These days, a lot of folks are asking Umbra how to balance social media (and all the good it can do) with the need for release from a stress-inducing 24-7 stream of outrageous tweets.
Whenever I have a medical problem — anxiety is a medical problem! — I consult the internet which is why I turned to online doctor James Hamblin. NO! He’s a real doctor — and also The Atlantic’s health editor and author of If Our Bodies Could Talk.
The worst thing you can do, Hamblin told me, is to “just be sitting idly by, stewing, doing nothing, consuming information constantly.” But it’s also unhealthy (from a civic standpoint, certainly) to ignore your newsfeed entirely and divorce yourself from the world.
Here’s how Hamblin suggests you can achieve that much-needed Facebook/life balance.
- Hiding out in the woods is actually not a good option. It’s a unique kind of privilege, Hamblin notes, to choose to distance yourself from the news cycle. “It’s like if there was a meteor bearing down on Earth, and you said, ‘You know, I’m just gonna go on a digital detox, and not think about the meteor.’” You have to confront the meteor at some point — especially if you are in a position to use your voice to support people most directly in the meteor’s path.
- Real-life interaction is almost always better than the internet kind. A lot of social media posting is akin to shouting into the void. If you know just one person who is disengaged or unaware of what’s happening, it’s significantly more useful to have a direct conversation with him or her than to type-yell into a Twitter thread, Hamblin says.
- The real world — no matter how terrible it seems! — will actually make you feel better. Remember when we started this whole rigmarole and I encouraged you to find your cause? It would be good to do that now, if you haven’t already. You’ll feel most engaged and most fulfilled by committing some time to said cause instead of feed-scrolling. There are proven, tangible health benefits to feeling that you’ve got a purpose. Donating your time and money is a very productive form of self care, it turns out.
- Get a good bedtime ritual. “I’m a big advocate of sleep. Me and Arianna Huffington,” says Hamblin. Me too, James! I am always asleep. I’m asleep right now, writing this! Anyway, before you knock out for the night, it’s far healthier to take time to read a book, or to reflect on your interactions and conversations throughout the day with real live humans, than to refresh Reddit from the comfort of your sheets. [UMBRA TIP: Jeez, don’t bring Reddit into your bed under any circumstances.] Think about stepping away from the screen at least an hour before bed.
- How do you know when you’ve achieved information equilibrium? Overwhelmed by news-related anxiety = bad. No sense of purpose = also bad, furthermore, what are you doing? Be informed enough that you know what you’re fighting, but don’t bury yourself under the weight of a thousand newsfeeds.
- If you can’t depend on your own willpower, there are [actually] apps for that. If you do need a break from social media, you can use an app to block certain websites for hours or even a day. You’ll have to find the right one for your device, but I’ve heard good things about Moment or Self Control.