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Digital Distancing: Navigating Social Media Use During Covid-19

With a worldwide quarantine in place, digital presence is on the rise now more than ever. According to Facebook, the global average time spent on their social media apps which include Instagram and Whatsapp, has increased by 70% since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. The internet and social media platforms have been effective mediums for information sharing and connecting with loved ones across the globe especially during this ongoing global health crisis. Whether it’s important news, motivational content or baking tutorials, social media has been the go-to platform for people to connect. More importantly, several organisations and educational institutions have turned to e-learning platforms. In a time where social distancing is the norm, the digital space is what helps us feel connected.

Although increased social media use is inevitable, it is a double-edged sword and excessive use poses potential harm to one’s mental and physical well-being. The digital space is a virtual city that never sleeps; it is almost impossible to avoid exposure to a variety of news and content at any given time. Especially during these unprecedented times, many of us are coping with the uncertainty by anxiously scouring every online media platform possible. However, in the process we are constantly exposed to heavy content, intimidating statistics and more uncertainty. This begins a vicious cycle, instilling fear, increasing anxiety and stress. Amidst the abundance of information and content, misinformation and fake news about coronavirus has been in rampant circulation. Unreliable sources that have a large presence online may misuse their community outreach by spreading rumours about the origin symptoms and treatment of the disease, posing health risks, increasing stress, and instigating xenophobic behaviour. In addition, panic consumerism has been largely influenced by the social media portrayal of the situation, leading to excessive fear and negative apprehensions. Despite audiences being alerted about fake news and unreliable sources, certain people still turn to social media for news on the pandemic. According to a recent study by Flixed, nearly 20% of people in the US use Youtube as their primary information source with Twitter second in line. As a responsible consumer, we must factcheck news and information from medical experts and rely on reputable sources such as the national newspaper or the World Health Organisation. In addition, it is important to refrain from sharing hearsay and forwarding information without the support of reliable sources. According to research, repeated exposure to negative and traumatic events can result in high acute stress as well as activate the fear circuitry in the brain, causing flashbacks and mental disturbance that may lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Hence, it is important to disengage and cut off the endless exposure from time to time  in order to manage stress levels.

Apart from misinformation, social media often influences our daily lifestyle and in the process leads to social comparative behaviour, diminishing our self-esteem. Now, with the most ever online activity, people across the globe are sharing their ‘lockdown lifestyle’ such as productive morning routines, skincare routines, cooking sessions and workouts. There is impending pressure to be productive or do something creative every minute of this quarantine period, adding to the existing pressures of social media in terms of social comparison and self-enhancement. It’s essential to note that every individual is being affected by the situation in different ways and is dealing with different issues. There is no norm for how one must cope or grieve and while activities such as baking and exercising might be relaxing for some, they may not be for others. Activities that were once enjoyed may become associated with stress due to the online social pressure to strive for perfection. It is important to note that social media only offers glimpses of people’s lives and not an accurate representation.

While it’s a good thing to be proactive, we should also be mindful as we aim to digitally disconnect. For starters, time spent on social media must not replace essential healthy behaviours such as sleep or exercise. If you are experiencing difficulties in unplugging, voice your struggles to a loved one or a friend, perhaps someone you are currently quarantined with. It may be helpful to team up with a buddy to set limits on screen time per day and hold one another accountable. It may help to designate screen-free times such as during meal times or bed time or even screen-free places in your home where you may get together with your loved ones to spend quality time. In addition, there are several applications that turn off wifi or block certain apps at predetermined times (eg: StayFocusd and Forest). Try charging your devices overnight in a room other than your bedroom in order to avoid nighttime social media use and ensure restful sleep. These measures will help reduce social media exposure as well as establish a routine, inducing a sense of normalcy. If anxiety or stress persists while you disconnect, guided meditation may be useful in achieving a calmer state of mind and feeling grounded. Alternatively, seek one activity that brings you joy or relaxes you and channel your energy into doing that. It could be as simple as sipping on tea on your balcony, reading a book or listening to music.