Information Overload during the Pandemic
Lima James

Lima James

Jun 09Mental Health

Information Overload during the Pandemic

Recently, social media was abuzz with appeals by celebrities and social media influencers, sharing distress calls by commoners in need of help. There was also a significant section of the community of influencers who were averse to this idea, terming that social media are sources of entertainment and amplifying such distress calls do not serve that purpose. However, we cannot ignore the reach it has, and how many have benefited through these voices, making it possible to secure help.

Newspapers, radio, television, and more recently, the Internet are synonymous with providing information and helping us be aware of the state of affairs all over the globe. Never before have we been so in touch with what is happening around us and being updated with world affairs. This brings with it a lot of advantages but also has a flipside to it. The constant updates and SOS calls mean that we are being exposed to too much information and this overload may currently be harming us rather than doing us any help. Just like we feel overwhelmed by the choice of biscuits we have at a supermarket and find it difficult to choose, so does this multiple information make it difficult for us to make a wise decision.

The pandemic has truly revealed the many facets of the life we live – be it the political system, the shortcomings of the healthcare sector, the importance of meeting our social needs, and all of this revelation, at once can be difficult to bear. The current spurt in information also means that along with reliable sources, a lot of fake and spurious information is also being spread, leading to ignorance and misinformation. Experts have already termed this phenomenon as an “infodemic”, highlighting the severe impact it has worldwide.

mental health pandemic

What the information overload does is this – we understand we need to be updated, and so we consume it from all the sources we have. Before the pandemic, we had other choices, our jobs, our social circles, or any other leisure activities that meant that we were not exposed to the screen as much. However, now, as everything has become digital, it becomes extremely hard to shut off our devices. Our safety instincts have also set in; we are constantly trying to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. This means that we are on the lookout for threats and danger, and to safeguard ourselves, we keep looking for ways in which we would not be harmed in any way, and eventually turn to look for more and more information. The information overload could manifest in the following ways:

1. Anxiety: Information about mortality rates due to the pandemic, lack of proper medical facilities, the inadequate supply of vaccines and other such information means that our anxiety builds up, gradually. Such exposure means that you may have a fear or apprehension about what’s to come. You may also tend to feel anxious about your health, and engage in self-diagnosing the symptoms that you and your loved ones have, fearing the worst possible outcome. Experiencing panic may also be present, and result in unhelpful behaviours like hoarding of essential items. Due to the fear of an impending lockdown, a tendency to accumulate items can be observed, because of a perceived fear that they would soon go out of supply. This impacts the society at large, making it difficult for the needy to procure necessities and only a small section of the society enjoying the surplus.

2. Spreading of misinformation: Much of these sources of information that we are exposed to isn’t pleasant, and like mentioned before, they also contain unreliable news. We are very well aware of WhatsApp forwards and how various governments and health departments, therefore, had to send out notices and warnings requesting people to verify the information sources that they are exposed to, and to only consume information from reliable and trustworthy sources. Misinformation about the vaccines has also resulted in a large section of the population refusing to be vaccinated, fearing the possible consequences. This also means that people look for dangerous and unscientific ways to cure their illnesses, increasing the risk of the disease.

3. Information fatigue and impaired decision making: With such a plethora of information at our disposal, it can be difficult to process it and make informed choices. We may end up feeling confused about the decision that would provide us with the best outcome, regretful if things don’t work out the way we wanted it to be, and may result in us making flawed conclusions. Mental exhaustion may set in due to the constant exposure to information sources, and we find ourselves distancing and feeling apathetic to the plight of others.

4. A sense of collective loss and grief: The pandemic has made us all lose a sense of normalcy and a bitter reminiscing of the days we had pre-pandemic. When we look at the stories of people who have lost their loved ones, are exposed to the same conversations in our video calls, see the palpable distress in the images we see on the Internet and the newspaper, we realize how things are really bad and will never go back to how it was. We are all collectively grieving our losses – loss of loved ones, loss of better opportunities, loss of financial stability, and with it comes the deep discomfort of a lack of control. It is unbearable to experience that we are helpless and it can be difficult to manage our extreme feelings.

What we also need to understand is that we could work our way towards this. Awareness of the implications of information overload is a great start, but you can also engage in the following measures to better manage these difficult emotions:

1. Monitor your information consumption: A social media detox can be considered, helping you to process the information you are already aware of and then returning to it, once you feel comfortable. When you do return, you can incorporate the help of applications that keep track of the time spent digitally and remind you of the same. Allocate a particular time of the day when you want to engage in the news, and you can maybe ground yourself if any of the news were particularly triggering.

2. Follow verified and trustworthy sources: Be mindful of the social media handles available and only follow them once you review them thoroughly. You can also look for trigger warnings and content warnings, and only choose to read them once you feel you would be able to manage to go through them.

3. Be kind to yourself: It can be extremely difficult to stay off social media, especially when we find ourselves cooped up at home. If you are unable to go on a complete detox, start small. Reduce the time spent on social media gradually, and you can also perhaps ask a safe person to help you with this. Set boundaries with family members and other people you converse with about the information you want them to share with you, and you can also ask for permission before sharing the news, honouring their space as well.

Final words

The pandemic has revealed how too much information is at our disposal, but we are also now aware of how it brings up difficult emotions within us. Anxiety, grief, feelings of loss are all valid reactions to the consumption of the news, and it only shows us how we are all embracing the human experience. But care should be taken that it is not experienced in the extremes, and steps can be taken to prevent them.

Disclaimer - This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

ProactiveForHer is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.