If you’ve spent the last couple weeks glued to the internet in anticipation of what part of the world will signal trouble next, you’re not alone. Uncertainty is making Americans all kinds of queasy.
Yet, while the breaking news continues to be more distracting, we can’t seem to tear ourselves away from it — especially on our social media platforms, where 62% of Americans get their news.
Herein lies the problem for anyone trying to be a productive member of society right now: the decision between connecting with friends and family and talking about news on social media, and keeping your sanity.
Of course, social media was already a hindrance to productivity long before any governmental upheaval. According to a recent study conducted at the University of Bergen, social media use during work hours can negatively impact overall performance.
Now that many of us are obsessively watching Twitter for updates, or going down deep news wormholes on Facebook, that impact can only grow.
So how do we break the cycle and still remain informed citizens? Here are 6 tips that have worked for fellow sufferers.
1. Make social media harder to access.
A food-based analogy — if you want to keep yourself from eating an entire jar of Nutella (because you know you’ll feel terrible if you do), put it out of arm’s reach. In social media terms, this means delete all your social media app from your devices. You’ll also want to logout to give yourself another step to getting back on. Boston writer Jenni Gritters managed to stay off for a week thanks to this method — although, she notes, “it was really hard!”
2. If you have to stay connected, give yourself limits.
Remember when your parents set limits on TV watching when you were a kid? Whelp, now you’ve got to set your own. An hour a day after work is a safe parameter — but if you find that difficult to adhere to, try setting stretches of time where you don’t check, but make sure they’re specific — like no social media before 11am and after 5pm on weekdays.
Keeping your phone/computer far away, like in another room, definitely helps in keeping these resolutions.
3. Replace one addiction with a less harmful one.
If scrolling withdrawal is getting to you, turn to an app that won’t suck you into an anxiety hole, like Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube. Afraid you’ll see scary, politically-related comments on YouTube videos? Writer Heather Libby swears by Herp Derp — a plugin that effectively blocks them for you.
4. Separate yourself from your screens.
This is perhaps the most effective (and healthy) way I’ve found to quell the gnawing need to constantly check in with the state of the world.
Take a walk outside while leaving your phone behind; hang out with friends; exercise; read an actual, physical book or even fire up your Kindle without the wireless access and check out that new book you’ve been putting off reading. It’s about redirecting that almost instinctive impulse to open social media at work into an activity that will replenish you rather than drain you.
5. Can’t do it on your own? Enlist outside help.
Make a pact with your friends and co-workers to be each other’s social media watchdogs. If that’s not enough, there are several apps you can download that will lock you out of specified websites for a stipulated period of time including Self Control and Freedom. One app called Off-time even lets you customize “do not disturb” mode so you’re still reachable in case of emergencies.
6. Keep up with the news — on your terms
Curtailing social media doesn’t mean you have to stay uninformed, or if you’re politically active, give up on your involvement. Once you sign back on, try curating your feeds with more specific news groups or action-oriented groups and lists — anything from your local soup kitchen to parents’ groups in your local school district. More often than not, they’ll be posting about the difference they’re making rather than distributing alarming headlines. Wouldn’t you rather be inspired by social change during your workday, rather than beaten down by an endless cycle of news that hurts your motivation?
It may sound counter-intuitive, but unplugging occasionally is the only way you can effectively move forward during these uncertain times. It’s known as self-care. The important news will still get to you, but you’ll be much more equipped to handle it.