Updated: Nov 27, 2019
By Cameron Darcy
If you are feeling an ongoing anxiety about life, you are not alone. I once made myself increasingly anxious by obsessively checking social media posts about an upcoming national election. It made no difference to the outcome. My side lost and I was left the worse off for the experience. I had managed to depress myself and it took some time to bounce back.
We are living through a particular period of uncertainly both politically and environmentally and it’s hard to maintain a feeling of control and positivity. Yes, we need to know what is happening in the world, but we also need to look after our mental health.
The part of us that hook into social media is our fear-based chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. If we know what’s happening in our surroundings we can prepare for action. And sometimes we need to. However, what we are also doing is creating powerful links in our brain synapses – the links that reinforce our positive or negative thinking.
You may think I am going to tell you to get off the internet but realistically that’s as possible as pushing water uphill. What is more possible is to negotiate a reduction in social media time with yourself and to spend time searching for content that basically makes you smile.
Any time you spend NOT looking at upsetting and disturbing content is good for your anxiety. If you can’t manage a big change in viewing time, then start off with a small change and go from there. Something is better than nothing. Try and give yourself ten minutes less every hour and use your phone to monitor it. Ironically there are apps available for this very problem. Being able to manage time spent on our phones can increase our sense of control in a world that seems to be out of control. It may seem like a small act, but it can make a profound difference to how we feel. And if trying this seems too challenging, then it may be time to seek some professional support as anxiety has a habit of spreading to all areas of our lives. In terms of mental health, the sooner you can deal with a problem the better the outcome.
The second possible change is our viewing content. Social media provides a community and sense of belonging which reduces anxiety. It can also be a source of shared outrage, anger and negativity. And those feelings are not wrong. But a sense of balance is critical in managing anxiety, especially when life is uncertain. Those positive synapses need to be actively utilized. Look for and join online communities that promote feel good stories. I particularly like one that shares animal rescue stories with before and after videos - stories that remind me of the good side of people. There is a reason cat videos are extremely popular. They increase our happy chemicals.
Anxiety is a normal response to uncertainty, but it does have a tendency to increase in troubled times due to both our human biology and our uncertain social environment. If we can learn to manage our anxiety more then we can engage with a sense of control and that has to be better for ourselves and for our communities.