The pandemic is now into its second year. Everyone’s stressed, missing friends and family, and looking for connection and distraction. Do you find that when you’re overwhelmed you tend to zone out and reach for your phone and then get stuck in it? I do. A teen client of mine recently ordered a lock box for hers.
Our phones feel like an easy way to find relief and connection with others. Social media in particular feels like a way to “stay connected” with the friends we can’t see in person, or to the world in general. The problem is, our attempts to find connection through social media can actually make us lonelier, more depressed, and more anxious. And once we’re plugged in, it’s hard to unplug. Teens and young adults comprise the majority of social media users - and are also the loneliest age group. And social media is always there, literally designed to capture and keep our attention.
Today I am going to share some ways to find connection both on and offline. But first, I want to share what the science has to say.
Studies show that a particular kind of social media use is associated with loneliness and depression. We call it passive use: scrolling through others’ posts but not directly interacting. Passive use leads to negatively comparing your life with others’ highlight reel. It can also cause loss of concentration, fatigue, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Unfortunately, when you’re stressed and turning to social media to cope with that stress, it tends to backfire. Using social media when you're feeling lonely or sad is likely to leave you feeling worse.
My research has found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, teens and young adults are more likely to use social media, less likely to seek social support, AND more likely to be lonely than other age groups.
Yes, phone use, and even some aspects of social media, can be healthy and promote connection. The trick is to be thoughtful about how you use your phone to seek connection:
Research shows that we feel most connected when we engage in activities with others, and interact more deeply. Here are some suggestions:
If you are able to make it happen, offline connection is really your best bet.
Meet with friends in person following CDC guidelines (six feet apart, masked, outdoors), and:
Ask around and check the internet for creative ways to connect safely in the real world.
Most of all, remember that you are not alone, and don't be afraid to ask for the support you need from trusted friends, family, and/or a therapist. If you feel lonely or are concerned about your reliance on social media, ask for help. You don’t have to cope with this alone.