The brightness of your phone screen and its constant buzzing with new notifications wakes you up, and you find yourself surrounded: the same set of walls that you’ve been staring at for months are staring back at you; the same furniture that you sat on yesterday and the day before feels like it’s caving in. The only comfort you have is knowing that what you see on your handheld screen will probably be a change of pace from whatever you find between those same walls in those same rooms. Scrolling through social media becomes a monotonous routine that takes up hours of your day. This is the reality of quarantining in the digital age. But what if escaping to the digital world becomes more than a habit, but rather a crutch?

Isolation + Social Media = More Isolation

While you may think your phone is the only thing keeping you connected to the outside world in this pandemic, a dramatic increase in screen time for many of us––my personal average went up by two hours at the beginning of quarantine, I am not proud to say––has done nothing but further anxiety and depression. Quarantine and social media have both been studied for their negative effects on mental health, as seen in these articles by Forbes and Pharmacy Times, so it is not surprising that the use of social media while quarantining could put your mental health at risk.

If someone is already feeling lonely or depressed by the naturally isolating circumstances of quarantine, it is no wonder why they would look to social media for comfort. However, while social media may provide a forum for communication, that communication can be an insufficient replacement for face-to-face contact, often leaving people feeling more isolated than they were to begin with. 

Normalizing poor COVID-19 behavior doesn’t help.

Right now, despite the pandemic, it is not uncommon to see posts of groups of friends and families hanging out together without distancing or wearing masks. Through these posts, users not only normalize a relaxed attitude toward necessary guidelines, but also create painful FOMO (fear of missing out) and frustration for those who do not have the "option" to leave their homes for the sake of social interaction.

For instance, those who are immunocompromised or are regularly in contact with someone who is immunocompromised, experience a different level of risk for not social distancing, and consequently find themselves in truly isolated conditions for the safety of themselves and others, social media becomes a constant reminder of how secluded they are.

Immunocompromised student Olivia Perez, a sophomore, finds social media during quarantine to be “extremely frustrating.” For her, social distancing and wearing a mask is not a choice, but rather something she needs to do with regards to her safety and fear of what would happen if she contracted the virus. In her opinion, “It is difficult not seeing your friends for months, but what’s more difficult is watching through social media that others don’t care,” she continued, "[and are] showing absolutely no regard for human lives on social media.”

“It is difficult not seeing your friends for months, but what’s more difficult is watching through social media that others don’t care.” - Olivia Perez ‘23

As Perez suggests, while social media is isolating during quarantine, it is also frustrating. Every time someone posts displaying themselves disregarding social distancing guidelines, social media becomes a source of misinformation about the realities of COVID-19. These platforms now set dangerous examples that if going out with friends is not harmful to one group, it will not affect others down the line.

A Destructive Distraction

Not only is social media isolating and capable of spreading misinformation, it is also commonly seen as damaging toward mental health by promoting negative feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and more. When we look to social media, we are scrolling through an inaccurate display of other people’s “perfect” selves. Images of expensive tropical vacations, “ideal” body types, and flawless(-ly edited) skin pop up on our feeds and become impossible standards which we compare ourselves to. We are trained through posts, ads which are targeted toward certain types of people, and even the unfortunate use of cyberbullying that we are not going to be good enough for society unless we mask our true selves behind “beauty” filters and trending hashtags.

Lastly, social media can be a massive, time-consuming distraction as well as a toll on our physical health. Whether it is a distraction from work, our families, or our own passions, the hours spent scrolling through posts about other people’s lives often take away from our own productivity and self-focus. It also diverts our attention from our body’s need to get up and move every now and then. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week for adults to stay healthy; if physical activity is neglected, we are simply fostering a destructive cycle that could be seriously damaging to our bodies in the long run. Now is the time to detach ourselves from social media and get active.

A New Type of Social Distancing

Ultimately, while social media is the perfect platform for promoting businesses and movements, it is not always a great source of comfort and can create an isolated, fearful, or unhealthy environment for some. Especially now, social media should be dealt with carefully or avoided entirely if it is a risk to one’s mental or physical health. 

What if we distance from social media this quarantine? Or at least take a break. Not to worry, a break from social media can be good! If you haven’t stopped scrolling yet, consider that a social media detox is also the perfect excuse to get outside for some distanced exercise, start a new hobby, and focus on yourself. These small changes can lead to a new lifestyle undisturbed by the anxieties and distractions of social media. You might find yourself less worried about the world and more satisfied with your own life.

For more information on the adverse effects of social media as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how manipulative social media platforms can be, catch the Netflix Original documentary, The Social Dilemma, which will be released on Netflix September 9.