Social Media During Covid 19: How Much Is Too Much?

Social Media During Covid 19: How Much Is Too Much?

I’ve been thinking a lot about dialectics during this Pandemic. If you are new to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a dialectic is defined in DBT as two truths that coexist, even if they seem opposite. The dialectic that strikes me the most is the truth that we are seemingly living in very primitive times with a virus that has no known cure, even though we are so technologically advanced.

As I do therapy sessions with clients via Zoom, I often stop to reflect how remarkable it is that I have access to the whole world via my computer or smartphone, and yet here we are living in a time that seems very much like 1918.

Our lives have greatly moved online. Which brings me to the second dialectic: how wonderful it is that we can stay connected to the outside world. I am grateful that I am able to continue work with my clients. In so many ways, we are able to keep our mental health in-check through virtual connection. The other half of this dialectic is that all this time online can also be damaging to our mental health.

Perhaps you have thought, “I couldn’t possibly imagine four months ago that I could spend any MORE time online.” Or, maybe you thought the same for your child or teenager. And yet, it IS possible. We are all likely online now more than ever, and while we need to be for many reasons, it is important to be mindful of how much is too much and when we need to dial it back a little bit (pun intended).

My own social media use has increased substantially and I have seen this for my clients, as well. At times, I have felt guilty or shameful about this. I know, as a mental health professional, the negative consequences of spending too much time in front of screens, and yet, I’m doing it anyway.

See also: Social Media Experiences and Depression

My best advice to myself and to my clients, who are also finding themselves slipping into increased screen use is to try not to judge yourself. Instead, let’s try to understand it. From there, we can start to make changes.

It is always important to take a look at the function of our behavior. In the absence (or great decline) of activity in our lives due to COVID-19, it is understandable to want to see what is going on in the lives of others or in the world.

With a 24-hour news cycle, it becomes tempting to refresh the headlines constantly. We are lonely, we are scared, we are grieving in many ways–the loss of loved ones, the loss of strangers, the loss of our normal schedules, or the loss of feeling safe. We are living in the unknown, but one thing is constant: social media. Our apps are always there for us, so we look to them and what we find on them for comfort.

In shared grief or turmoil, we want connection, and while social media can provide it, the dialectic is that it can also make you feel more distant and isolated. In that vein, I am finding that the teenagers I work with have been trying to find connections outside of their usual circles. Many have been on apps where they connect with strangers. Many are playing video games that enable chatting with strangers.  Many are feeling so desperate for attention and connection that they are overposting on apps like Instagram and TikTok, and they have become even more obsessed with getting “likes”.

The third dialectic on my mind lately is that social media can bring us happiness, making us feel better, AND it can also make us feel really awful. In the absence of activity in our lives, it is natural to want to see what’s going on in others’ lives, even if it is also inactivity.

It is important to remember that people are STILL posting the highlights and highs of their lives and rarely the dark moments and lows. You may be feeling extra jealous of those who get to quarantine by the beach or with others. You may watch others boast about their steady exercise regimen, new hobbies or businesses, or smiling family photos with captions saying, “so grateful for this newly found family time,” when your family seems to be constantly fighting or you cannot be with your family.

Specific to children and teenagers, it is important to be mindful that social media can be unsafe. Even in a pandemic, it is important for parents to follow-through with online safety protocols. A lot of social media restrictions have been lifted by parents and I understand why–teenagers (and children) need social interaction. A lot of parents are completely stressed and burnt out during this time and rightfully so. It is OKAY, as a parent, if you have become lenient with extra screen-time for your child or teenager. We are all trying to get through this.

Another dialectic: it is still important to balance and try to keep things as “normal” as possible in our “new normal“. A lot of restrictions lifted because with limits and behavioral change comes behavioral burst, and what parent wants or needs that right now?

See also: How to Help Your Kids Navigate the “New Normal” with Coronavirus

Some tips for parents:

  1. Make sure social media accounts are private.
  2. Reiterate the importance of safety and limiting geo-tagging.
  3. Remember that it is your parental right to check phones once in-awhile to see what is going on, but give as much privacy as is right for your child.

For ourselves and for our children, we should be making an effort to stay connected in other ways. I am mindful of when I am talking to my friends through social media versus actually getting on a call or FaceTime. I am way more mindful in my conversations when I am off the apps.

One tactic I have been trying to do is “social media distancing“. Drawing from the idea of staying six feet away from other people, I try to stay six “minutes” away from social media. When you feel the urge to kill time on social media, I urge you to try to set a timer for six minutes, and in that time, do something else like read a book, fix a healthy snack, go outside, or play with a pet, etc. When those six minutes are up, make a mindful decision to stay offline or to go online. You may find that you really don’t need to, or you might find that you do. What you are doing in those six minutes is using the DBT STOP skill, so be proud of yourself and acknowledge your efforts even if you don’t feel successful.

While technology is a gift to all of us right now, be mindful when that gift is becoming too much of a good thing. Try to enjoy it in as much moderation as possible and do so mindfully. You may be surprised at all the things you discover that you like doing offline as you cut back, and we can all use some pleasant surprises right now.

Wishing you all health and as much happiness as possible during these challenging times.

Authored by:  Jaime Gleicher, LMSW