Living with anxiety and depression is, in a lot of ways, like living with a deep bruise, or an tender wound. You’re constantly bumping up against things that make it throb and burn, and you have to learn to shield this sensitive part of yourself from knocks.
In the real world you can do a lot keep yourself away from situations that you know are going to make those vulnerable places hurt, and push you past your pain threshold, but this can be trickier to do online. Engaging with social media means getting a barrage of largely unmediated content thrown at you, and on days when Syrian babies are washing up dead on beaches, or homophobic bigots are being lauded for barring legal applications for marriage, this can be really hard on the sensitive bits.
Some might say that just switching off is the answer, but it’s more complicated than that for a lot of us.
Twitter, Instagram, and to a lesser extent, Facebook, are hugely important to my wellbeing. They’re how I stay connected to my people. When I’m having a really shitty time, and I’m failing at doing all the things I have to do in order to get out of the house and see the people that matter to me, I can access them immediately through my smartphone.
So, how do you negotiate this conflict between social media being both integral to, and destructive of, your mental health?
I don’t know that there’s a perfect answer for this, but I’ve got a few things that really help:
1. Twitter lists
Make Twitter lists. Make several, and have them on a sliding scale of size and importance.
I have four, and they correspond with where I’m at in the coping stakes.
- General feed – this is everything, and it’s what I read when I’m happy to trawl through everything everyone I’ve ever followed has to say. I very rarely read this.
- Tweeple – this one’s generally people I know and like. People I actively interact with. It’s my most-read list.
- Catch up – these are people I know in real life and want to be up to date with. I can generally handle this lot when anxiety is at a moderate level, but I still get a lot of news and politics on it.
- Lockdown – This list has about 10 people on it. My close friends, who I continue to interact with even when my brain is trying to kill me.
This system is working really well for me, and if you’re a Twitterer, I highly recommend it. There are some apps that make using lists easier – I use Tweetbot, but I believe there are several good ones to choose from.
2. The mute function on Facebook
Facebook is one of those places, like a school reunion, or a large family function, where you’re very likely to be dealing with people with vastly different views and values to your own. Some of those will make you feel belittled, marginalised, or just generally full of despair for our species as a whole.
While there’s a strong argument for unfriending the people who post gross or evil stuff there, there’s a good chance you have social or familial obligations to them, and it’s not that simple. Or maybe you’re just a really nice person, and worry about hurting their feelings.
The good news is, you don’t have to see Uncle Tim’s racist updates, or your coworker’s tasteless misoygnistic memes ever again if you “unfollow” their posts like this:
You can still check in on your unfollowed friend from time to time by going to their page directly, or even undo this action when you’re feeling more able to deal with their bullshit. Until then, your feed can go back to weddings, babies, puppies, and the other friendly stuff that your nice friends share. And you can go back to feeling a little better about the world in general.
3. Write an email
You know that feeling you get when your phone lights up with a notification? The happy one that makes you feel loved because someone has something to say to you, or likes something you did?
Turns out you can get that from an email notification too.
If you write emails to your friends, these notifications don’t all have to be boring ones about online sales.
And you get to talk about important stuff in emails in a way that you don’t always feel free to on social media where you’re limited by a certain number of characters, or a public audience.
I’m re-learning a love of email, and it’s making my life a happier and more connected one.
4. Follow gorgeous Instagram accounts
I don’t know if this is true of everyone, but I respond emotionally to beautiful things. Seeing something that I think is truly lovely makes me feel calm, happy, and positive. This means that I can use Instagram as an powerful happymaking tool.
Flowers bring me particular joy, so I have followed a whole bunch (heh!) of florists and growers accounts. My instafeed is now constantly interspersed with things that give my brain a little boost of joy.
Here are a few of my favourite accounts:
If flowers aren’t your bag, seek out what is. Baby animals! Cool interior design! Fun craft! The famous people you idolise! Just load your feed with what makes you happy, and use Instagram as a regular reminder that the world is actually filled with awesome stuff.
5. And you know this one so sing it with me: Don’t read the comments.
Just don’t. Close the tab. Walk away. Don’t do it. Stop.
At the end of the day, the internet is made of people. As such it contains a lot of excellent, and a lot of fail. And we’ve just got to navigate that as best we can.
I hope these ideas help.