Illustration: Matija Medved

One Day at a Time

Take a Break From Social Media and Cuddle

Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer

Elemental
Published in
4 min readApr 6, 2020

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EEarlier in this series, I talked about social contagion — whereby emotions are passed between people just like germs. Recently, a reporter asked me what was more infectious: a virus or social contagion? The answer is simple. Social contagion is much more infectious. Why? We can prevent the spread of coronavirus by keeping a distance of about six feet, which is how far a sneeze can travel. But someone can sneeze on your brain with their anxiety from anywhere in the world.

Social media is the perfect vector for spreading anxiety and panic. And just like washing your hands and social distancing can prevent the physical spread of coronavirus, there are also ways to prevent the spread of social viruses.

Here are some simple tips.

When you find the intensity of our current situation creeping up on you, take a deep breath and ask yourself: What do I need right now?

If you are looking for news, go right to true sources of reliable information. Do rely on the World Health Organization for accurate information on coronavirus, but don’t get sucked into your colleague’s worrisome feed. Remember that popular media outlets check sources and try to get things right, but don’t forget, they’re also competing for your attention — so they might report something that later turns out to be debunked.

If you are looking for connection with others, step back and ask yourself: Do I have the habit of scrolling through my social media feed when I’m bored or looking to see what is happening in the world? Now is a good time to recognize that habit. Walking down the social media “street” in a free moment in the past was not a big deal because, on the whole, people were posting about relatively benign stuff. Now, scrolling is akin to walking through an anxious crowd — many of whom are socially sneezing worry and fear. The more you scroll, the more likely you are to catch that social contagion and pass it on.

We are all trying to love each other from afar. Now is the…

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Jud Brewer MD PhD
Elemental

Addiction Psychiatrist. Neuroscientist. Habit Change Expert. Brown U. professor. Founder of MindSciences. Author: Unwinding Anxiety. www.drjud.com. @judbrewer