Social media is life. If you’re not online, do you even exist? It seems that absolutely everybody and everything is connected online these days. I mean, my pedometer has a social feature! I could order pizza on Facebook if I wanted and I’m pretty sure there’s a social media website for dogs. Yep, there is. That’s in my browser history now. I don’t even have a dog! But I can friend request yours.
There are so many great features and benefits to the various social media platforms, but there’s no doubt there’s also a darker side to them, and a huge emotional toll that comes with regular use. Lately, it seems more draining than ever.
In 2012, social media users spent approximately ninety minutes socialising online every day, and every year this number increases. Current estimates based on these figures suggest in 2020, adults are spending at least 2.5 hours on social media daily but some individuals are averaging 3-5 hours online*. Clearly, we’re getting something out of these apps but I know I’m not alone in feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and personally attacked every time I pick up the phone to scroll. Beneath the surface of social media, something emotionally draining lurks…can you feel it? Do you wonder why it’s affecting us this way?
I’ve been reflecting on this lately, and I think there are three main culprits to our social media burnout.
When I was in primary school, my best friend’s mum took us to see a
kid friendly movie on her day off. It was ‘What Women Want’ and it starred a young Mel Gibson as Nick Marshall. I remember one scene vividly. After a freak accident, Nick suddenly developed female mind-reading skills and walked through a busy hallway full of women. It did not go well for him. He had to cover his ears and get out, because the tsunami of chattering voices in his head was so overwhelming and loud. He didn’t know what to do with it all. He was freaked out. Can you relate? Social media has opened everyone’s private thoughts to the world. Statuses, videos, images and voice recordings flood our minds with the once-private thoughts of thousands of ‘friends’ and strangers. There’s the constant ‘bing!’ of Messenger, too. A world of people who instantly expect a response. All of this is scattered with baby Yoda memes and other jokes which help us forget the stress of living online for a moment, but the immediacy and intensity of our online world is always just around the corner.
Then there’s the comments section.Free self-care tip: never open the comments section. Click To Tweet
Here, you find another flood of thoughts that really ought to be kept private. Instead though, you’ll find yourself face to face with trolls, activists, uninformed folk and those with radically different worldviews to you who all believe their opinion needs to be shared with the world. There’s heated debate, and then there’s the plain bullying. Reading the comments section feels like an emotional assault, and the nastiness doesn’t need to be directed at you to be damaging, either. Just witnessing the verbal bulldozing and stupidity triggers frustration and plummets your faith in humanity, and yet we’re drawn to the drama like moths to a flame.
Consider how a comments section would play out and make you feel in reality. Imagine trying to walk through an angry crowd, all arguing and insulting each other. You get past them, and someone on the street is crying and venting loudly. Once you’ve offered comfort, another person is asking for money, next- an activist shames you for not picking up their cause. Another angry crowd appears and swallows you whole and in the distance, you see a line-up of hurting, loud, angry people and some feebly trying to calm the chaos. This is not a peaceful walk. It would have been best to keep the door shut and stay inside today.
Social media can expose users to vicarious trauma through the sharing of graphic and terrifying content. With livestreaming features readily available, this has only become more of an issue. Do you remember the Christchurch mosque terror attack of 2019? That tragic event was proudly livestreamed by the shooter and viewed by the world. People who lived many thousands of kilometres away from the event were drawn into a moment of pure terror where innocent people were slaughtered before their eyes. Without consent, Facebook users were shown something truly terrible.
Besides the trend of livestreaming terrorist activity, I’ve seen pictures and videos of dead bodies, war, famine, abuse, gore and shocking footage of natural disaster. I’ve seen far more death than I’d like, and things that weigh heavily on me and still haunt my thoughts at times.
Of course, newspapers and news broadcasts have been sharing these stories for years- long before social media became the norm, but something feels different now. The way that social media has facilitated constant engagement with current events and news makes it feel almost as if we’re personally experiencing every tragedy shared. The newsreel feels inescapable- between the actual broadcasting and the response posts, live videos, commenting, petitions and outrage culture that follow, it’s no wonder so many of us are stressed out, freaked out and in some cases, traumatised.
