Until ten years ago, it couldn’t have been possible to estimate the roles to be played in our daily lives by devices, such as telephones, etc., and by the social media applications supported by them, and that they would be used in order to support the mental health of the people while fighting against disasters, such as COVID-19.
Social media has a complex use: It’s a source entertainment, connection and information. At the same time, it is a manifestation of what’s on our minds. A short while ago, Forbes reported that 6.7 million people mentioned coronavirus on social media in just 1 day (February 28, 2020). After less than two weeks (March 11), Sprinkler, an analytics company, reported that nearly 20 million people mentioned terms related to coronavirus.
But how do these connections and information affect our minds? In a questionnaire published in February by the Chinese Psychological Society, it was found that 42.6% of the people showed symptoms of anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety are prevalent even in the United States of America, where the virus has newly started to spread. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has reported that there has been an increase in the number of calls received by the institution. Furthermore, Mental Health America, a non-profit organization committed to increase the awareness on mental diseases, reports that there has been a substantial increase in the rate of completion of online anxiety screening tests from early to later February (19%). As per these data, it can be said that people are extremely anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some claim that, although partially, our anxiety has been instigated by the excess amounts of information that social media offers. As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a new term for virus-related happenings on social media: Infodemic. As per the World Health Organization, infodemic stands for getting too much information, some true and some wrong, which makes it difficult for people to find reliable sources and guidelines when needed.
Nevertheless, social media also offers many aspects that would help those who feel anxious and isolated. In addition to eating well, staying active and taking care of our physical self, we also have to monitor our mental health. The American Psychological Association recommends alleviating anxiety by creating a sense of normality and protecting the social networks. This recommendation can be actualized by establishing connections with others through video chat software, e-mail or messenger applications. Moreover, the helpful information shared during these interactions with family and friends helps individuals cope with their own anxieties. The act of providing each other with support has been proven to be beneficial both for the one being supported and for the one who supports.
Consequently, managing the anxiety is a matter of balance. It will be helpful to consciously regulate the media consumption and to avoid using misinformation. We can use technology both to gravitate toward body and mind and to establish connections with people to relax during these uncertain times.
Wiederhold , B.K. Using Social Media to Our Advantage: Alleviating Anxiety During a Pandemic, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking,23(4), https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2020.29180.bkw