Burnout is an increasingly common phenomenon affecting approximately 63% of physicians. The etiology is multifactorial, with excessive workloads leading to sleep deprivation & curtailed self-care. Social media is a significant contributor to burnout that we easily overlook.

Perhaps we’re looking for an escape on social media, but is more screen time what we really need?

How does social media use contribute to burnout?

Let’s face it; social media is a time vacuum. Time is arguably our most valuable resource- we can always make more money but never more time. Are we using it wisely on social media? Social media can exacerbate our underlying fears, self-doubt, skepticism, and negativity. How is that healthy for physicians that are suffering from signs and symptoms of burnout? When we spend time on social media, we are trading our time that can be spent on our mental and physical health. Allowing others on social media to alter our perceptions of life, politics, and well-being is not advisable, even for adult minds.

Social media is a double-edged sword.

Although social media platforms (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn) were originally intended to facilitate social interaction and foster global community building, they have proven to be a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, social media can positively affect our lives by entertaining us with funny videos of cats and reminding us of Mom’s birthday. On the other hand, social media accelerates our feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness, envy, and anger from unsolicited online voices.

Social media does not just affect teenagers.

Nowadays, a significant amount of attention is centered on how social media impacts the mental health of teenagers by increasing depression, loneliness, anxiety, and suicide. It is felt that teenagers do not possess the cognitive maturity of adults to comprehend the effects of social media.

Are teenagers the only ones affected by the monsters of social media? As adults, we may think we can turn off or away from things that detrimentally affect our mental health, but do we? We might recognize social media’s negative impact on our brains. But then there’s that knowing-doing gap. You know, the gap between what we know we should do and what we actually do.

Social media is accelerating physician burnout.

Workplace burnout is associated with physicians feeling emotionally exhausted, developing cynicism about their work, and having a reduced sense of accomplishment. Some of us use social media to discuss burnout with our virtual friends and acquaintances, but is it possible that this is accelerating our burnout?

Rather than social media offering a calming or therapeutic effect to treat our burnout, it can fuel our negative thoughts about ourselves and our profession. Are our underlying feelings of burnout possibly worsened by the posts and comments we see on social media? It’s time to recognize social media’s effects on our well-being.

Scrolling on social media can seem mindless, and it’s not refreshing to the mind; it’s often quite the opposite. It can negatively impact our thoughts and lead us into a vicious cycle of negativity. Even though social media is a great tool to fill time, it’s actually a great tool to waste time. And there’s a difference between wasting time and having downtime, where we let our minds relax and refresh. Ultimately, what is the impact of social media on our minds?

Here are five elements of social media that can accelerate physician burnout.

#1. Comparing our lives to the (often imaginary) lives of others. We see other people living seemingly perfect lives, excelling at side hustles, enjoying loads of time with family, and those luxury vacations! Believing these posts are realistic can lead to feeling inadequate about our own lives. We see almost certainly not the entire story, and comparing yourself to a social media facade is neither practical nor fair. Still, it’s what we naturally are inclined to do.

#2. Negativity. Social media is where some people, including physicians, voice their frustrations about life and sometimes about the healthcare system. Dwelling on these posts can lead to a downward spiral of negative emotions.

#3. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is amplified by social media. If you don’t spend time on social media, you can easily skip FOMO. And you won’t miss the FOMO.

#4. Cyberbullying. People on social media can be cruel to each other, including physicians. Others can easily prosecute your post, making us feel inadequate or ashamed.

#5. Addiction. Like teenagers, social media quickly becomes an addiction, and that obsession leads to disturbances in our daily routine and sleep that can significantly affect our mental health.

Spend your time differently.

Instead of spending time on social media, taking 3-5 minute breaks every hour to do something else can help reset your mind. This could include climbing stairs or going outside to appreciate nature. Repurposing this time can provide critical moments of solitude throughout the day. It won’t solve systemic issues or reduce your workload, but it’s a simple choice you can make for yourself starting today.

Take a break from social media!

Social media has many benefits, such as keeping us informed, entertained, and connected with friends, but as physicians, we are not immune to its negative effects. Every time we choose to spend time on social media, we are choosing not to do something else, so it’s important to ask ourselves if it’s the best use of our time. We must take our own advice and reduce our social media use to avoid burnout and protect our mental and emotional well-being.