In response to the global pandemic we are facing, governments and public health officials from several parts of the world have given us orders to comply with that do not come instinctively to our very social nature: practicing social distance (Miller, 2020). While social (really, physical) distancing is crucial to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of the virus, it seems to be coming at a significant cost to people’s mental well-being and health. After all, interpersonal connection is a basic human need and when it is disrupted during an already stressful period of time, it can further exacerbate mental health concerns.
Thankfully, we live in an era where digital connection is easily accessible and available to most of us. The internet enables us to connect with friends and family in a time of social distancing so that we can continue to be together, virtually. The rise of usage of video conferencing apps such as Zoom, Skype and Houseparty once again highlights how the internet has been playing a vital role amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association (2020), maintaining our social networks during a time like this can provide us with an outlet to share our feelings with our loved ones, relieve stress while doing so, as well as lend a sense of normalcy. These are all things that can help keep our mental health in check.
However, while it is mostly true that the internet can be beneficial by providing us a platform to stay connected with our loved ones, it can also act as a double-edged sword and further exacerbate our mental well-being instead. Besides the increased usage of video conferencing apps, most of us also tend to be mindlessly scrolling through social media such as Instagram and Twitter regularly during this time. When we look at stories or tweets of people who seem extremely productive or positive, we might think that we are doing something wrong or that we are just not making good use of our time in isolation. This can cause additional and unnecessary stress as we try to be more like the people we engage with online while failing to realise there is nothing wrong in simply being ourselves at the present moment.
A few things we should keep in mind when using social media:
- Understand that social distancing does not mean it is a productivity contest. Balance harsh times with gentleness and be easy on ourselves. Do what we can or want to, and not force ourselves to do things simply because everyone else seems to be doing so.
- Not everything we observe on social media is true or realistic! People on social media are keen to show only things that are pleasing to the eyes, so, we should be mindful and realistic regarding our expectations. Thus, we do not stress ourselves further by creating unrealistic goals and expectations of ourselves.
- It is perfectly natural to want to present only our best selves online which is why it might seem as if everyone is always happy or positive. We never truly know how someone is doing just from their social media, so, continue to check up on friends and family directly instead of just engaging with their posts online.
Another concern of increased digital connection during a global pandemic will be what the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls as an infodemic. There is an overabundance of information (and misinformation) online. Such misinformation can cause even more fear and anxiety in an already stressful period. Therefore, it is extremely crucial for us to manage our news intake and consumption. While it is alright to check for updates every now and then, if we find ourselves obsessively refreshing our social media to keep up with the never-ending news, it might be a sign for us to step back. We should also make sure our sources are trustworthy and reliable. The news and information we read on social media platforms are determined by algorithms which usually show us content that attracts the most attention, not necessarily content that is accurate (Wiederhold, 2020). Therefore, to avoid unnecessary panic and worry, we should stick to verified news outlets.
To sum up, digital connection can be our biggest ally or enemy during social distancing. Social distancing does not mean we are required to isolate ourselves completely, thus, it is important to continue to find alternatives to stay in touch with our loved ones. Social interaction is important to humans. While virtual communication can never entirely replace face to face interaction, it is definitely better than having no connection entirely. At the same time, it is also crucial for us to be mindful of our presence online and not let social media or other digital platforms affect our mood. It is not impossible to find the fine line between both; it is up to us to decide how we are going to utilise digital connection to our advantage.
- American Psychological Association. Five ways to view coverage of the coronavirus. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/pandemics (accessed May 16, 2020).
- Miller, G. (2020). Social distancing prevents infections, but it can have unintended consequences. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/we-are-social-species-how-will-social-distancing-affect-us
- Wiederhold, B, K. (2020). Social Media Use During Social Distancing. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, 23(5), 275. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/cyber.2020.29181.bkw
Contributed by: Pavithra Kumaravelu
Pavithra is an undergraduate student with the Singapore Institute of Management, pursuing a double major in Psychology and Sociology. She is into music and loves to groove to punk and rock. She also loves to look through memes and can be called a meme enthusiast!