Guilt and shame
Social media is the perfect breeding ground for guilt and shame, too. There is always something to feel inadequate about online, and someone willing to further this feeling with insults or shame. Whether it’s your faith, sexuality, political views, ability, lifestyle or personal beliefs- you will be told it is either ‘too much’ or ‘not enough’. Vegans, Christians, conservatives, feminists, the LGBTQIA+ community, atheists, those on either side of the abortion debate, deconstructionists, exvangelicals, professionals, whistle-blowers, millennials to boomers and an infinite number of other people groups experience bullying online. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will be guilted, shamed and probably drawn in to responding in anger yourself- continuing the cycle of unhelpful discussion and bullying. You’ll also have labels slapped on you and torn away because ‘you really can’t be abc if you say/do xyz!’ and your personal beliefs will be treated as public property. They will be trashed no matter how diplomatic you try to be, or how sacred they are to you. Even the most stoic among us will feel it. This is not the only source of online guilt and shame though.
You know those temporary charity stands that set up in busy shopping malls, the ones that make you feel a pang of guilt when you completely ignore their friendly greeting? Social media is like an everlasting line-up of these pop-up stalls, only they’re easier to ignore. But shame still clings to your skin when you log out without participating or giving.
Social media is a great tool for activism and awareness. It’s effective for creating global and cultural change and it’s given a means to support the organisations and individuals who need it the most, which is incredible. However, doesn’t it just feel so overwhelming? Every person has their own passion and cause they want to pitch. Whether it’s sponsoring children or gorillas, supporting vulnerable and sick people, reducing meat or plastic consumption, empowering the abused, signing up to a charity that puts little hats on chickens or a crowdfunding campaign to buy a prosthetic leg for a child who lost theirs- there is always need. The reality is, we can’t support every cause. It’s impossible, yet we feel the pressure to try. We constantly feel like we’re not doing enough.
How do I escape?
What do we do with this stress? How do we cope with the dryness that endless hours of scrolling and viewing can cause and the emotional burnout, depression and anxiety we feel? I personally want to throw my phone out the window and yell at everybody, to be honest. Then I want to curl up in a little ball and escape our loud world. That’s not practical though, at least not in the long run. What we need is some self-care in an age of social media.
Start with curating your feeds.
Curating your social media feeds to suit your needs and purposes is a vital skill to learn in order to have a happy online presence and to protect your mental well being. This is something I am working on myself.
I don’t think the solution to the emotional toll of social media is to go off the grid and disappear, I believe instead of running away, we can embrace the gifts of our new online world and work with it to create something that inspires, encourages, and helps us stay connected to the people we care about. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break, even an extended one, but I think generally we need to stay connected online to remain engaged with modern reality and our real-life friends, we just need to take our power back.I don’t think the solution to the emotional toll of social media is to go off the grid and disappear, I believe instead of running away, we can embrace the gifts of our new online world and work with it to create something that inspires,… Click To Tweet
How? Start with deciding what you want from social media. What purpose do you want it to serve? Use this as a guide for what you allow in front of your eyes and what you choose to share.
Your social media accounts are yours. You get to choose what you see on them, what you post and who you let see this content. You hold the power. You no longer have to feel obliged to remain ‘friends’ or ‘like’ pages that cause you stress. You don’t have to engage in the fist-fight that is the comments section- even if you’re trying to speak reason. You are free to step back from the quagmire of opinions that send you spiraling into a post-modern pit asking ‘what the hell is truth?!’. You can let go of these things, and simply unfriend, block or delete any pages or people who aren’t building you up. Even if they’re friends or family members. Likewise, go and like pages and friend request people who bring light to your feeds, who make you a better, stronger and happier person. Make your social media feeds safe spaces for you, and those you care about- whatever that looks like for you.
Practice slow activity
Another practice to help you step away from the screen’s power is to restore your mind by spending some time intentionally away from your phone or laptop, preferably in nature or exercising your body. Breathe in the fresh air and appreciate a sunrise or majestic tree without the filter or need to capture and share it. Just enjoy the moment on your own, or with a friend knowing it is sacred because this exact moment will never happen again. As well as taking time to enjoy the outdoors and move your body- maybe even leaving your phone at home, try other ‘slow activities’ like reading a book, cooking or simply watching a movie without simultaneously scrolling through your phone. Switch multitasking for single-tasking and see how your focus and appreciation for your chosen activity grows.
Be mindful of your time
One more thing I’ll be doing, is setting a ten-minute timer on my watch every time I log into Facebook. After ten minutes, I’ve seen everything I need to. The buzz of my alarm shocks me back into reality and prevents me from scrolling for eternity. Instagram now has a timer setting too, you can set it to whatever time you’d like, and it’ll just pop up with a ‘hey, you’ve been on Instagram for xyz minutes today!’ alert, so you can choose if you’d like to continue or stop for the time being. I find it really helps.
And finally, don’t read the comments.
What are your suggestions? Share them below.