A few years ago, many of us were over the moon about finding new ways for self-expression and marketing, professional networking and reconnecting with old friends – we had just discovered social media. Fast forward to the current scenario: most people are getting a little tired of information overload, constant connectivity, and incessant outrage on social media, including the omnipresent trolls. This has a bearing on people’s mental health. Even as we continue to use social media unhinged, several studies from around the world have associated the new, connected digital lifestyle with depression and anxiety, troubled sleep patterns and self-esteem, and stress.
According to YouTube Co-founder Chad Hurley, social media feeds have a negative impact on one’s resolve to create new things because these feeds immediately present reasons why your idea, product, or service is repetitive or just not good enough. He says, “Continue to pursue your dreams, and your ideas, based on how you feel about things. I think you spend too much time browsing the web, or checking your Twitter feed or Facebook. I do think that these feeds are detrimental to people’s productivity. It alters your thinking. Any time you have an idea, you feel it’s already been done, or you get discouraged by what other people are creating, because you keep seeing it come through your feed.”
As we all know it is easy to get lost in your phone as you browse, message, shop or share content, news, jokes or just WhatsApp ‘good morning’ messages. However, escape is not the solution. Whether you apply for a new job or looking for a new business, social media is usually the first point of contact in our times. Not being on it could mean missing out on important opportunities. Like most other things, the answer to social media fatigue and related mental health issues is in finding the right balance between using the tool purposefully and on the other extreme, letting the “endless scroll of outrage” take over your life.
How does one really do that?
It is extremely important that you understand why you are on social media. From professional networking to watching out for marketing trends to entertainment or just simply staying in touch with friends and family. List out what you really want to do and then declutter and define a finishing line for your social media time everyday.
Since social media feeds in the last few years have gone from chronological to algorithm-based, it is therefore important to prune your list every now and then so that irrelevant posts don’t take too much of your time and the relevant posts don’t get lost in the clutter. Make sure you have only the relevant things on your feed and learn to live with it.
Social media is a great tool for information. However, if you are interested in politics, you don’t need to follow every political figure on Twitter. If some categories of news trigger you, it is quite alright to block certain words from appearing on your feeds to save yourself from instant, unhealthy reactions and outrage. If a profile is not adding any value to the reason why you are on social media, you don’t actually need to follow it or let it remain on your feeds by default. You can replace it with one where you can form a more meaningful, productive connection – with someone who shares your interests and aspirations. You don’t have to hate-read and form opinions on everyone putting their thoughts out there on social media. Those are, after all, opinions and they are subjective. Take control of your feeds and what you see on them.
Taking a leaf from SoundCloud founder Alexander Ljung’s social media detox discipline, turning off notifications can be very useful in our times of constant deluge of messages and information. According to an American Psychological Association study, “Mobile phones generate auditory or tactile notifications to alert users of incoming calls and messages. Although these notifications are generally short in duration, they can prompt task-irrelevant thoughts, or mind wandering, which has been shown to damage task performance. We found that cellular phone notifications alone significantly disrupted performance on an attention-demanding task, even when participants did not directly interact with a mobile device during the task. The magnitude of observed distraction effects was comparable in magnitude to those seen when users actively used a mobile phone, either for voice calls or text messaging.”
There is nothing more distracting than the constant ringing of WhatsApp forwards and Twitter mentions, especially when you are at work. There is also nothing more unproductive. Notifications keep us more engaged on our smartphone screens than we need to be, triggering constant action and emotional reactions to whatever is happening on the other side of the screen. It takes away from our ability to be mindful and in the present. Turning off notifications would mean you get distracted by a phone call only when something is really urgent or important. And social media notifications are usually neither.
Some of us read, others worked out. There was gardening and pottery. We discovered new music, watched unreleased documentaries, and caught films first day first show – usually without social media reviews being killjoys. But now, there is little surprise left in discovery. When you realise you are spending too much time on social media, it is time to find new things to keep your hands and minds busy. Go back to an old hobby or find a new one but just make sure it takes you away from the screen. There is no better way to disengage your mind from social media than to engage it with something else that is more interesting and adds new dimensions to your personality.
Whether you give yourself a month off social media every year or set aside a few hours in the day to unplug, rest assured you will come back to a world pretty much the same as it was before you unplugged. The fear of missing out is unnecessary – and most global leaders from Apple to Microsoft, Twitter to Soundcloud have vouched for it. Unplugging helps catch up on reading without distractions, connecting more meaningfully with people physically around us, and being more attentive to the world outside the screen. There is a reason why technology leaders who are constantly in the thick of all things digital advocate social media detox every now and then. Take a leaf out of Melinda Gates’ book: she has device-free family dinners at home, while Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey practises silent meditation for days.
Attempting to live a curated life, following every trend or living up to a “public image” on social media can be exhausting and perhaps one of the biggest reasons for social media fatigue. While it is important to be careful about what you put out there, authenticity is also equally important. Constantly looking out for amazing experiences in real life just for a few Instagram likes or constantly reacting to news to maintain Twitter presence can tire anyone out. You don’t have to perform every hashtag challenge or follow every pop culture trend if it does not feel right or, worse, makes sense. Taking a moment to pause and recognise when you are curating your life and opinions and when you are doing something just to be part of the herd helps you be cognizant of it and draw boundaries.
The first step to avoiding social media fatigue is to be aware of how much time you are spending on social media and what you are doing in these hours, as well as how you can engage online in more productive ways to meet life and career goals. Moderation is key here too, much like everywhere else.