Is Social Media Making Us More or Less Isolated During the Pandemic?

Is it bad to use social media for connection during a pandemic?

Using social media too much can amplify anxiety and depression, and generally make us feel lonelier and more disconnected. It can intensify our sense of isolation and separateness from others by tricking our minds into comparing ourselves to the idealized personas of our online “friends” in so many ways. 

It’s clearly bad for us to spend too much time on “social” platforms, and in-person, face-to-face communication is categorically better. It’s vital for our well-being—a literal necessity, a basic human need. And yet we find ourselves in strange times, where physical isolation has become a public good, essential for protecting our loved ones, and basically just the “right thing” to do. 

So, when the world’s flipped upside down and we’re all stuck inside, is social media still so harmful? Or is it the best thing we’ve got, considering the circumstances? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so simple, and oftentimes it’s a frustrating response to hear: it’s complicated, and it depends.

Social Media and Mental Health

Let’s be clear—to say that social media is all “bad” for our mental health is an oversimplification. The term “social media” describes a variety of platforms, and some are more concerning than others. It also depends on your “settings,” who you’re friends with, what content you’re viewing, and how much time you spend on it. 

When used appropriately, it can actually be a powerful tool for connecting us to people we may otherwise not be able to engage with, and it can help us to communicate ideas and express ourselves and our beliefs to others in a way that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. Like most tools, it really depends on how we use it. A hammer can be used to build a house, or to break bones. Social media’s not inherently good or bad. But if not used intentionally, it can really do a number on us.

Our nervous systems are designed to avoid threats to our safety. They work really well—sometimes too well. We weren’t built to respond to global pandemics. Our nervous systems are meant to respond to immediate threats (in the moment), not ongoing, prolonged and abstract ones. In a pandemic, our nervous systems can get tricked into staying in the “on” position, leading to prolonged adrenaline and stress hormone releases. This causes serious anxiety, fatigue, hopelessness, and a host of other upsetting experiences.

In an ideal world, stress is a super helpful thing that gets us out of harm’s way, and then as soon as we’re safe, it shuts off. With anxiety, we can be safe, but the nervous system still thinks there’s a threat—it gets confused! Seeing too many social media posts about COVID-19 numbers can make our brain think we’re in danger—even if we’re taking excellent precautions. Additionally, seeing people engage in unproductive conflict and name calling online can make us feel helpless, sometimes hopeless. In terms of our mood, seeing too much negativity can give us the perception that, well, basically, that everything is F#%&@&! This isn’t good; it’s disempowering, really, it’s depressing.

Using Social Media Mindfully

As we’ve noted, social media isn’t all bad (despite what your grandparents tell you). Here’s the “it depends” part—if you stay on the right side of it and use it mindfully, it can be a helpful tool. 

  • First and foremost, use it to stay in touch with people who make you feel good. That’s pretty simple. Exchanging direct messages with friends and loved ones who give you good vibes is a good thing. 
  • Second, reading uplifting things that inspire you never hurts
  • Third, using social media to find resources, advice, knowledge, and connection is great!!! (It just requires a tremendous amount of awareness, intention and strategy to do—for every way that exists to do it right, there’s about 100 ways to end up in the ditch.)
  • Fourth, think before you post—whether a response to someone else, or a new statement you want to make to the world, take a moment before you hit the blue button to check in with yourself, and ask, “Why am I really posting this?” And be honest. If it’s because you feel inspired to share part of yourself with your community, go for it. If it’s coming from a place of “fear,” consider doing something to take care of the psyche instead—because posting will not help—we repeat, it WILL NOT help. 
  • Lastly, don’t spend too much time on social media. An hour is plenty. Especially the stressful stuff—only take in what you need to be well, and then give it a rest. 

Get Support From an Online Therapist

Being a person is very difficult. It’s even more difficult considering the current circumstances. The most important thing is that you take care of yourself, and understand that your struggles do matter—and that there’s help available to you. 2020 has been intense regardless of who you are, and we all need the support! 

The good news is that mental health services are available, and some traditional barriers to access are no longer a problem (ie. travel distance, location, etc.). Online therapy (also called “telehealth therapy”) is now widely available and easily accessed by a smartphone or computer.  

At Ellie Family Services, all of our providers (therapists, skills workers, and psychiatric medication providers) are available to connect online, and services are covered by almost all the insurance carriers. If you’re feeling isolated, depressed, or just plain down during the pandemic, you’re not alone by any means. Seek support today, or give us a call if you have any questions.