The world has changed rapidly during the past decade in order to match the pace of technology. Revolutions went viral, catastrophes were posted online and humanitarian movements were reduced to hashtags. This is leading to increased levels of stress and anxiety among young and old alike.  eniGma’s Nayera Yasser sat with Dr. Anne Justus, the Senior Clinical Psychologist at Maadi Psychology Center to discuss psychological health in the age of social media, when stress, anxiety and depression are often trending hashtags.  Dr. Justus is a recognized expert in the treatment of depression, anxiety, stress, adjustment, personality disorders as well as sexuality and relationship intimacy. She holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester in New York and is a member of the American Psychological Association.

According to Dr. Justus, who has been living in Cairo since 2007, social media has inspired a huge change that can be seen in diverse aspects of life. Today, everyone has instant access to information, and this can directly affect the psychology of individuals and society in general. Based on her scientific observations, these days people are affected much faster by events.  Since we hear so much in a relatively shorter frame of time, this massive load of information can be quite overwhelming and even numbing.

“Having to be constantly online, checking your profile and posting new things every hour makes huge demands on your psyche; meanwhile, it also consumes long hours, eventually affecting your physical activities and your relationships,” says Dr. Justus describing a pattern she often sees among her acquaintances and patients. “We already see how this pressure and the time demands it entails, has led celebrities and others to hire professionals to handle their social media so that they can have more time to step out and participate in the real world,” explains Dr. Justus. She notes that, despite such delegation, as the number of digital celebrities rises, their levels of stress also continue to rise.

“Basing your entire self-worth on whether or not people like you online causes a lot of pressure,” Dr. Justus explains.  “Everyone is currently suffering from stress. Some people’s stress is even more serious; their symptoms really falling under anxiety. Such anxiety can even stop them from going out due to their fear of judgment. Fear of rejection and abandonment can also fall under the larger umbrella of anxiety and panic attacks,” she adds.

With many disorders dominating online posts and trending hashtags, the doctor warns that their virality can be attributed to the inappropriate misuse of certain medical words. As an expert in psychological diagnostics, she believes that the use of generalizations about serious disorders casually in regular online vocabulary is quite puzzling. “I hear a lot of people talking casually about being OCD or experiencing panic attacks. However, if you sit back and really look into the symptoms they refer to, they are not panic attacks, it’s just an expression that is being used,” says Dr. Justus about the social phenomenon.

Dr. Justis’ mantra for psychological health amidst all the digital chaos, is to focus on achieving self-actualization. This would lead to a less stressful life that is cohesive and reflecting the individual’s real persona. She warns that purposely creating a fake character on social media aside from the person’s real identity can lead to a lot of stress. Given the difficulty of juggling two personalities, a lot of people who choose to pursue that path, often end up preferring to stay at home surrounded by an exclusive circle of people.

Dr. Justus candidly concludes, “The one advice I always give to people regarding social media actually came from my mother, who once told me, ‘never put anything online which you would not want your grandmother to read!’”