It feels like you can’t write a blog post or send an email without acknowledging the strange times we’re living in. Having said that, I’ve been quite keen to write some non-Covid related posts. Some of us need a break from it (me included!). And don’t want it ruining a perfectly good blog reading experience. And yet, this seems an impossibility. Every time I sit down to write it crops us in some way or other! It made me realise that some top tips on managing news and social media exposure at this time may be helpful.
Too Much of A Good News Thing
For some of us, keeping up to date may help us feel in control. It helps us feel like we know what is going on when so much is uncertain. It helps us keep our finger on the pulse. At the end of the day it’s something to do with your time when many of us suddenly have more of it than ever before.
But for others, and I include myself in this group, it can be too much. Instead of soothing anxiety or fears, it can do the opposite. At the start of Covid-19 when the virus was happening elsewhere I was in the former group. I was checking the news multiple times a day to find out what was happening. As it drew closer to my own reality, this was no longer helpful. On some days, even reading the news once, depending on my mood, can make me feel lower or more stressed. I wondered if others had started to feel that way too?
How to Manage Better
I don’t think I’m alone in finding the news or social media a bit of a balancing act right now. In fact, in my role as a mental health educator I’ve been asked to speak on the subject multiple times in the past few weeks. My own experiences of managing news and social media does seem to be echoed elsewhere. So I’ve been experimenting with what works for me and gathering other people’s thoughts on the topic.
The key thing to remember is we’re different people, in different scenarios. And therefore we will be using news and social media for different reasons. With most management techniques there’s no magic wand solution. It’s not one size fits all. Having said that, I do hope that at least some of the ideas below may be helpful to you. So pick and choose what resonates with you. Here goes…
#1 Choose when you use
This was a piece of advice I heard on a webinar and I think it makes a lot of sense. I’ve noticed there are times or days when I can browse the news and I find it helpful or enlightening. Or at least I don’t notice any impact on my mood. On these days, the news is just the news. On other days, it does have the power to heighten existing feeling of stress and anxiety.
This idea of being ‘choosy’ about when we use social media or consume the news is echoed in research about social media usage in young people. The doom and gloom headlines we see in the media are not as they seem. Depending on who we are and what’s going on in our lives will alter how social media impacts us. For example, a teen having recently experienced a break up may find it hard to see photos of others enjoying a new relationship. In comparison, a teen newly experiencing the joys of a relationship may find these photos make them feel part of a teen experience or remind them of how happy they are.
#2 Choose what you use
Similar to the above, but deserving of it’s own separate point. Whether it’s which news resource or articles you are reading or which social media platform. It’s important to be a bit discerning right now. For me, I’m sticking to one trusted news outlet instead of browsing indiscriminately online. I’m also trying to sift out the articles which are genuinely informative about staying healthy. These help me feel like I’m looking after myself as much as possible. Without causing me to despair that this situation will never end. Likewise, I look for articles about kindness (more here) or community. I know they are likely to make me smile rather than increase my stress levels.
The same applies to social media. I’m trying to cultivate my platforms with news items or other media which will bring me joy. I have the news for education and information. So, I turn to social media to fulfil a different function in my life. That does mean choosing who I follow and what media I also share with my followers.
I am also aware of the impact that social media can have on my mood. Sometimes, photos of what everyone is doing right now makes me feel connected to them or can give me my own ideas. On other days, it’s too easy to look inward and wonder why I’m not being as productive as they are. And then the guilt sets in. On those days, I may want to take a step back from social media. Or at least think about which platform to use. For example, Instagram has photos which will catch my attention and could trap me in the comparative mindset. As opposed to Twitter where I find less of that and more pithy comments which I can scroll by easier if I’m not in the right head space.
#3 Check In With Yourself
In order for the two ideas to be most effective we need to know how we are feeling (click here for 4 ways to do so). This will help us make a considered decision about our news and social media usage. Checking in with ourselves doesn’t have to be a big exercise in reflection – unless we want it to be. It can be as simple as thinking first before we pick up that phone or laptop or turn on the radio. And ask ourselves, how am I feeling today? Or even, how will I feel if I see a stressful news story? This can help us choose what and when we use. For four different ways to checking in with ourselves read here.
#4 Time Limits & Breaks
If you’ve ever fallen down the Twitter/Instagram/Youtube rabbit hole than this one is for you. Particularly if you find this happens before bed and means you end up getting to sleep at stupid o’clock. Which, let’s be honest, means you will regret it the next morning.
I know this is something that has happened to me more often than I’d like to admit. But it’s very easy to do. I open the app and start mindlessly scrolling and before I know it time as flown. This isn’t just a waste of time if we’re not really getting anything out of the activity. It also can stop us doing things which are better for our wellbeing and being less discerning in what we use.
I’m not saying don’t watch, read or listen to the news or use social media. It’s just important to be time-limited with it. Having a specific amount of time will allow you to make the most of it. You’ll be more likely to look at things that will help you or make you smile. And less likely to end up reading things that will make you feel worse.
If you do notice that the news or social media are bothering you it’s also ok to take a break. Whilst this feeels like common sense sometimes it’s hard ot put down the phone or close the laptop. Sometimes we need permission from toher people to knwo it’s ok to do the same. There have definitely been days where I’ve not looked at the news. And there’s something nice about not being bombarded 24/7. It’s not really that ignorance is bliss; but more taking some time off from the stress so I can better look after myself.
#5 Set Boundaries
This could apply to the idea above. Time limits and breaks are definitely boundaries. But here I’m talking about having them with other people. If we’re taking a break from social media or the news right now we don’t want to be hearing it everywhere we turn. We’re living in close quarters right now so there’s also no escape. We can’t just walk away if someone is talking about something we don’t really want to hear.
It’s also important to be aware that people may be talking about it because it helps them manage. We can’t know why they’re doing it. It may be genuine interest. But for others it may help them feel in control by being in the know. Or by sharing their thoughts with you it may help lower their levels of stress or even be a way of connecting with you.
So, if it is bothering us that other people are talking about it we can put down a boundary. We just need to be careful about how we do so. By keeping an open mind and being understanding of that person’s perspective. It can be as simple as saying something like “I’m finding it really hard to hear all the news updates about Covid-19 right now. I think it’s making me more stressed and I’m trying to take a step back from it. Would it be possible for us to agree to catch up about it at a specific time, such as dinner? What are your thoughts?”. This is a great way of compromising. And it will still give the other person an opportunity to get what they need from talking about it. Whilst still looking after ourselves. And asking for their thoughts is always key to good communication.
#6 Ask for Help
Lastly, it’s ok to want to know what is going on in the world. But it’s normal to worry about what else we may see or if we’ll be able to limit ourselves. Then it’s ok to ask for help with this. We can explain to a family member or a friend that we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. And ask them to give us a daily update if there’s anything they think we should know. This can help us weed out what we want to hear. But stops us being exposed to what we may want to avoid.
We should also ask for help if we are feeling stressed or anxious, overwhelmed or panicked, upset, angry or any other emotion. This is an unprecedented time and our moods are likely to fluctuate. Some of us may know how we’re feeling and others of us may have mixed feelings. That’s completely normal and it’s important to recognise that. But if we feel like we’re starting to struggle, please, please, please ask someone you trust for help. Whether this is a family member or friend. Or speaking to your doctor or using an online helpline. It’s imperative that we get support when we need it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on managing social media and news intake right now? Have you noticed that it can alter how you feel? What has worked for you?