This week I was reminded of the potentially large gain from doing something almost effortless: deleting an app from your smartphone.
I have now had countless conversations in my consulting room about the pernicious effect of social networking feeds clogging anxious minds even more than they are clogged. If you are recovering from a painful break-up, it really won’t help to see an ex’s Instagram feed. If you are feeling estranged from a group of friends because your job ties you to the office, again, it won’t help to fall down the rabbit hole of numerous tagged ‘photos of the party you couldn’t make. But if the app is by your thumb, and you only have two moments to kill before your bus stops….of course, it’s tempting to press. And it’s addictive.
More recently though, the tenor of these ‘app’ conversations have shifted gear. Rather than fears of missing out or not feeling ‘shiny’ enough, more people are talking to me about the corrosive nature of news feeds during these politically unstable times. Print media worked out that fear sells papers long ago – online media can capitalise on their power to fuel fears even more effectively. Reading one anti-Trump story on a Facebook feed means, before long, stories of Armageddon creep in its wake. Obviously alarming prose will activate our brain’s threat system – this means we become stressed, and we may not even be fully conscious of the level to which we are stressed.
When I have conversations about the addictive and activating nature of social media, I suggest the same thing each time: delete the app and see what happens. So far, I have only heard positive feedback that chimes with one theme: the soothing nature of a (maybe only slightly) less stimulated mind. A few minutes spent looking out of the window or breathing or listening to music vs a mind contemplating world that seems to be destroying itself? This isn’t avoidance or not caring or deliberately choosing not to know – this is about self-care. If any of us want to engage politically or otherwise, we’re best off doing so from a position of strength rather than fear.