challenging times.

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