Written by guest blogger, Jamie Aten, Ph.D.
Jamie Aten, Ph.D. (counseling psychology) is a Hurricane Katrina and stage IV colorectal cancer survivor. He is the founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Blanchard Chair of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL). His latest book is A Walking Disaster: What Katrina and Cancer Taught Me About Faith and Resilience. In 2016 he received the FEMA Community Preparedness Champion award at the White House. Follow on Twitter at @drjamieaten or visit his website at jamieaten.com.
For those of us who’ve faced cancer, using all forms of media—from social media to mainstream media— is nothing new. As patients, it’s common to utilize media outlets for information and support. Many of us were accessing a variety of media tools prior to COVID-19, and it’s likely that you’re using them even more as the world has begun to socially distance and quarantine.
Loneliness Despite Social Media
Although media, and particularly social media, has helped us stay connected not only as cancer patients, but as friends and family during COVID-19, recent research shows that people are experiencing loneliness at an all-time high.
Media can help us continue to “see” and talk with one another, but the effect of consuming media all day isn’t harmless. It can have a damaging impact on our mental health if we’re not careful. Patients should become highly self-aware about how media makes them feel, and implement boundaries when it’s bringing more harm than help. It’s important to take care of yourself, which includes your mental health.
Signs You Need More Media Boundaries
How can you know if your media consumption and usage is having a negative effect on your mental health? This looks different for everyone, but here are a few reasons you might need stronger boundaries like logging off, hiding/muting certain individuals, and scrolling past an article that brings you anxiety.
You Feel Overly Taxed After Using Online Communications
If you’re feeling even more fatigued after back-to-back Zoom calls, Facetime meetings, and Telehealth appointments, that’s because you’re actually using more energy to engage with others than you do when you’re face-to-face. Not being able to experience nonverbal cues like seeing someone’s environment, listening to tone of voice, or reading body language makes us work even harder. Plus, having your “background” ready for a call can put more physical or emotional work on you—it’s a glimpse into your home environment that many don’t often see. Zoom fatigue is real, but it’s not hopeless!
Tip: Identify when you feel the most exhausted and how many meetings or appointments you can take before you get overly tired and overwhelmed. Try to set a daily schedule that includes time for both online and offline connections. Remember, there are safe ways to be around people if you’re healthy and haven’t been exposed to COVID-19.
You’re Struggling to Not Compare Your Life with Someone Else’s Online
Higher usage of social media has been associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Why? It comes down to fear of missing out (FOMO). If we’re constantly comparing our lives to someone else’s life, we can start to believe our lives aren’t as good as theirs. We assume their life is full of the great moments we see posted, and we can forget they too have rough moments just like we do.
Tip: You might need to take a break from social media if it leads you to constantly compare your life with someone else’s. Use this unique season in history as a time to be selective about your friend lists and who/what you follow. Muting/hiding certain people or types of content, or getting in and out of online groups, can be incredibly empowering.
You’re Compulsively Checking the News or Social Media
Do you feel like you need to constantly check the mainstream media for headline updates or log onto social media so you don’t miss anything? This may be a sign you actually need a break from media. It’s incredibly tempting to believe that logging on to get our “fix” will satisfy the longing to check, but it can actually backfire.
Tip: Taking a break from the media when we have a compulsion to check it is one of the best things we can do for our mental health.
Social Media is a Great Way to Connect — But Monitor Your Mental Health!
We’ve constantly found in our studies that social support is one of the biggest predictors of resilience; staying connected is important! Online media is a great way to stay in touch with loved ones, but make sure you’re engaging and consuming in a way that’s helpful to you and not harmful.
Evaluate what you need to safely engage in video calls, social media, and mainstream media. And don’t forget, although our phones afford us multiple options for online communication and connection these days, sometimes using them for an “old school” phone call is actually very refreshing.