Coronavirus crisis: Social media doing more harm than good
Australians should avoid falling into a 'social media spiral' amid the coronavirus pandemic in order to support their mental health.
Beyond Blue lead clinical adviser Dr Grant Blashki said social media platforms were a "real trap" as the health crisis continues to unfold.
"Social media is a real trap at the moment for people with mental health conditions and they need to be proactive in limiting their exposure and just touching base once or twice a day to stay up to date and then leaving it alone," Dr Blashki said.
Dr Blashki said it was important to stick to "credible sources of information".
"It might also be useful to moderate your media consumption during the day and sticking to the credible sources of information to keep you up-to-date and pulling yourself up if you fall into the trap of engaging with the voluminous social media horror stories!," he said.
In a wide-ranging Q&A with News Corp readers, he urged Australians to ensure they took time out to read books or listen to relaxing music to ensure the coronavirus crisis did not overwhelm them.
He also offered tips to manage mental illness amid the pandemic, advice on how to discuss the pandemic with children and strategies to alleviate sleepless nights.
Here's what Dr Blashki had to say.
Q. I am finding that I am beginning to feel a certain amount of resentment towards others. I have been checking in on family, friends, etc to stay connected and let them know they are not alone. However yesterday 95 per cent of our customers (I am a business owner) had to freeze their businesses. Therefore, my business (which employs many staff) is now challenged. Not one person checked in on me or my family. Is this just me being selfish? But right now I could really do with a little support or a simple message. So it is just making me feel quite sad that no one appears to care.
A. My impression at the moment is that people are really shocked and stressed about what has happened and I recommend not personalising the lack of people reaching out to you at this point, as it's much more likely to be related to their own stresses and distractions.
You may find it useful to log on to our forum which has a specific theme around managing stress during the Corona outbreak. The forums provide a safe place for people to connect and support each other by sharing stories of hope, resilience and recovery.
At Beyond Blue we've been really mindful that the small business owners are doing it tough and it's a real challenge for them trying to maintain a business in this environment and look after their staff also. Here's a link to our heads up program which is all about maintaining mental health in the workplace
Look after your good self and don't take things personally during this unprecedented time!
Stay safe out there! “Hands... washing hands..” 🎶 pic.twitter.com/QaRB1qZshp— Neil Diamond (@NeilDiamond) March 22, 2020
Q. What strategies do you recommend for primary school age kids?
A. Kids know what's going on and as a general principle it's better to be honest with them and let them know what's happening and at the same time get the balance right to not over-communicate and scare them. Use your common sense regarding their age and capacity to understand what's going on. The first thing is to let them know that they are safe and that the scientists and health system in Australia are some of the best in the world and that we have an excellent plan to get through this time. Let them know that this is temporary and that the scientist think we will have a good vaccine or treatment. Listen to them and ask them if they have any particular questions or concerns that they want to ask, and this will give you a good sense of what's on their mind. Talk with them about being sensible when they are online and if they are watching videos or content that is causing them too much distress to give it a break or put it away. This little vid from Beyond Blue is helpful about managing kids exposure to scary news.
Q. My 22-year-old son has had an anxiety disorder and IBS for four years now, this constant barrage of info is distressing him more, what can I do besides promoting discussion and encouraging him to watch/listen to uplifting movies, podcasts and music?
A. Sorry to hear that your son has been having a difficult time for the last four years, I'm sure the current events are not helping things! Sounds like you have some sensible ideas about engaging him in positive and relaxing media of movies podcasts and music. I guess the trick is to help him manage his anxiety as best as possible, and Beyond Blue has a lot of resources about what is the very best evidence for managing anxiety conditions.
As I said in some of the other posts I think that the social media is a real trap at the moment for people with mental health conditions and they need to be proactive in limiting their exposure and just touching base once or twice a day to stay up to date and then leaving it alone.
Q. I'm finding my anxiety has heightened quite considerably especially at night, I read and watch media reports to stay informed during the day but pay for it at night with worry. Can you suggest ways in which I can ease the racing thoughts at night to rest? Thank you
A. It is certainly a anxiety provoking time and I think for many of us it's easy to become obsessed with the news and the endless flow of social media posts.
In this regard, all of us and I think especially those who are prone to anxiety need to be quite disciplined about the way that they're consuming media. For many people the best thing is to just allocate a time of the day to have a quick look at what's happening and stay informed and then switching things off.
I think for getting some sleep in the evening a couple of strategies that might be helpful are trying to absorb your mind in a good book, putting on some relaxing music, or I find some of my patients find that an audiobook is a beautiful way to distract your mind and leave the worries of the day behind.
