Social Media Managers and Mental Health – Are They Really Ok?

Did you know that in any given year, more than one in five people will experience some type of mental health problem? Or that depression rates in 16-39-year-olds more than doubled to 29% in early 2021 compared to 11% before covid? 46% of young people reported their mental health to be poor or very poor during lockdown periods. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly three quarters (73%) of those with an eating disorder, PTSD (72%) or OCD (72%) said their mental health got worse during the pandemic. In light of Mental Health Month taking place in October and World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2021, I’m delving deeper into the world of social media managers and asking – are they really OK? After all, it’s been found that disaster media exposure may evoke poor mental health outcomes. And let’s face it. Us social gurus spend a crazy amount of time coming face-to-face with bad news, even if we just wanted to post a GIF. From Covid to vaccination side effects, Brexit to politics, racism to poverty.  Is there any escape? Let’s look.

The Highs and Lows of Social Media Exposure

Firstly, it’s important to note that social media has many benefits. From TikTok videos to Instagram live, social platforms encourage unbelievable creativity. They also allow people to interact and connect with like-minded people – even during times of crisis. In fact 61% of young people said it helped them cope during the pandemic by making them feel less alone in dealing with huge issues such as fear and isolation.

Social media rocks from a business perspective too. With 4.2 billion active social media users, the right campaign can boost brand awareness. And with 27.5% of people using social channels to ‘research products to buy’ , having a presence on one or more social platforms is a must. The average user spends 2 hours 25 minutes on social channels every single day, providing brands with the ideal advertising opportunity.

But there’s a downside. Excessive screen time has been linked to poor mental health such as anxiety and depression, with detrimental impacts starting after just two hours. Spending three or more hours a day on social media has also been associated with poor sleep patterns, with heavy social media users often waking up in the night and feeling tired the next day. ‘Doomscrolling’ – or repetitively and habitually accessing bad news, has also become a common practice for social media users. And this isn’t great for anyone’s health.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Leela R. Magavi,

“Many individuals experience cognitive distortions such as catastrophizing. And doomscrolling could lead to an increase in ruminative thinking and panic attacks.”

Not cool!

A recent study also found that the more time people spent on social media accessing content specifically related to COVID-19, the more depressed and anxious they felt. While this isn’t rocket science, it is important to understand that constant exposure to fearful content can lead to long-term mental health problems such as obsessive compulsive disorders or agoraphobia.

The Implications for Social Media Managers

With excessive social media usage and exposure to negative news linked to all kinds of mental-health issues, it’s important to ask – are social media managers OK? Firstly, they’re not online to socialise with friends, so this benefit goes out of the window. Secondly, they’ve a job to do, which means they’re unable to switch off from the world no matter how much they want to. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the challenges social media managers face.

#1 Constant Bad News

It’s one thing knowing what’s going on around you. It’s another having to deal with fearmongering media reports and reaction-inducing headlines, tweets and posts over and over again. Bad news is, quite literally, everywhere and there’s little respite for someone who’s job it is to follow important channels while managing their own.

One social media manager described the situation as “being stuck in a toxic cycle” stating

“There is always a trend that needs to be hopped on immediately or a scandal that blows up. For a while this summer, we couldn’t make it an entire week without a ‘controversy.’ It’s like 24/7 crisis management with zero power over how the actual crisis is being managed.”

#2 Endless Exposure to Social Movements and Protests

Social media managers are exposed to opinions from every angle and there’s a lot of anger online. Nicknames for social media platforms include “Toxic Twitter” “Fakebook” and “Instagrim”. These are coined and used largely by social media managers. There’s no peace online and everyone is angry about something. There is also a lack of trust in official news sources with “fact checkers” adding more controversy to the mix. Social media is a sounding board for activists protesting or championing climate change, vaccines, women’s rights, trans rights, veganism, racism, poverty, refugees and so much more. Whilst each of these issues on its own is valid and manageable, the snowball gains momentum for social media managers.

And when filtering through conversations, it’s not uncommon for social media managers to come across negative or suicidal content that can scar them permanently or leave them feeling drained for days.

#3 Horrific and Unrealistic Images

Viewing horrific images is a sad reality for many social media managers. Unfortunately, many social media platforms are highly visual and therefore a simply scroll can bring up pictures of war, suffering, illness, poverty, cruelty and more. And that’s not good for the mind.

Interestingly, constant exposure to unrealistic or filtered images within the fashion and beauty industry can also lead to poor self-esteem. Comparing one’s appearance to images of attractive strangers on social media has been found to have negative effects on body image. A whopping 32% of influencers believe Instagram gave them a ‘negative’ impact on body image. And they’re meant to be the sassy, confident ones. So unless you’re pretty thick skinned, doctored images can mentally impact social media managers.

#4 Being Contacted at Any Time of the Day

Many social media managers feel like they never stop working and don’t get a proper break. Why? Because their work/life balance is often totally out of sync. Colleagues and clients often feel like they can contact social media managers at any time of the day. After all, how long does a quick tweet or post upload take? But that’s not the point. Social media managers need time away from their screens to regain a sense of normality. I’ve met social media managers who were contacted on vacation, whilst off sick and even one during her actual wedding. Yep, the day she was actually getting married!

