Social media during the pandemic: The good, bad and ugly

Mental health expert offers 4 strategies to limit your technology use

I think you and I have something in common – for good or bad, social media and technology have impacted our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we all were forced to socially distance ourselves from others, technology and social media played an invaluable role in providing connections with people.

There is a lot of give-and-take when it comes to social media. It has at the same time been our way of staying connected and our way of driving isolation.

The Good of Social Media:

  • Helps you stay in touch with loved ones, especially those who live in remote areas
  • Offers the ability to discover new communities and friends
  • Promotes worthwhile causes, such as mental health
  • Connects people who offer emotional support from similar life experiences
  • Provides an outlet for creativity and self-expression

The Bad of Social Media:

  • Used as a form of validation
  • Serves as a replacement for meaningful connections
  • Brings forth the fear of missing out, or feelings of exclusion

The Ugly of Social Media:

  • Gives an unrealistic view of what’s really going on in other’s lives
  • Brings out a digital age of vulnerability, particularly with teen girls who are trying to figure out if what they see online is real or fantasy

Even as a life-long mental health advocate, I have struggled with how technology is shaping my mental wellness this past year. I’ve spent hours upon hours working on my computer or phone and have felt like technology was consuming my entire life cycle. Research shows there are ramifications for this behavior.

Human beings are social creators, but technology takes away a huge portion of the benefits of social interactions by eliminating face-to-face communication. Overuse of technology and social media, which is designed to hold our attention, may lead to psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and isolation.

The Pew Research Center says that 69 percent of adults and 81 percent of teens use social media. That means a large part of society could be at risk for depression and anxiety if they are not monitoring their social media use.

Our interaction with social media psychologically affects us when dopamine – the feel-good chemical – is released in the brain. It’s the same feeling you get when you savor your favorite meal. This release of dopamine can be very enticing, and why so many people have turned to social media during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the outcomes of social media aren’t predictable and this can lead to mental health challenges if not monitored. When someone uploads a photo, they want a certain reaction from their followers. Plenty of likes? Their brain releases dopamine. Not enough likes? They could feel bad about themselves and want to alter their photo.

So, what can we do?

Here are four strategies you can use to limit technology use:

  1. Set Limits – It is good to set limits for technology use. You can do this by only checking in on social media at certain times of the day. Or you could get an app that monitors your time (Moment for Apple and AppDetox for Android both provide a platform that lets you set up your parameters and then sends you annoying alerts when you go over your screen time).
  2. Turn It Off – Waiting for all those notifications to come through your device can negatively impact your feelings. Turning off your phone at certain times, such as when you go to bed, or disabling notification settings can give you the necessary break from technology.
  3. Change Your Focus – Leaving technology behind to focus on something else, such as a hobby you haven’t focused on in a while, lets you explore your creative outlets and experience new things. Enjoy spending time off the grid by letting people in your life know you are decompressing so they can respect your time away from technology.
  4. Express Gratitude – When we train our brain to look for the good in our lives, it helps to improve our well-being and makes us more resilient. Writing in a physical journal (not an app) is a great way to show gratitude for the life you have outside of technology.

These suggestions are simple, but not easy.

We think we know these things. We hear them and the strategies may seem obvious, but we have to actually use them for them to work. If we don’t put in the effort to set up boundaries, the negative effects of technology and social media will outweigh the good.

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About the Author:

Talli Goldman-Dolge is the CEO of Jewish Family Service. She is a very visible and vocal advocate for mental health awareness and programs in the San Antonio community, and is involved in similar activities on a national scale. In 2019, she helped form the San Antonio Mobile Mental Wellness Collaborative.