Information Overload - Becoming Aware of your Usage

In the last post, we discussed the importance of turning social media/news off and stepping away for a while. Prior to that, we discussed some general tips on how to differentiate between some reliable sources and some that are not great sources of information.

Now, I'd like to go further into HOW exactly we can stop 'information overload' from occurring to us, occupying our brains and lives, and becoming overwhelmed with all the news/stories around us.

The first step - like any habit that we would like (or need to!) change - is awareness. You need to step back and take a thorough - and honest - look at your social media consumption and usage. One way to do this is to think abut your day: how much time do you spend scrolling on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.? How much time do you spend reading or listening to the news through various sources?

I know this sounds funny to some people, as they may feel that they don't spend 'dedicated' time to these activities. For example, not many people have a 'Facebook time' allocated in their day...they just open it whenever they want to or feel like it. For some, it becomes a 'default' to click on the Instagram icon when they are bored, to snap a picture of something and hit 'post', etc.

Now think about this: what do you use these for? Of course, we use social media to connect to people, to share parts of our lives, and to learn about others. We feel connected with people in this way, less alone, and sometimes we even learn new things (ex. what is happening around the world today, latest evidence, etc.). But sometimes, we need to question further than this. Is your use of social media always NECESSARY and/or HELPFUL? 

Sure, connecting to others is critical. Especially at a time as now where we are still needing to practice social distancing because of COVID-19. But, even this needs to be questioned a bit deeper. Do you feel MORE or LESS connected to people when you are simply scrolling through your newsfeed on Facebook or Instagram stories? Does looking at people's pictures and posts cause you joy, or does it force you to compare yourself to them?

When you read the news, do you feel more informed? Or do you feel more confused and conflicted because of multiple sources of information? Do you feel that you are hearing unbiased stories, or do you feel that the station/reporter is giving a one-sided story? Do you think about what you are hearing or reading, or do you take things by face-value?

One other helpful tip is to think about when you’re most likely to use social media. For example, do you find that there is a routine for you when you always open Facebook when you first wake up? If so, why is this so? Do you open Instagram each night before bed? Does this serve a function? 

Some people may say that it is a ‘habit’. Some people may say that opening social media at certain times helps them feel less lonely or bored throughout the day. 

But I’m going to challenge you to think about this honestly. When you open Facebook right in the morning, does it spark joy? Does it start your day is a happy manner? Or does it lead to comparison? Does it make you think about your own life and how it compares (or doesn’t!) to others? If you open stories at night, does it help clear your mind to sleep? Does it make you feel thankful and happy about your life? Or does it make you think about what you don’t have compared to others, does it accidentally cause you to judge other’s habits, etc? 

These are not easy questions to answer. The nice thing is that no one knows your true intentions and feelings around social media use. And no one has to. This is about YOU and your mental health and wellness. If you can identify how social media helps or harms you (and often, it’s a mix of both!), you can identify how or what you need to change about your consumption of it. 

In the next articles, we will discuss how to actually - and purposefully - use social media to help and enrich your life. We will delve deeper into how to manage your time and how to mindfully integrate social media in your life in a manner that ADDS to your wellness and does not deter from it. 

But before we do that, I challenge you to take the time between now and the next article to assess your social media. You should be able to determine this by asking yourself: (and write it down in a journal, notes app on your phone or laptop, etc.). 

1) What social media or similar apps do I use? List them here. 

2) When am I most likely to use these apps/news? Is it at the same time (ex. Right away in the morning, before sleeping on my bed, during my break, etc) 

3) If I’m opening social media at certain tones, when is this the case? For example, does this happen when I’m feeling lonely working at home? Is it when I’ve taken a picture of something in my life that I want others to comment on? Is it when I’m bored of my life and frustrated, and need a laugh? 

4) After or during my use of social media, how do I feel? Does seeing other people’s lives and stories make me feel better about myself? Does it make me compare my achievements, possessions, etc. with others? Does it make me think about what I don’t have that others do? Does it make me inadvertently judge others and their lives? 

5) This is likely the hardest, but most important question: how does my use of social media ENHANCE my life? How does my use of social media DISTRACT me from my life? Note that you’ll likely have answers to both these questions, because remember that things aren’t black or white. Social media can be helpful and harmful at the same time. Your task is to honestly outline how it does this. Only then can you determine your next steps, such as how to make social media work FOR your wellness, not against it! 

Take these next few days or weeks to receive on the questions above. Become more mindful of your use of social media. I guarantee that this will prompt you to realize how much - and for what reasons - you are using these apps or sites. If you want to go one step further, you might even notice that after reflecting on the above, you unfollow certain people or sites; you open apps at different times; you post less often about your personal life; etc. 

You may surprise yourself! Take a snapshot (haha!) into your social media use and become aware of how much you truly use these apps/TV/platforms - and how they add and/or subtract from you well-being and health.  

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