“Give It a F#*king Rest!”: Stepping Away from Social Media for the Sake of Your Sanity
For all its benefits, there is nothing quite like Social Media for angrying up the blood and turning us into shouty, hostile ogres. While there is some satisfaction to be had in expressing your viewpoint (within reason!), engaging in too many social media squabbles can leave you feeling riled up and stressed-out. With our Social Media streams becoming increasingly political and viciously antagonistic, it’s more important than ever to step away from our screens and calm ourselves down…
There are few things I enjoy more than getting on Twitter and ranting about Donald Trump. For more than four years now, I have woken up at numerous points during the night just to open up my feed and click on the “Trending” tab. (Let’s face it, 99% of the time, he’s right there at the top of the list, as he’s always saying or doing something to wind everybody up!) To be honest, when he finally does concede defeat in US Election 2020, I think I may even start to miss the guy and his bonkers tweeting sprees.
I am fully aware that my penchant for a midnight scroll through the anger-inducing corridors of the Twittersphere is pretty bonkers itself. What is it about the Orange Menace that makes my brain suddenly wake me from my slumber shouting, “I bet he’s done something daft! Quick, get on Twitter and look!”? It’s not as though I enjoy having my sleep disturbed, and should I be fortunate enough to have company with me at the time, I’m certainly not winning any prizes for empathy and consideration by waking them up all hours of the night, tutting and cursing, with the light from my mobile phone screen illuminating the entire bedroom.
Let’s face it; there is something immensely satisfying in feeling outrage. Regardless of what our opinion is, we are convinced that WE ARE RIGHT and anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot, a snowflake, a fascist, a mother-shagging f-wit…[Insert your favourite label du jour here]. Our rage is righteous, our anger entirely justified. And what’s more, we know that no matter our point of view, we will always find others in the conversation who will completely agree with us.
Echo and the Angrymen/Women: Social Media Echo Chambers and the Impossibility of Conciliation
It has often been said that Twitter and Facebook are echo-chambers in which we can bask in the smug satisfaction of having our own thoughts and opinions reflected back at us. We’re never the odd-one-out at this party. We’re never the outcast or the sole spectre at the feast and, most satifying of all perhaps, we can band together with others who share our views and form a cyber-army to attack those fuckers on the other side!!!
The trouble is, though, that when it comes to particularly controversial or hot topics, we are doomed to nothing more than a never-ending series of angry diatribes and name-calling. Like a hot-tempered Ouroboros, we will forever be eating our own tails in a perpetual circle of (dare I say!) fire and fury. We aren’t going to win anyone around to our side of the argument, and the very nature of the Twitter/ Social Media echo-chamber ensures that the chances of us even finding the slightest middle-ground in which to discuss the topic rationally is zero to nil.
In a fascinating article in which he discusses the findings of a January 2020 study of the Twitter echo-chamber (“Modeling Echo Chambers and Polarization Dynamics in Social Networks”, Fabian Baumann, Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Igor M. Sokolov, and Michele Starnini, Physical Review Letters Vol. 124, Iss. 4–31 January 2020), Yuen Yiu notes that
while an overall consensus is possible, echo chambers could cause the discussion to destabilize and become polarized if the topic meets a certain level of controversy. Once a discussion is polarized, subsequent exchange of information would strengthen the echo chambers and drive the two groups [liberals and conservatives] further apart. (“Visualizing Twitter Echo Chambers”, Inside Science, March 18, 2020)
That being the case, then, why do we spend so much time engaged in Social Media shouting-matches? Wouldn’t it be better for our own well-being, both mental and physical, to simply step away from that never-ending field of battle upon which neither side is ever going to be victorious?
Break Your Habit, Not Your Mind: Step Away from Social Media and Save Your Sanity
Countless articles have been written enjoining us to take frequent breaks from our social media, citing the role of such media in causing and/or exacerbating depression and anxiety, poor self-esteem and negative body image, social isolation and loneliness, hostility (towards ourselves and others), feelings of inadequacy etc (See, for example, “Social Media Breaks and Why They Are Necessary”, Kristen Fuller, M.D., Psychology Today.com, 1 July 2019). Though all these voices encouraging us to switch off our socials and take a break can sometimes feel boring buzzkills, the warnings and admonitions are not mere speculations by sanctimonious do-gooders who want to spoil all your fun! In fact, you can prove the validity of their hypotheses yourself simply by practicing a little mindfulness and watching how your mind and body react when you engage in or encounter hostility in your social media feed.
Next time you are on your Twitter feed, your Facebook page or whatever other social media platform you favour, and you find your blood beginning to boil, close your eyes and take a moment to scan your body. (A quick google search will lead you to numerous websites, videos and instructions on how to do a quick Body-Scan Meditation. The “3-Minute Body Scan Meditation to Cultivate Mindfulness” at www.mindful.org is a great place to start if you’re new to mindfulness practice, as it contains a guided meditation audio along with written instructions.)
Take a note as you make your way through your body scan; how were your muscles feeling as you made your way through the body scan? Did you notice tension in your stomach? What were your pulse and heart-rate doing? What about your jaw- did you find yourself holding it a little tighter? How about after the body scan? Do you find yourself breathing a bit more steadily, holding a more relaxed posture, perhaps?
By performing this quick and simple exercise, you will not only allow yourself a little window of respite from all those angry, shouting voices on your feed, but in those silent moments of mindfulness, you will observe for yourself exactly the kind of impact your social media can have on your body. Moreover, you may find that it is difficult to quiet your mind and stay focussed on the meditation because your brain is riled-up and spoiling for a fight! Consider, then, the impact of long hours immersed in the acrimonious and antagonistic whirlpools of our social media feeds upon our bodies and our minds.
At the end of the day, it’s simple. We humans were not designed to exist in a constant, or near-constant, state of fight or flight. While we may get a temporary buzz out of having our own view points echoed back at us in the social media echo-chamber, and savour the momentary endorphin rush brought about by an all-caps rant at that wanker whose total frickin’ idiocy has made us clench our fists in a rage so hot that we can barely straighten our fingers long enough to type out our fiery response, overloading our brains and our bodies with all that anger is not good for us in the longer term.
So, (and I mean this with all due respect) give it a f#*king rest. By doing so, maybe we can all save our sanity. And enjoy a decent night’s sleep for the first time in god-knows how long!
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