Wellness

Is Using Too Many Emojis a Sign of Depression?

by Carissa Zadwarny

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Wellness

Is Using Too Many Emojis a Sign of Depression?

It’s complicated. “¯\_(ツ)_/¯“

How often do you find yourself replying to a text, DM or email with an emoji… or five? With a suitcase of emotions literally at our fingertips, it’s all too convenient to defer to our iPhones for everything, even our feelings. 

But at what expense does this cost us long term? Hiding behind playful emojis, gifs and even memes can be detrimental to our well being. Instead of confronting emotions head on and using actual words to convey feelings, it can be easier and less vulnerable to use humor as a scapegoat. But are people hiding a darker reality? It poses the question, Is using too many emojis a sign of depression? 

We tapped licensed clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst in training, Dr. Aimee Martinez, for the rundown on mental health in the digital age. She weighs in on quarantine depression, doom scrolling and why it’s crucial to set healthy boundaries with social media. 

CZ

What are some tell tale signs of early stage depression?

AM

Early signs of depression might look different for different people. It’s important to be observant and curious if you are considering that you or someone you care about might be depressed. Consulting a therapist can be a helpful part of this process.

Depression doesn’t always look like sadness. It might just seem like something feels “off” or you’ve noticed a change that you “can’t seem to shake.”  Things to notice: changes in sleeping or eating patterns, irritability (i.e. having a short fuse, losing patience easily), excitability (i.e. feeling extreme energy or restlessness—perhaps as a way of coping with the underlying feelings of depression). Having difficulty focusing and perhaps losing interest in relationships or activities that once felt pleasurable.

Feelings of depression might not always be emotional. Some people experience symptoms in their body via aches, pains and fatigue. It is important to remember that mental health is very much tied to the mind and body connection.

CZ

Do people use emojis to mask their sadness or hide their real feelings? 

AM

This is an interesting question. My first answer is: it depends. Emojis on one hand can be a helpful way of expressing feelings we might not have words for. It’s  convenient to have a “feelings chart” at your disposal at all times! However, sometimes emojis can be used as a way to balance out an emotional statement. Take this text for example:

Person A says: “How you doing?”
Person B replies: “I’m super stressed, this pandemic is the worst 😂 ! “

The emoji used is not congruent with the statement. What person B is saying isn’t actually funny. B’s words and emoji use are incongruent—meaning the statement emotionally goes one way and the emoji goes another. I might consider that B is having some conflicting thoughts or feelings about expressing these emotions. Perhaps B is concerned that A might be judgemental, or that person A might ask more questions.

Sometimes we use emojis to cut off a feeling or conversation because it feels too vulnerable. This doesn’t necessarily lead to depression but it can be a way of dismissing feelings, which over time, can build up and lead to feelings of depression. 

CZ

How does texting and digital communication play into depression?

AM

This is a big question that doesn’t have one definitive answer. So I will focus on just one point here, although there are SO many to consider.

I like to use the phrase, “lost in text translation” to describe what can happen in conversations via text that might leave someone feeling confused, dismissed, rejected, misunderstood, etc. It can often be difficult to discern someone’s tone when they send a text which can lead to problems in interpretation.

CZ

Isolation is causing people to lean into digital communication more than normal, what do you think the side effects of this will be in a year or two?

AM

It’s so hard to know! While being online can help people stay connected, it can also be a way for people to feel more isolated and alone. Given that so many people are socializing digitally due to the pandemic, it will be interesting to see how this impacts over all well-being. 

One thing to note is that therapy is available virtually now more than ever. This helps make it more accessible to those who might live in rural communities or might not have transportation available. Websites like www.inclusivetherapists.com and www.therapyforblackgirls.com and www.latinxtherapy.com are great resources to find providers in your area. 

“Sometimes we use emojis to cut off a feeling or conversation because it feels too vulnerable.”

CZ

Is quarantine depression a thing?

AM

Absolutely. Being in a prolonged state of unknowns and the stress around not knowing what the future will hold is incredibly difficult for the mind to process. It is also important to mention that quarantine and the pandemic are impacting people in different ways. Although seeking treatment for mental health is less and less stigmatized, a lot of work still needs to be done around addressing the effects of racism, discrimination, and trauma on individuals impacted by pandemic, especially those who have historically been marginalized.

CZ

What’s a healthy amount of weekly screen time in regard to mental health?

AM

I think that’s a personal process to figure out. An exercise to determine this might be to:

1. Estimate how much time per day you are on social media. Write it down.

2. Activate a screen time monitor on your phone, or via an app.

3. Set the reminder to monitor your screen time for one week.

4. Note your results. Was the amount of time relatively close to what you estimated? Or was it way off? No problem either way. This is just a gage, not an exercise to judge yourself. 

If you feel like you are using social media more than you would like for yourself, keep reading for action points and tips on creating healthy boundaries with social media.  

CZ

Can you weigh in on doom scrolling? How does social media affect depression?

AM

I’ve actually never heard the term before! But my association is that the process of endlessly scrolling social media can lead to feelings of doom, i.e. deflated self-esteem.

Social media often showcases aspirational content. It’s easy to begin comparing your life, privilege (or lack thereof), experiences, assumed financial situation, education, and/or success. The list goes on. Certain posts can stir up deep longings for a life that isn’t based in reality. You might notice feelings of jealousy, envy (all normal feelings to have) which over time can leave you feeling insecure.

Begin to notice when you project your ideas and feelings about others via social media. Think about why you might be doing it and become curious about how it might be impacting you. Remember, you really are seeing a very small, curated slice of someone’s life.

CZ

What are some healthy boundaries to set when it comes to social media and protecting your mental health?

AM

Here are a few helpful action points to consider: 

1. If someone’s account leaves you feeling bad about yourself, unfollow or mute. It’s that easy.

2. Be conscious of the types of accounts you follow. If you only follow influencers and models, consider balancing your feed with things you are interested in learning about like different hobbies, causes, and educational content. You can deepen your experience with social media by examining what you are drawn to and why.  

3. Turn off your notifications on your phone and/or your computer.

4. Delete apps from your phone. 

5. Set a reminder to log off once you hit a certain time limit. For example, you can look at the settings on your phone and ask it to alert you when you’ve been on your phone or on a particular app for a certain amount of time that day.

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