Smartphones and work from home have further contributed to this already strenuous work day. Add to this event coverage, trend monitoring, fan questions, breaking news and media monitoring and social media managers get very little actual rest. The solution is to hire several social media managers for out of office coverage but that rarely happens!

#5 Constant Notifications

Anyone who has a social media presence will know how addictive social notifications are. And they’ve been designed to be this way. For example, the pull-to-refresh feature is addictive, mimicking a gambling machine. Also, push notifications keep us coming back to the app. There’s also the three dots in a speech bubble which ensures we wait around for a message when someone is replying. Even if it takes forever and a day for the message to come through which is often the case. Psychologists have worked with design teams to ensure we can never get enough.

And when being aware of social media activity is your job, the urge to check updates becomes even more intense. Notifications hardly ever stop across multiple channels and there’s always the chance you could be missing something. Plus, response times are now included in reports so there’s even more pressure. We all know fans like  a response in 1-4 hours so if it’s the weekend… well.. you respond.

And not all notifications are good. Social media managers also have to deal with complaints and gas lighters professionally in order to keep the reputation of a brand intact. Many social media managers find themselves on the receiving end of racist and sexist comments as well as death threats. And unlike the average consumers, they don’t always have the luxury of walking away from the accounts they manage when the abuse becomes overwhelming.

Safeguarding Mental Health – Actionable Tips for Social Media Mangers

All things considered, it’s really important to take care of your mental wellbeing as a social media manager. Here are a few actionable tips you can use to your advantage.

  • Leverage the Tech at Your Disposal

Your job is to manage social accounts, not to be abused. So if things get out of hand, be sure to lean on safety tools that are designed to keep you safe such as Instagram’s Manual Content Filter or Twitter’s Advanced Muting Options to filter out abusive or harmful content. If you feel your personal safety is being threatened or users have overstepped the mark and you no longer want them as a follower, you can and should block them.

  • Take Regular Breaks

Excessive screen time has been linked to a lack of exercise which can in turn result in poor mental health. So, as a social media manager, be sure to take regular breaks. Go for short, sharp walks several times a day. And eat your lunch away from any type of screen as this will allow you to refocus and come back into the real world for a while. Never skip lunch breaks because you are busy. I would also avoid on screen relaxation activities. That’s watching YouTube, taking online courses, online shopping or browsing the internet. These don’t get you far enough away from your job to relax. Instead, cuddle your pet, take a walk, sit or meditate outside in the fresh air or read a book. (These are my personal tips and may not work for everyone)

  • Stick to Your Working Hours

Companies may try and push their luck by contacting you out of hours. Don’t be afraid to push back against this and make it clear you can’t work overtime. While it’s alright to do the odd favour now and again, don’t let overtime become a habit unless you’re being paid for it. One of the best things to do at night is to turn your Wi-Fi off completely. This will eliminate the temptation to look at notifications or to respond to work-related demands. With more of us working at home during covid, there’s not much distinction between work and home, so try to come up a routine that’ll give you a break such as no screen time after 8pm.

Also if you’re the boss of a social media manager – give them a break. They’re tired and most-likely feeling overwhelmed due to the current climate. Allow them to reset so they can be at their best the next day. Don’t expect them to work for nothing by sneaking in extra tasks at the end of the day. Also, reach out and ask how they are. It’s amazing how many social media managers receive endless criticism and no praise. So, show you care and make it known that you’re there if they need you. Monthly welfare meetings with your team could work with Zoom being a useful tool for remote workers.

  • Unfollow Triggering Accounts

Yes, you need to know what’s going on. But there’s no harm in unfollowing accounts that trigger a negative emotional response. Important news and stats can be accessed via multiple news outlets, so look around and find the right channels for you. The same applies to people you follow, even if they’re well-known in your industry. If their content is repetitive and unsettling, wave goodbye and don’t look back.

  • Stick to Your Goals

As mentioned above, when you’re online it can be tempting to doomscroll, particularly if you’re anxious above a specific issue and want to know more. Killing time this way won’t help your mental state, so try to stick to your daily tasks and goals. This might be setting up a digital photo competition or monitoring brand mentions. Whatever the case, be very aware of your social activity and how you’re spending your time. You can also establish positive standards for your brand like a contest, good news only or a fun photo of the week. You’re also able to steer the conversation to the light side.

  • Establish a Response Protocol

One of the best ways to preserve your mental health is to establish a response protocol. This will help you to know what response you should give to negative comments. If someone is trolling your account, for instance, replying once and moving on is a good tactic. Similarly, if someone is targeting you personally, leaning on another team member could prove beneficial. As a company, you should always have PR and social media disaster response mechanisms in place to ease the minds of social media managers. You can also establish a working week response protocol if your company is not contracting you for weekends. Publish your contact hours clearly on your pages – eg 8am-6pm EST Monday to Friday.

Issues around mental health are very important and should never be ignored. How do you keep yourself sane in a busy social media manager role? Comment below. If you’re dealing with mental health issues, there are many resources available that can offer help including Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re feeling burnout or are struggling in any way.

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