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South Africans caught in anxious web of 'doomscrolling' as the Covid-19 body count continues

Nivashni Nair Senior reporter
Experts say social media users must use the platforms consciously as the number of deaths increases daily. Stock photo.
Experts say social media users must use the platforms consciously as the number of deaths increases daily. Stock photo.

The reality of the number of Covid-19 deaths in SA is difficult to ignore, especially if you are a social media user.

Once a place of memes, gym check-ins and lunch photos, social media is now an online condolence message board as the number of Covid-19 deaths increase daily.

Durban-based counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum said social media was merely a reflection of current times.

“While it may be depressing to log on to find funeral messages and tributes, those who have lost loved ones sometimes find solace in the messages of condolence or comfort. Social distancing means that those who have lost loved ones do not always have the support they need. Social media has filled the gap for some, where they can update others or find comfort in the messages and prayers from others,” she said.

Beekrum said many South Africans were feeling anxiety and fear when scrolling because the reality of Covid-19 death was becoming difficult to ignore.

“Even though statistics may have been alarming in the past, at some point many became complacent and seemed to forget that there was a pandemic. However, by now everyone has lost someone they know to Covid-19. The reality is not only hitting home, but so is the realisation that it could very well have been us or someone closer to us.” 

She advised social media users to use the platforms consciously.

“When we scroll mindlessly, we are more likely to feel anxious or depressed. Mindful social media use means logging on with an intention, being aware of what we are consuming or what we are creating on social media, being mindful that the people we follow are good for our mental health.

“If you are feeling overwhelmed, a digital detox is a good idea. Go offline for a while. If that seems too extreme, turn off notifications and choose a set time and duration daily to log on,” she said.

Digital transformation strategist Yavi Madurai explained that a new term, "doomscrolling", emerged during 2020, from the constant mind-numbing scrolling and almost compulsive consumption of negative media.

“This also resulted in what psychologists refer to as 'terror management theory', which basically says that we have many defence mechanisms such as a just worldview, nationalism, and religious beliefs that help alleviate our fear and protects us from existential anxiety when something threatens our mortality,” she said.

“If these defence mechanisms fail and we feel exposed and threatened we attempt to connect to a broader social entity, a collective, or to pursue something with meaning.”

She said social media was both a blessing and a curse in these dark times.

“On the basis of the psychology of social media, we have to be conscious and aware of our own sense of self when on social media, now more than ever.”

She advises users to decide on the way they are going to offer sympathies to friends, who have lost a loved one to Covid-19.

“I know this sounds insignificant, but human behaviour is that it stresses us out to respond to death, disease … We don't know what to say. Instead of just repeating other people's sympathies and condolences, come up with three or four sincere words that are authentically you and use that. It gives someone a sense of 'peace' that they were able to send their condolences appropriately.”

Madurai recommended not being online before going to bed. 

“Never be on social media at least 60 minutes before sleeping - traumatic or negative information on social media has the same effect on our sleep and rest as watching a violent, traumatic, horror movie, or similar. Rest and peace is important in these dark times, and social media can be a catalyst for the opposite.”

“If nothing helps and you're still feeling empty, miserable and dark, just delete your apps. If it's really hard at first, then you know you have to treat it as an addiction.”


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