It might also be useful to moderate your media consumption during the day and sticking to the credible sources of information to keep you up-to-date and pulling yourself up if you fall into the trap of engaging with the voluminous social media horror stories!
Other things that are useful for slowing down racing thoughts are keeping up regular exercise, taking up meditation and for example there are excellent free apps such as the smiling mind app which is a great way to get started on meditation.
Q. Recommendations for managing existing mental illness when it seems that everyone is more anxious? I have OCD, general anxiety disorder and depression and am finding it really difficult to stop catastrophising, especially when everyone around me seems to be in panic mode and people are yelling at each other for leaving the house.
A. Sounds like a difficult situation and everybody is very stressed at the moment- not easy when you are already managing an anxiety condition, which so many Australians are having to do.
So at this time people with mental health conditions really need to stick to their management plan, and also try to speak openly with family members about what works best for them during this time.
Everyone is trying to get the balance right between staying safe and following official recommendations and on the other hand having a sustainable situation in our homes as this looks like it's going to be abit of a marathon rather than a sprint.
My recommendation would be to stick closely to the official recommendations on the government website regarding hygiene and safety requirements and use that as your benchmark regarding what is reasonable behaviour.
Regarding the catastrophising, try to keep your thoughts in check by informing yourself with only credible sources (eg: health.gov.au) and avoid falling into the spiral of social media, as there is much information there that is not accurate and is likely to be unhelpful to you.
Q. I have suffered from extreme anxiety/depression prior to this. Am now working from home. Always wake at 4am worrying.
A. Hi John thanks for your comment and certainly people who have had extreme anxiety and depression before are finding that this whole scenario amplifying their stresses! As I said in some of the other posts I think it's very important to stick with your mental health plan, and continue with routine, any psychological treatments that you have in place any medications that you are continue and make sure keeping exercise Difficulty with sleep problems are very common issue and here are a couple of suggestions. If possible, during the day try and get some sunshine on your face as it helps keep your body clock in normal rhythm. If you wake up in the middle of the night and really can't get to sleep you're better off to get up and be out of bed reading a book in another room or doing something non-stimulating until you feel tired again. Even if you've been up a lot in the night try to avoid the day sleep as that also is just throwing out your body clock. Try putting a pen and paper next to your bed and when you worry about things write them down and say to yourself. I'm going to deal with that at 9 o'clock in the morning but my job now is to get some sleep. Try relaxing music or a meditation audio to help calm your mind. Remember that not sleeping can't really hurt you and so avoid that catastrophic worry where you start worrying about the not sleeping itself! Take care of yourself John and hope you get some sleep. Try and get a walk out during the day (within limitations of social distancing). If you really continuing to struggle with your sleep have a chat to your GP about some other strategies.
Q. I suffer from severe health anxiety as well as depression. What tips / tricks would you suggest to help get through this.
A. Thanks Mark and you are not alone in experiencing these conditions with some 2 million Australians experiencing anxiety conditions every year and about 1 million experiencing depression. During this time you really need to be kind to yourself and stick to the mental health plan that you have in place - this includes psychological approaches, any medication you might be taking, and other lifestyle things that you have found to be helpful in the past. Beyond Blue has set up web page with some great tips about looking after your mental health during this challenging time of the coronavirus outbreak. It encourages a calm, practical approach to managing the emotional impact of the virus. There are lots of tips about coping with self-isolation (pretty new experience for most of us!), and also where to go if you needing support Also you may be interested that we have recently updated our guide to what works documents one for depression and one for anxiety which review all the scientific evidence for what actually works to help people with mental health conditions such as these. Highly recommend and there's some great tips about the evidence for various psychological treatments complimentary treatments and medications also.
Q. The last four years have been very tough for me personally and now with no work again and probably can't get the dole. I am lost and lonely.
A. Sorry to hear that Allen and sounds like you have had a most difficult time. First thing to let you know is you are definitely not alone and there are a bunch of ways of engaging with Beyond Blue The Beyond Blue Support Service can be contacted on 1300 22 4636, web chat or email across Australia 24/7. More information is available here. Beyond Blue's online discussion forum is also a safe place for people to support each other and share stories of hope, resilience and recovery: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/online-forums/staying-well/coping-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak If there are any friends or family that you can reach out to at the moment, drop them a line and let them know you having hard time. Try to schedule a regular catch up with them, so for example let's have a phone chat every Tuesday evening, or an online "coffee" on video chat with a friend or family member once a week. Get correct facts about what you are eligible for regarding Social Security payments as there have been a lot of changes to that just recently in light of the coronavirus, and you may find that you are indeed eligible for funding support. Sending you only good vibes during this tough time and look after yourself.
