Angst By Social Media: Mastering the Ergonomics of the Mind

The true horror of Halloween for college students is the week preceding it, midterms week. Each year, I am too surprised to see that all my midterms and assignments pile up on the same days and times. Truth be told, I shouldn't be surprised: all my classes start at the same time, therefore they have to have the same midterm mark. The trend that is even more surprising to notice is that the amount of stress most students face during midterms week is not from our academic class load; it is from our phones.

Picture the scenario: class ends, find a spot in the overpopulated library, get a seat, sit and breathe. Is it time for lunch? Who shall I eat lunch with? *Picks up phone*. 7 emails from class 1 with the professor making last minute amendments to the previous lecture and assignment, and clearing the air for the upcoming exam; 6 text messages from friends complaining and consoling each other; 19 Facebook messages regarding whether or not the study group scheduled to meet in 4 hours is actually meeting; unnumbered amount of Slack messages from your start-up employer - there is a "big launch" happening this week; Whatsapp messages from mom and dad reminding you to sleep and eat some healthy food; e-board list-serves; club email reminders; spam group notifications; snapchats; Instagram likes...there is so much more.

It's incredible to think that we have stayed sane this long with our phones like these keeping us on a leash.

During midterms week, it was almost relieving to have my phone die so I could delay my responses and duties by a couple hours and have that time to focus on studying. But I realized that having good studying habits were void if I didn't have good social media habits!

What are good social media habits?
The first, and most difficult, habit to keep is staying positive while flipping through Instagram and SnapChat. I've learned a lot about myself as to what I think when I look at my friends' photos and whether it makes me feel elated, or really sad, or indifferent. I want to follow people that inspire me or have me reflect on really happy memories. The worst thing I have experienced is following people that make me feel worse about myself and make me question my limits and morals. I know that I can't stay up that late, I can't party as hard, I actually enjoy studying sometimes and I get excluded from events: it took me all of my first year of college to accept my habits. So if scrolling through someone else's feed makes me feel insignificant or insecure, I have to be actively aware that the only person who is making me feel this way is only just me and my mind (so cliché, I know). So either unfollow that person or stop scrolling through the 'gram: just stop making the negative vibes flow.

After combatting the woes of social media, the next thing to tackle is the email: keep a light inbox background. Looking at a dark inbox for extended periods of time broods negative energy. By changing the background color of the inbox landing page, looking at email becomes a faster, smoother, and more positive process. Since this trick worked for me, I experimented by changing my friends' inbox colors and seeing how they reacted. We all noted the same results: It was only slightly (very slightly) harder to distinguish which emails were and weren't read, but the lack of stark contrast in email inbox subject lines and the inbox background color results contributed towards spending less time on email altogether! The general effect was similar to the "out of sight, out of mind" concept. Now, I don't spend as much time on worrying on my email and the lighter tone actually helps keep me more upbeat, and less stressed out.

Using the "Self Control" app for Mac has also been a boon in terms time management. After reading the NYTimes piece, A Focus on Distraction, I tried to deduce how long it would take me to get back on track after getting off Instagram or Facebook. On average, I really began concentrating about 20 minutes after logging off. As a result, I tailored my time management habits around this. Now, I block myself from sites that I know I could spend hours on, like Netflix, news sites like NYtimes, and even my own blog, for thirty minutes longer than average so I have the time to settle into studying. I end up working for consecutive chunks of time, and I really focus on what I need to. With apps like Self Control, it takes a lot of diligence to understand your own studying and working habits, so I recommend meditating and figuring out how long it takes you to focus after distractions.

Lastly, delete the Facebook app off your phone. I was mortified when Facebook began phasing everyone into downloading it's Messenger application but now I have realized that it was a blessing in disguise. Facebook is really handy to communicate for group projects and study groups, but the way we have come to use Facebook is in its instant messaging capability. As a result, I don't have to waste time flipping through my newsfeed unnecessarily if all the information that I need is given in the Messenger app. Deleting the Facebook application did two things for me: it forced me to be more cognizant of events that I was committed to, and then streamlined my attention span to communication that really mattered. If it is a friend's birthday party, I just add the event to my personal calendar alongside the location so I don't have to scroll through Facebook to check it again. If I have to respond to a message, I don't get derailed by a video posted on a friend's wall.

Why good social media habits matter
Ergonomics, by definition, studies the efficiency of people in their working environment. The first and most important working environment is in your mind, and a healthy mind makes for efficient work habits. Social media is both a benefit and a detriment to the maturing populace right now, and its been the most distracting element to studying. Setting in good habits will create more productive and happier days. It's been about 3 weeks since I started curbing my social media habits and most people think I've been missing in action. But in reality, I've been giving myself something to look forward to each time I do log in to a social medium, have more productive studying habits, and really engage in conversations with my full attention. My phone is no longer creating any angst or anxiety; instead, it really is the productive device I originally intended to be. It takes a lot of introspection to understand the pivotal moments of productivity and efficiency, but there is no need for our phones to be causing the stress that it does.