I’ve created a sleep hygiene guideline for myself recently—to turn my cell phone on “airplane mode” before getting into bed, and to anticipate the visualization techniques I can use should my mind begin to wander with racing thoughts. Otherwise, I know that I will mindlessly drift toward the social media apps on my phone, scrolling through news, images and messages from friends, peers and my fellow colleagues, along with news about celebrities.
In our current climate of rising antisemitism and misinformation being spread, I have found that social media has shifted from being—at best—distracting or somewhat disheartening, to causing a significant change in my anxiety. My feeds are not filled with homogenous, supportive messages about Israel. Instead, I am finding propaganda, slander and hatred. Yes, there are some who post out of ignorance, and these are the individuals I most hope to influence when I post about the truth, based upon facts rather than opinions (which are presented as facts). This feels like a constant battlefield in a world where social media has already led to the promotion of comparison and insecurities, judgments and the devaluing of our self-worth.
When asked recently how I am doing, I have responded that I feel tired. I feel drained. And I know that I am not the only one. Below are some tips and tools for those navigating the world of social media—and also the world of immersion in the news and current events. While these tips and tools may not be revolutionary, I do believe they can act as a helpful reminder.
1. Identify Your Goal. It is important to recognize what you’re hoping to achieve by engaging with social media. Keeping up with your friends? Learning about world events? Sharing your life with others? Entertainment? These are among the many reasons one may open an app, and if you can hone in on your goal or interest, you can then limit the external factors that may lead to getting sucked in beyond what you would have liked, or to “doom scrolling.” Limit the account and unfollow those who do not promote messaging that you feel supports your mental health. If your goal is to post, do so and then leave the app—perhaps walking away is best.
2. It Doesn’t Have to Be All or Nothing. I have seen people vacillate from bingeing / restricting social media, much like one might do with food in other areas. Typically, rather than “cutting oneself off,” it makes more sense to find a balance. For some this may come by setting a time of day to engage—or to “intentionally engage” at any time rather than mindlessly doing so. This can mean pausing from work, and noting, with awareness, that one is going to take some time to visit social media rather than simply having the muscle memory toward opening the app and before one knows it, spending copious time scrolling. One can also recognize a limit based on mood—developing awareness of when engaging with social media or the news leads to a dip in mood or an increase of anxiety in a manner that is beyond one’s window of tolerance, and then practicing self-care and disengaging.
3. Cultivate Real Conversations. Posts online are often curated with intense Photoshop, or they can be information haphazardly reposted without fact-checking. Take a moment and remember this; remember that posts online do not necessarily reflect what a person looks like or acts like outside of the screen. And then seek out connections beyond the app. Reach out to friends, have a conversation, even share a post with someone and ask if they’d be open to discussing. These past few weeks I have found that I felt least alone when connecting outside of a social media app.
4. Notice the Benefits. This piece is not to judge social media as being “bad.” People can find inspiration, connection, feel a sense of confidence, and seek out those who raise them up. Identify what raises you up and follow that trail. We live in a world where we will have experiences that cause us pain, and experiences that bring us joy. We need both. Note when you’re experiencing only one of these emotions from social media, and be sure to let in the benefits that social media can bring you.
During a time when we may feel tired, confused, scared, brave, fired-up, or simply neutral, use what we have to foster growth, reflection and connection, and notice when engaging in any area that makes you feel as if you are sinking. Learn to tread water, and also learn when you need to leave the pool. The water may seem—and be—nice, and I guarantee there are lots of other nice ways you can care for yourself when you step out of the water.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW works in private practice with those in New York and New Jersey (virtually at this time) age 14+ struggling with their relationships, with their bodies, food, and overall mental health concerns. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and speaks nationally on the subjects of eating disorder advocacy and body image awareness. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com