5 Ways to Curb Your Facebook Use During the CoViD Pandemic
Spring 2020 | Issue 43
5 Ways to Curb Your Facebook Use During the CoViD Pandemic
By: Christina Girgis, MD
I am one of the biggest advocates of social media use for physicians, particularly for professional purposes. Social media use enhances networking, education, collegiality and advocacy efforts. More physicians use Facebook than any other platform, though Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and now TikTok are gaining physician followers with time. As an avid Facebook user, I will use that platform for the following discussion.
While Facebook has some wonderful attributes, our reality and therefore our Facebook usage have recently changed with the novel Coronavirus pandemic. People are staying inside, working from home, with children out of school and nowhere to go. There’s no toilet paper to be found and of course people are getting sick and dying. The uncertainty of it all is causing worsening anxiety and depression in our patients and ourselves.
Healthy methods of coping with this stress are exercising, using humor, talking out our feelings, meditating or helping others.But some coping methods are not so healthy, and physicians are not immune to that. Unhealthy coping skills include using alcohol and other substances, over- or undereating, sleeping excessively or distracting oneself. Less than two decades ago, distraction meant watching mindless television. However, now a more common distraction is the use of social media. It makes sense—we depend on Facebook and other social media fornews. And because the information on Coronavirus has been constantly changing, sometimes hour-to-hour, it can feel that we need to constantly check Facebook in case of important information.
When I scroll through my general Facebook feed as well as Psychiatry Network, almost every post is related to Coronavirus and CoViD-19: PPE (personal protection equipment) and advocacy efforts; people, including resident physicians, dying; questions on seeing patients remotely; childcare concerns; worries about having to care for CoViD-19 positive patients on a closed psychiatry unit; worries about being redeployed to practice medicine that we haven’t done in years or decades; free resources to help us deal with it all. And of course, there are the copious amounts of data about the virus itself including epidemiology, possible treatments and speculation on its course. Who hasn’t read the CDC or WHO sites by now? For consumption of CoViD-19 information, this is my website of choice. It can be quite overwhelming, especially when we are stuck at home with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Easily one can spend hours a day on social media.
But first and foremost, Facebook was created to keep in touch with family, friends and acquaintances. But even when this is what you use Facebook for, all anyone wants to talk about is the current pandemic. Over the years Facebook’s role has expanded significantly so that companies use Facebook to provide targeted advertising, to recruit for jobs, promote brand awareness and offer customer support. Individuals can catch up on news, find a used couch, do a yoga video, support social causes, manage a lifelong stash of photos albums and join support groups. This in and of itself can take up a great deal of time for the average person; now add in the information overload about Coronavirus, and it becomes a recipe for disaster. On the one hand, it does provide a distraction from our collective anxiety to hear about how everyone else is doing during this national emergency. On the other hand, whether we realize it or not, consumption of Facebook Coronavirus content for hours at a time, can contribute to increased stress levels, fear, worry, anxiety, panic, dysphoria, irritability, sleep and appetite disturbance, depression and hopelessness. These symptoms can occur whether or not the virus physically affects you. Even worse the panic can lead to hysteria and hoarding which we have seen in the form of toilet paper, sanitizer and masks (despite the logic that it’s not helpful). After the pandemic subsides, symptoms can go one for much time afterward.
What can you do to minimize or prevent these negative effects from occurring? Don’t worry, there are five things!
1. Disconnect (with social media).
This can be for a few hours or a full day (I won’t suggest a 30-day sabbatical here.) For some of us, we believe it is impossible to stop using Facebook and just the thought provokes anxiety. “How will I stay in touch with people?” “Where will I get information?” “What will I do with my time?” All these questions have answersbecause you can stay in touch or get the news via other sources.
As for what to do with your time, reframe and think about what you want to do now that you fortuitously are able. How about cooking, exercising, cleaning andhanging out with the adults, children or pets in your home, or on your own is fine too. Play Monopoly (where your true competitive nature will come out) or reorganize that messy pantry you have been avoiding.
2. Connect (with people).
While this can also feel impossible during a lockdown, you can keep in touch via email or telephone, and you can connect more than you usually do with those in your home. Find a couple of friends or co-workers to text throughout the day. Group calls are also now popular—FaceTime allows up to 32 people on a call andMessenger allows 50.
Tired of talking to the same family members and friendsover and over? Set up a call for your entire residency program (especially if you have graduated), or the soccer team your child has been missing. A friend told me that her 4-year-old recently spent 5 hours playing dolls with her friend on Google Hangouts Chat, and until then, she hadn’t realized how much her daughter was craving social interaction. And for single folks in a relationship, you can go out on a virtual date.
I know, I know, if one more person sends you a link for free meditations sessions or an app, you may just explode. Ok, despite the trendiness in using this as a coping method, I will say that it actually…works. The thing about meditation, though, is it is very difficult to maintain on your own. If you feel meditation is not for you, you can just do the same deep breathing exercises we are always sharing with patients.
You can also try yoga and improve your flexibility and balance at the same time. There are many available apps and websites right now offering free trials of their subscription yoga, meditation and workouts.
The great thing about being a psychiatrist is that our jobs are much more easily converted into virtual visits than other specialties. So why would you put yourself back in the middle of the danger zone? Well, some psychiatrists do still want to help in some way. There have been many calls for help, both at pre-existing hospitals andmakeshift hospitals in tents or buildings. If you don’t feel comfortable performing as an internist on the wards, there are other ways to help.
You can work in the outpatient setting and offer to act as a scribe, make patient phone calls to let them know about labs or whatever else is needed. This can be at your hospital or anywhere in the country since there is reciprocity for physician licenses in most states currently. And if you don’t want to leave your house, you can organize a support line for physicians at your hospital, or volunteer to help out ones already established.
5. Create a routine. (And stick to it.)
This is a pretty crucial part of taking control and restoring order in your life. Whether or not you are now working at home, keeping to the same routine each day will help restore that sense of normalcy. Wake up at the same time, keep up your morning routine of getting dressed and managing your hair/hygiene/make up (no pajamas allowed!). If, like me, you don’t have a desk and chair at home, order one ASAP (delivery times are slow right now so the sooner the better). Eat your meals around the same time each day, set up an exercise schedule and figure out what you will do in the evenings. Decide how long you want to take a break from Facebook for.
You may find that engaging in the above suggestions make hearing about the CoViD-19 crisis on Facebook more tolerable. Or you may decide that you love having a night off from Facebook. Or you may feel that these comments do not apply to you. And that’s okay. The great thing about Facebook is you can quit it anytime to improve your well-being.