You Need to Take a Digital Break

You Need to Take a Digital Break

Like many of you, I sat glued to all forms of media yesterday. I found that I couldn’t get away — even when I’d try to wander off and do something else online, the underlying anxiety created by the once-in-a-lifetime storming of the U.S. Capitol kept bringing me back to the news. I spent more time on Twitter in one night than I have in the past three months.

However, today feels a little different (I didn’t say better, as nothing has really happened yet in response to yesterday’s catastrophic breakdown of societal norms). We’re entering the “doomscrolling and snark” portion of our collective response, which is fine if it helps you cope; but if you’re like me, though, you get frustrated or anxious when we continue to spin our gears.

To counteract this, consider scheduling a digital break. And you have plenty of options, each with varying degrees of severity.

Move your devices somewhere else

This sounds simple, because it is. Take the phone, tablet, smartwatch, or other notification-delivering device off your desk for the day (or week) and place it somewhere else. If it needs to take a temporary vacation from your home office to your bedroom, great. If you find yourself getting worked up in the late-night hours with what you’re seeing online, maybe move it out of your room and into the kitchen (and switch to a different alarm setup temporarily).

Whatever your decision, removing one of the main sources of “ding, ding, ding” news updates and far-too-tempting idle scrolling is a great way to reduce how tightly wound you can get by the day’s events — and everyone else’s constant reactions to them.

Turn off device notifications

I noticed a week or so ago that even the great Marc Rebillet, an incredible musician who basically fuels his career on social media, decided to take a brief digital detox by turning off notifications for Facebook and Snapchat. At first I was like, “Dude, that’s your audience,” but after a few minutes, I started to wonder if it was the right move for me, too.

I’ve often said that it’s pretty amazing that we all have little news-reporting machines right in our pockets — devices that are connected 24/7, which can give us instant, immediate access to a vast marketplace of ideas and, when necessary, up-to-the-minute tidbits about what’s happening in the world. However, this whenever-we-want-it access can also be bad for us. Whether it’s our devices screaming at us, or we’re frantically tapping through six social media apps to get the latest opinions, reacting to real-time events can quickly spin your day out of control.

Once we’re past the “day-of reporting” and into the “analysis and retrospection” portion of a nightmare, it’s a great time to turn off notifications for your various social media apps. That won’t stop you from looking up this information yourself, but it’ll keep you from being prompted to engage at random points throughout the day. In other words, when you feel ready to jump back into the fray, you’ll be able to. You just won’t have it interrupting your day and keeping your anxiety at a constant simmer.

Curate your social media feeds

If you want to stay plugged-in to social media, that’s great. However, I also suggest that you use whatever tools you have available — which vary by platform — to curate what you see in your feed. Maybe you’re tired of reading about anything related to a cable news channel, or you’re sick of hearing about other social media platforms’ responses to this week’s events. Or maybe you’re just tired of having to read anything from anyone with a particular political point of view. There are ways to curate your feed to mitigate your stressors.

Twitter users can easily block certain words and phrases from appearing in your timeline — temporarily or permanently. While you’re there, consider turning off your DMs (if you’re getting blasted by annoying people), or consider muting notifications in various ways so you aren’t triggered by people you don’t even know.

On Facebook, consider being a bit more judicious with the Snooze feature for people or pages you don’t want to see for the next month. Install a browser extension to sanitize your feed of content you don’t want to deal with right now.

Every social platform has some degree of curation, even if that’s something as basic as muting comments that contain certain words. Odds are good you can find a third-party app or extension that lets you do a bit more; I recommend exploring this route so you can still use social media without feeling too overwhelmed by content you don’t need right this second.

Limit your time on social media

Chances are that your smartphone now has some kind of “digital detox” feature that you can use to limit the amount of time you’re allowed to interact with an app. Consider using it if you still want to be able to access social media, but want to keep yourself from unexpectedly wasting four hours endlessly scrolling.

If you’re on your computer, it’ll be a little trickier to curb your social media instincts. You’ll probably want to install a browser extension to help you fight temptation, because I don’t think you’ll need (or want) to use parental controls to limit access to your web browser. That’s the nuclear approach; a browser extension that you can use to keep you from wasting the day away on social media is a better idea.

Delete your apps or accounts

It’s fine if you’ve reached your breaking point with all things social media. As I’ve previously talked about, deleting your account and removing yourself from the daily back-and-forth will do wonders for your mental health. Make sure you’ve backed up any information you care about — or signed up for a data dump of everything you’ve upload to a service, if it’s available — and then deactivate or delete your account depending on whether you want a temporary or permanent fix.

However, before you say goodbye forever, I do want to note that social media can be useful. It feels like a complete cesspool nowadays, but it is a great way to get firsthand knowledge of events. It’s one thing to read about arseholes breaking into the U.S. Capitol, but it’s another to watch them scaling walls, setting off fire extinguishers, and posting their own pictures and videos — and the sweet karma that hits when they’re identified — with your own eyes.

This can also be overwhelming, though — such is the double-edged sword of being able to see the thoughts, photos, videos, and live feeds of anyone in the world. Some things you really want (or need) to see. Some things you don’t. If you’re on the fence, consider doing everything just shy of deleting your account. Remove all your friends and followers, lock down your account, and prevent anyone from befriending you, following you, or adding you to a list. Remove information that ties back to you, and install adblockers if you’re especially pissed at how a social media company tolerates white nationalism on its service. If you must, only follow other accounts or people that you actually want or need to read. Treat your account like an RSS feed, not a way to actually connect with others. And if that means you’re only following, say, five news organisations you care about, that’s fine too.

Approaching social media that way can cut down the noise in your accounts to the absolute minimum you’re comfortable tolerating. Instead of getting updates, snark, and punditry, updates are more spaced out, and any other information you want to find, you’ll have to do yourself. In doing so, you’ll be able to better control how much you ingest at any given time, and that can keep you happier. I hope.

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