Imagine you are standing in Grand Central Station.
People are moving past you in a blur. It is a sensory-overload of sights, sounds, smells. In some ways, it is beautiful, or even invigorating. For some people, however, it is completely overwhelming. Personally, as much as I love New York, I need a big chunk of quiet and downtime after I've been in the city. Even though it's wonderful...it's so much!
When we picture an actual busy city, it's easy to understand how people who are highly sensitive, empathic, or introverted might become overwhelmed, but what about the online "cities" we immerse ourselves in daily?
Social media can be a wonderful tool for connecting with our friends, family and colleagues. It can also yank us out of the present moment, bombard us with messages that aren't helpful, and leave us feeling overwhelmed and unwell. How do we find a balance?
A few things I've found that help:
1. Be purposeful in your use of social media.
Not everyone uses Facebook for the same reasons or in the same way. Some people use it to share family pictures with friends and far away relatives; others use it as a place to network their businesses; still others use it to connect with new people on issues or interests that are important to them. Remembering that you get to choose how you will use it (and that not everyone else uses it the same way) can be empowering, and can also help us remember not to take things personally when others do it differently. Decide how and why you want to use it, and be at peace with it. This is also a great time to consider whether you'd like to have a business page for that type of connection and keep your personal Facebook page for non-work related connection.
2. Turn off notifications and messenger on your phone.
Or at least turn them off from time to time! If you know that the constant input of everyone's sharing becomes too much at times, take intentional breaks. If you don't use social media as part of your work, close that window that has Facebook in it -- it isn't helping you work any faster! When you are spending time with other people, put your phone away. Chances are, a Facebook message is not going to be something or urgent importance; it can wait.
3. Unfriend (or unfollow) people whose sharing is draining or overwhelming you.
I know this one may be controversial, but I believe it's controversial only because of the importance we've allowed Facebook to have in our lives. In offline communications, many people choose to steer clear of polarizing topics with certain friends and family members; limiting this kind of interaction on social media can be helpful for both preventing overwhelm and preserving relationships. Many people share violent imagery and articles to raise awareness about causes that matter to them. If you know these are upsetting to you or will overwhelm you, limit the types of these posts in your newsfeed. We don't need to see every gory detail of a tragedy in order to care about it.
4. Set a curfew for yourself.
The first and last few moments of the day are so precious; why would we let other people--or the news media -- decide how it should be filled? If you've become accustomed to immediately "checking in" as soon as you wake up, give yourself a longer buffer for a few days and experiment to find what feels best for you. If checking Facebook and email is the first thing you do when you get to work, consider starting a new ritual of a few minutes with a cup of coffee or tea at your desk before you dive in. And when it comes to setting the stage for sleep, a decent buffer between plugged in time and slipping between the sheets might make a huge impact on both your quality of sleep and how long it takes to get there. Studies show that Internet use at bedtime can affect sleep quality as well as mood and cognitive function the following day. It's great to give and receive that "goodnight" text, but try to do it early enough to unplug before settling down to sleep.
5. Re-visit your boundaries with social media seasonally.
As with many things, it's useful to re-evaluate how things are going. We continue to grow and evolve, and it's healthy to re-evaluate and evolve our habits as well, instead of simply doing things because they are what we've always done. What makes sense during the summer (long stretches of being unplugged, turning your phone to airplane mode from time to time, etc.) might not be a good fit when the weather is cooler and you're working on connecting and making holiday plans. If things change with your work or home schedule, you might opt for more virtual connection with friends and family.
Being mindful and intentional in our social media use can make the difference between it being a source of stress and a wonderful tool for connection.