7 Ways to Make Facebook, Instagram & Your Social Media Life Less Stressful
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when "social media" was adding glitter GIFs to your MySpace profile or making your AIM away message the perfect passage of song lyrics. Now, it’s full-blown universe, the ecosystem for all news, comedy, hot takes, memes, and, not to mention, an abundance of anxiety.
In their "Stress in America" report, the American Psychological Association found that those who constantly check their texts, email, and social media -- about 86% of Americans -- are more stressed than those who aren't as tech-dependent. This kind of unease stems from our neurological wiring; without visual, emotional and social cues, we’re more likely to misconstrue certain emails, Facebook posts, or tweets and alert the fight or flight part of our brain in the process.
"Our brains are not built at all for dealing well with text-based communication, which is hilarious because that is what our lives are now," says Deanna Zandt, a media technologist and the author of Share This! How You Will Change the World With Social Networking. "Without [body language and tone], incoming communications go straight to our amygdala, which is our fight or flight center. When you see something that upsets you on the internet, it’s going to give you the feeling that a cheetah is chasing you across the plains. It actually feels like you are personally under attack."
But because of the other neurological side-effect -- the dopamine boost that comes with an online interaction -- it makes it hard to just up and quit the internet. So instead of throwing up your hands and weathering the kill-or-be-killed conditions of your feeds or going on the offensive, take some concrete steps to de-stress your socials.
Start with your device
Think about where you’re accessing social media, then make it harder for yourself to get there. Zandt suggests turning off notifications on social apps, or one step further, deleting them altogether.
"Make it difficult for yourself to log in and check in," she says. "Give yourself some stumbling blocks rather than have this default setting be available to you."
Customize your feeds
On Twitter, create lists comprised of "essential" accounts, like family and friends, and make that your go-to feed. That way, you’re not stuck in a waterfall of tweets and treading water to keep up. Taking advantage of Twitter’s mute option prevents you from seeing certain words, phrases, hashtags, and accounts. If you’re looking to take more extensive measures, there’s Block Together, an app that allows you to subscribe to another Twitter user’s list of blocked accounts. You can also share your block list for other users to follow.
Stay off socials during a breaking news situation
While you think social media taps you into the most up-to-date info, you’re only stressing yourself out by closely following the breaking-news deluge. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine found that during a crisis (in this case, an active shooter lockdown on a university campus) people who received unofficial or conflicting information from social media reported higher levels of stress.
"When official information is not readily available, people are going to look at information wherever they can," says Nickolas Jones, a doctoral student at UC Irvine and the senior author of the study. "And there are consequences to being exposed to that information, especially if it’s false."
Jones also recommends taking social media messages with a grain of salt. Unless it’s coming from an official source, it’s OK to feel skeptical, and that being too trusting can compound your stress levels. "We found that people who use five or more social media platforms and who trusted the information that they saw, those were the people who reported the most distress about this event in the aftermath of it," Jones says.
Curb your curiosity
Humans are naturally curious, and social media feeds the habit. But having a wealth of easily searchable material available on platforms -- some of which can be disturbing, like live amateur coverage of mass shootings or terror attacks -- makes our access to upsetting details a little too simple. Jones studies the psychological consequences that come from seeing some of these images and video, and the results aren’t peachy.
"Study after study that we do shows that there’s a negative association with seeing graphic content and experiencing distress symptoms," he says. "I think it’s really important for people in those situations to really ask themselves if they want to see something they can’t unsee."
Follow a few meme accounts
Or pages that post videos of baby animals or cooking videos. Whatever gets you laughing or feeds your Zen. Tiny Care Bot dispatches multiple reminders to help you chill while the uber-popular We Rate Dogs combines absurdist humor and pups. Smash that follow button and flood your feeds with joy instead of doom.
Set a time limit
Jones sets parameters for how long he spends on social media: about an hour a day. If you find yourself frequently upset at rapid-fire opinions and political volleying, determine the max amount of time you’d need to catch up on the happenings without feeling stressed. To curb any concerns about missing too much, Zandt suggests all-encompassing news podcasts like NPR’s Up First and The New York Times’ The Daily.
Realize that if the world is going to end, someone will tell you
Sure, people will be tweeting through the end of the world, but what will that accomplish? You’ll likely find out about it the old-fashioned way.
"Someone’s going to call you," Zandt says. "Someone close to you is going to text you and say ‘Did you hear the world is ending?’"