5 ways to make social media a little less stressful right now
There are some things you can do to make the news feel a little less overwhelming. Here's what to do if social media is causing you anxiety, but you can't stop scrolling.
These days, it can seem like every ping on your phone could bring more anxiety. During the coronavirus lockdown, social media can be stressful for a variety of reasons — it can be a tool for disseminating information, and staying connected with loved ones, or a mouthpiece for misleading rumours, and a trigger for panic and fear. Right now, it's all of the above. I mentally brace myself every time I log on because, in any given five-minute scroll, I'll pick up a mix of useful information from the government, some funny memes, and a whole lot of other information that even if it's useful, even if it's true, only heightens my COVID-19 fears.
Mumbai-based clinical psychologist, Dr Shilpa Aggarwal, noted that when you live apart from family or friends or find yourself in the midst of a particularly troubling news cycle, it can be difficult to tear yourself away — and before you know it, half the day is gone. While it's important to stay up-to-date on the latest happenings — or maybe you can't (or don't want to) stay away from social media completely right now — "if you're starting to dread checking your social media accounts, you probably need to take a hard look at the way you use it and the effect it's having on your mental health," says Dr Aggarwal. So, we posed her this question: how do you use social media right now without worsening your anxiety and fear? Find her recommendations ahead.
Limit your social media scrolls per day.
Dr Aggarwal recommends setting specific time slots for social media use. Limit yourself to one to three instances per day, and make sure they're not right when you wake up or just before bed. "Our minds are very susceptible first thing in the morning, which then clouds your judgement for the rest of the day," explains Dr Aggarwal. "Reading bad news before bedtime is a recipe for insomnia," she adds. Think of your social media time slots as appointments, she says. Check in with a few trusted sources on a fixed, daily schedule. "It won't help to check the news every 15 minutes. It won't lead to any more productive action, and will only serve to induce panic," says Dr Aggarwal. Keep yourself informed but not overloaded. "Saturating on social media can literally overwhelm our brains."
Choose 2-3 trustworthy news sources to follow.
"Stick to three main social media sites or newsgroups — as well as a solid local source, such as your state government — to get your coronavirus information on social media," says Dr Aggarwal, adding that these should be "sources you trust, not necessarily like." On the flip side, you want to avoid information from people who aren't attached to a verified source, like the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare or World Health Organization. "Pay attention to any social media interactions, posts, or users that feel negative or induce anxiety. If a certain person's or group's posts cause anxiety, stay away from that person or group. We choose how we consume social media. Use your power of choice," she Dr Aggarwal. Engage only in social media interactions that feel uplifting and supportive; that might mean blocking or muting certain sources or people, either permanently or until the current COVID-19 crisis passes, she adds.
Ask yourself what you want from social media.
It's easy to mindlessly click on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram before you realise what you're doing. Try to notice when you're heading in that direction and stop before you get sucked in. "Take a few breaths, relax, and then ask yourself, 'What information do I really need right now?'" says Dr Aggarwal. She noted that you're probably already aware of the things you really need to know that directly affect your actions: the importance of social distancing, washing your hands, and staying home. "If you want updates on the broader situation, go directly to the sources you trust instead of scrolling until a coronavirus headline pops out at you. Remember to keep to your time limit when reading COVID-19 news, which can become overwhelming quickly," says Dr Aggarwal.
Connect with loved ones.
Social media isn't all about negative, anxiety-inducing news. During a period when staying at home, and social distancing have become the new normal, using tools such as Whatsapp, Skype, and other audio-visual platforms to interact can be helpful. "Using social media to connect with loved ones can ease your loneliness, and support others who are also feeling isolated," says Dr Aggarwal. Still, if social media is too much of a trigger for you, she recommends backing away from the messaging apps and opting for phone calls. For some, "social media may not be the place to find a true connection," she says. Dr Aggarwal suggests that you could also ask a friend or a family member to keep you updated. She says, "If you have someone that is not bothered by the news or social media, have them give you a summary. Let them be your social media update. Ask for the big picture. Ask them, 'What is essential for me to know?'"
Swap scrolling for a more relaxing habit.
Whatever you're looking for on social media — distraction, entertainment, a break — you can often find elsewhere. When you feel the urge to check your Facebook, or Twitter feed, Dr Aggarwal recommends getting up and physically removing yourself from your phone or computer. Take a walk, or if you have time, do a quick workout (or even just a single exercise) right in your room. "Releasing endorphins is an effective way to fight stress and anxiety and to give your mind a break from everything. You could also try listening to soothing music," she says. Even though sometimes it can feel reassuring to understand what is going on in the news, it is also okay to step away and read a book, practise self-care, and focus on other tasks at hand. "Because information surrounding the coronavirus is easily accessible, you can feel confident knowing that if you walk away for a little, you can retrieve updated information when you are ready," says Dr Aggarwal.