American Heart Association

Managing your social media stress for heart health

4 Minute Read

Between the pandemic and the latest political outrage, many find themselves “doom surfing” — scrolling through social media and news feeds to stay up on the latest developments, only to fuel stress and anxiety.  “It's really the perfect recipe for anxiety and panic," said Debra Kissen, a Chicago-based licensed clinical psychologist. 

Stress may be a factor in heart disease, so managing it is important for heart health.  Some have simply walked away from social media, but Kissen, CEO of Light on Anxiety CBT Treatment Center, and others say social media doesn't have to send you on a mental health spiral. Used properly, it may even help you find balance.  Keeping up with high-quality information is vital, but it’s important to set limits, Kissen said. She suggests picking a news source and deciding, “OK, I'm going to allow myself like 30 minutes a day, or 10 high-quality articles, and check-in with them.”

Being mindful, rather than letting your brain mire itself with worry, is the key to reducing anxiety in all aspects of life, she said. "It's not some hokey spiritual voodoo. It's about enhancing one's ability to return to the present moment."  Apps for cognitive behavioral therapy and long-standing tricks such as getting exercise or taking a walk can break the endless loop of anxious anticipation and help us reboot, Kissen said.  Your brain may say, "Shouldn't I be doing more? Shouldn't I be doing more?" she said. "But sometimes there's just not more to be done."

Social media can amplify stress by giving us a personal connection to people experiencing bad news directly, said Keith Hampton, a professor in the department of media and information at Michigan State University in East Lansing.  Even so, our relationship with social media doesn't have to be all negative, said Hampton, who led a study for the Pew Research Center about the “cost of caring.” 

"We know, for example, that people who use more social media tend to perceive there's more social support available to them" from friends and family, online and offline, he said.  When people experience positive things, they also get a bit of a psychological uplift, Hampton said.

One key to managing social media in a time of high anxiety is to make sure you're sharing not just what alarms you, but also whatever good news you experience.  Knowing people are safe and improving, "that type of positive information can be contagious," he said.  Health officials recommend maintaining physical distance to prevent spread of the coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean we should be socially isolated.  Hampton and Kissen said it’s all about being mindful how we use social media.

“This is a time for seeking and giving social support to those who need it,” Hampton said. “Social media can be a very powerful tool for checking on friends and family, for providing emotional support to those who are in need, for organizing to provide resources; for neighbors; the elderly, children, to those people who are no longer getting or can't access the resources that they need."
 

Article provided by the American Heart Association

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