If you open your social media or news apps right now, there is a good chance that you will see images, partisan rhetoric, or headlines that will make your heart sink. Feelings of stress and sadness are natural reactions to watching global crises unfold in real-time. Moreover, it can be very difficult to balance one’s desire to stay informed with a 24-hour news cycle and protect mental wellbeing. As global crises intensify, it is important to recognize that consistent exposure on social media to negative information can impact one’s day-to-day life.
While the urge to stay connected to news and peers is natural during times of crisis, it can also lead to information overload. Information overload theory suggests that we have a limited capacity to balance several competing streams of information with environmental demands. When this capacity becomes overloaded, it can affect recall, judgment, and decision making, in addition to increasing stress and anxiety.
High intensity social media use has also been correlated to distress. Notably, passive use in particular, defined by “doomscrolling” through streams of information, has been linked to poor sleep, envy, anxiety, and isolation. Social media can serve as a breeding ground for misinformation, bias, and polarizing opinions. Engaging with content consistently on social media without checking in with yourself can foster a sense of unease.
With all this in mind, we have a few recommendations for how to cope with the pressures that the digital world brings.
Be mindful about how much time you spend on social media
When you pick up your phone to open social media, ask yourself: what is driving me to look right now? How will it make me feel if I see something upsetting? Reflect on how checking social media frequently serves you, and use a timer to set limits and decrease usage. This is particulary important before bedtime, when disturbing news can affect sleep patterns.
Curate what you see
Part of mindful social consumption is reflecting on how you react to different content. If there are certain people or outlets that consistently post content that you find upsetting, remind yourself that it is okay to unfollow or mute them.
Step away and engage with other activities
If you notice yourself feeling stressed by the news and social media, it is okay to take a break. Engaging in distractions with other activities that help you regulate your emotions, be it listening to music, exercising, or spending time with loved ones, are important ways to care for yourself and manage anxiety.
If you are interested in learning more about stress management during challenging times, consider reaching out to a therapist at the Ross Center who can help you understand how to navigate anxiety.