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It's complicated: Our relationship with social media

An Army health care provider loads the T2 Mood Tracker mobile app on a mobile device for a demonstration for his patients. (DoD photo) An Army health care provider loads the T2 Mood Tracker mobile app on a mobile device for a demonstration for his patients. (DoD photo)

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For many, the post-holiday season is a challenging, emotional time. Scrolling through social media posts about the perfect gift or holiday celebration may intensify negative feelings, especially for those struggling with depression, loss, or loneliness.

Impact of Social Media on our Mental Health

It’s true that social media can help connect and reconnect people; however, it may increase feelings of isolation or remind people of what they don’t have.

Because all seems merry and bright on social media, we may be tempted to compare ourselves (unfavorably) with those we perceive have more accomplishments, make more money, have nicer belongings, or boast more social media followers. When you find yourself envious of others, and feel jealous or inferior, you are most likely experiencing a negative social comparison.

Social Media Pros and Cons

Researchers discovered that social networking sites such as Facebook have psychological benefits like connection, communication, and a sense of belonging. However, several studies indicate that prolonged use of the internet might be associated with signs and symptoms of depression and low self-esteem and loneliness.

So, what’s a poor social media user to do? There are ways to navigate tricky post-holiday times. The key is awareness.

Limit Social Media Influence on Mood

As mentioned earlier, there are circumstances when social media can help with the blues. However, for those who are vulnerable to negative social comparison, they should take steps to protect themselves. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Notice when exposure to others’ happiness brings you down. Use the free T2 Mood Tracker mobile app (Android, iOS) to see if your moods change with certain activities (such as using social media).
  • Limit social media use if you see that it affects your mood. Take a break — you’ll have plenty of time to catch up.
  • Talk with a trusted friend about your feelings. Reality checks with peers about their experiences over the holidays can also help; it’s likely that others had similar challenges.
  • Manage stress by getting enough sleep and exercise. Also, watch what you eat and how much you drink — a bad diet and too much alcohol can negatively affect your mood.
  • Manage your expectations. During the holidays, you saw lots of advertising and other media that implied all holiday moments should be glorious and beautiful. Remind yourself that these ads are elaborate productions and often don’t reflect reality. It’s OK if your events didn’t mimic them.
  • Plan a pleasant activity that is do-able. Walk on a trail, take a bubble bath or visit with a friend. After you return to social media, you may decide to post photos from your activity. If you need suggestions, try the free Positive Activity Jackpot mobile app for Android.

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Healthcare Burdens Attributable to Various Mental Disorders, U.S. Armed Forces 2016

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Did you know…? In 2016, mood disorders and substance abuse accounted for 25.9% of all hospital days. Together, four mental disorders – mood, substance abuse disorders, adjustment, and anxiety – and two maternal conditions – pregnancy complications and delivery – accounted for 53.6% of all hospital bed days. And 12.4% of all hospital bed days were attributable to injuries and poisonings. Here are the mental disorders that affected U.S. Armed Forces in 2016: Pie Chart titled Bed days for mental disorders in 2016: •	Mood Disorder (46,920 bed days) – the orange pie slice. •	Substance Abuse Disorders (44,746 bed days) – the blue pie slice. •	Adjustment Disorder (30,017 bed days) – the purple pie slice. •	Anxiety Disorder (20,458 bed days) – the gray pie slice. •	Psychotic Disorder (6,532 bed days) – the light blue pie slice. •	All other mental disorders (3,233 bed days) – the violet pie slice. •	Personality disorder (2,393 bed days) – the forest green pie slice. •	Somatoform (552 bed days) – the lime green pie slice. •	Tobacco dependence (2 bed days) – the white pie slice. Bar graph shows percentage and cumulative percentage distribution, burden “conditions” that accounted for the most hospital bed days, active component, U.S. Armed Forces 2016.  % of total bed days (bars) for mood disorder, substance abuse disorders, adjustment disorder, pregnancy complications; delivery; anxiety disorder; head/neck injuries, all other digestive diseases, other complications NOS; other back problems, all other signs and symptoms; leg injuries, all other maternal conditions; all other neurologic conditions; all other musculoskeletal diseases; all other skin diseases;  back and abdomen; appendicitis; all other infectious and parasitic diseases; all other cardiovascular diseases; all other mental disorders; all other respiratory diseases; arm/shoulder injuries; poisoning, drugs; foot/ankle injuries; other gastroenteritis and colitis; personality disorder; lower respiratory infections; all other genitourinary diseases; all other malignant neoplasms; cerebrovascular disease.  See more details on this bar graph in the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR) April 2017 Vol. 24 No. 4 report, page 4. This annual summary for 2016 was based on the use of ICD-10 codes exclusively. Read more on this analysis at Health.mil/MSMR. #LetsTalkAboutIt Background of graphic is a soldier sitting on the floor in a dark room.

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