Q. With no end in sight, what can you suggest to people regarding the number one thought process they should adopt on a daily basis in order to maintain their mental health?
A. I have a few responses that I hope might be helpful. First thing to say is I think there will be an end in sight and as Associate Professor at Melbourne University speaking to my excellent colleagues, I have every confidence that we will arrive with a vaccine hopefully sooner than later, and you should feel optimistic that we will indeed develop a vaccine for this virus. So I see this strange time very much as a temporary state of affairs and we all need to sit tight! Regarding thought processes I have learnt a lot working as a GP and seeing people go through the most difficult unexpected illnesses and watching those strategies which seem to work very well for them.
1. Take one day at a time, and try and make each day as good as it can be.
2. Check your thinking and watch out for those cognitive errors such as catastrophising, all or nothing thinking, self blame etc - I'm a big fan of Sarah Edelman who has a number of books about cognitive behavioural therapy which can be really helpful at helping you identify faulty thoughts and come up with more realistic ways of thinking about things.
3. Get good quality information. Stick to the official information on the government website or the World Health Organization.
4. Remember, that there is a purpose for the current isolation beyond just keeping yourself safe and that you are indeed contributing to keeping the most valuable members of our community safe. I have found that sort of generosity of spirit and altruism is not only helpful for other people but helpful for the person being generous!
5. Routine and keeping a day-to-day normality as much as you can be really helpful. Make a calendar for the week and set a time to get up, a time to switch off all the technology in the evening and get some sleep and plotting some activities for the week including exercise, work activities catching up with friends (even online).
6. Reach out to others and check out our Beyond Blue forum.
Q. At what point do we start not talking about it and just get on with life? Evolution of these events will at some stage be at breaking point with continuing ongoing social media.
A. This is a tricky one because I guess at this stage we are in the acute crisis and everyone is trying to get a handle on what's going on but you are correct that at some point we want people to be able to function on a day-to-day basis. One thing we've been recommending is that people are deliberate and thoughtful about the way they are engaging with the social media and the news as the 24 hour news cycle is really quite exhausting for people's minds and we want to encourage them to have some time away and break from this for recharging. The way I talk about it with my patients is to think of going on a media diet rather than a food diet!, where you are selective about what you are exposing yourself to. Consider strategies like taking apps off your phone, changing notification settings and allocating a particular time of day to catch up with the news- for example look at news between 9-10am in the morning. Consider plugging in your phone out of your bedroom overnight so you're not tempted to look! The human mind certainly gets exhausted without a break from the online stress. So thanks for asking this question- we all need time for our minds to recuperate.
Q. Lockdown and unemployment are putting people under stress, how will the system cope with increase in depression and suicide?
A. You are correct that this combination of being locked down and for many at the same time losing their job is a really tough time and causing immense stress on people. For people who have recently becoming unemployed a couple of suggestions- first one is a simple one which is to be nice to yourself and don't get into a negative spiral of thought because the truth is that these are unprecedented times and so many people who are excellent employees are losing their jobs at the moment. Secondly, remember that you are much more than just your job, and focus on your other strengths and skills and characteristics at this time. Next, from a practical point of view get informed about the various initiatives to support unemployed people at the moment, and if you are in a financial crisis, I think this is a most useful contact National Debt Helpline 1800 007 007.
Depression and suicide are already big problems in the community, and I agree with you that this is really adding a lot of stress to those vulnerable people. For those who have depression it's very important that they keep up with their mental health plan, and continue taking medications if they are taking them, and to the extent they can continue with any psychological treatments that they might be receiving. Be aware that there are new Medicare initiatives for telehealth to help those with mental health issues access their mental health professional online. Keep up exercise and routine and getting enough sleep as well. If someone is feeling acutely suicidal Lifeline 131114 is excellent place to start. If you are having occasional thoughts, Beyond Blue's free Beyond Now app can be most helpful in putting a safety plan in place and over 60 thousand people have downloaded it in Australia. Remember you are not alone. The Beyond Blue Support Service has an amazing phone, online chat and email service which gets almost 200,000 calls a year. Sometimes giving the phone line a call can be just a circuit breaker so you can talk through how you were feeling and find out if there are any mental health services you can access or practical things you can do to make yourself feel better during this difficult time. Phone number is 1300 22 46 36.
Originally published as Coronavirus crisis: Social media doing more harm than good