With the start of a new year, many find themselves committing to new years resolutions. Following the unprecedented year we all experienced, this year’s resolutions will likely reflect the lessons we’ve learned and the smaller improvements we need to make in our lives. I know mine does.
If I’ve learned anything from the past year, it’s that social media has an incredibly negative impact on my psyche. I’ve actually known this since I was in high school, but have never totally kicked the habit of mindlessly scrolling on social media. Not only is this obviously a huge waste of time, but the amount of “junk content,” vitriol, and fear-porn I am faced with in these innocent scrolls contributes to my inborn, slightly anxious demeanor. This is especially true in a time of political division, a time of a pandemic, and a time where individuals are virtually exposed to far more people than what is specified as the limit of one’s social capacity with Dunbar’s number.
Throughout 2020, terrible news story after terrible news story plagued every social media platform I engaged with. Each time I opened social media in attempts to fill a moment of boredom or to “relax,” I was faced with a jarring gut-punch, causing my stomach to drop, my body to shake, and my mind to race. In addition to those many stories, with each media outlet publishing multiple stories on a single event, I was faced with the opinions and reactions of thousands of social media users. All of these negative, upsetting online discussions put each nightmare at the forefront of my mind for days, even weeks, on end. Being in lockdown exacerbated this pattern, as I was was often alone with my catastrophized thoughts.
I realized that I may not be able to quit scrolling cold-turkey, and that I could not control involuntary reactions to bad news. However, I can control my mindset going into learning about such tragedies, and I can control how much content related to “bad news” I ingest.
Yesterday, January 6th, was the perfect example. News of radical right-wingers storming the White House would have normally distressed me to no end, causing me to envision the fiery end of America–no, the West–as we know it. Yes, the implications of such an event are concerning to say the least, but my typical reaction to such news would have been unproductive and a bit too imaginative. But I did not find out suddenly and in a relaxed state, the way I would have if I had found out on social media. Rather, my best friend reached out to me and asked if I had seen the news. In this situation, I was prepared for negative news.
Had I found out by scrolling on social media, in a relaxed state, the news of a storm on the Capitol Building would have been far more jarring. I would have likely read at least 10 articles basically outlining the same details, or polarizing tweets sent by emotional users on either side of the political spectrum. Rather, I sought out a news stream from my local news station to gather the necessary details, and shut it off when I had gathered enough information. This allowed me to take a better approach to the situation, in addition to not firing off my typical fear response. I was able to go about my day while still remaining informed.
I’ve decided to abstain from engaging with social media for the entire year. More specifically, I have deleted all social media apps from my phone, block the websites from my mobile browser, and refrain from viewing the sites until 2022. (Disclaimer: My blogs will be automatically uploaded to Twitter–I’ll be able to take advantage of social media as a tool for exposure, but still avoid the things I do not want from social media) I’ve replaced the mindless scrolling with crocheting and crossword puzzles (I know, what am I, 80?) so I have something somewhat mindless, yet productive, to do with my hands while I watch television, or am bored for a few moments. For someone who has natural neurotic tendencies (I’m in the 85th percentile for the Neuroticism personality trait), this is the best solution for me. I encourage anyone who feels similarly to me to do the same (and to read my other blog post on the topic of staying informed in a responsible way).