TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post explicitly addresses the issue of being triggered, if you don’t want to think about your triggers in this context then it may be good to avoid this article but if you can generalize about it you may find this article useful for future proofing and practical advice to help deal with avoiding unnecessary triggers. One may also find some of the topics discussed triggering. These include current affairs (covid-19, bush fires, climate change), politics & animal welfare.
The news on TV or on social media, whether it’s something you follow or articles your friends share can be problematic and stressing at the best of times. But during times like the ones we are living in at the moment, it can be even more so. In the past I have struggled with rabbit holes in comments section, debating with strangers the meaning of life all the way to syntax in the English language.
Feeling badly triggered by sensitive topics relating to myself or the general problems of the world. Suddenly half a day is gone and I hyper-fixated on issues that cannot be solved by me alone – and sometimes it’s been quite unhealthy. I’ve had climate anxiety while looking at shrink wrapped cucumbers in the super market. I’ve been down rabbit holes looking at how pretty someone managed to make their bullet journal. I’ve obsessed over whether or not a dress looked blue or gold. The list can go on…
But I don’t any more and I am less tempted to do so thanks to my initiative to curate my news feed (especially on Facebook) to see the type of content I want to see. Most of it’s from pages that post really cool cat pictures, cute illustrations and uplifting articles about mental health. However it took me sometime to get here and it’s not bullet proof – but I have also developed methods that have stopped me from going in too deep on something that has baited me.
So in today’s blog, I am going to share my tips on curating healthier interactions with media and social media for your mental health.
What are your triggers: Before we start, it would be useful to know what triggers you or hooks you into a negative hyper-fixation. For me one is animal welfare – as much as I want to be aware and as much as I care about this very important topic – I don’t want to see it every time I am online. When I was vegetarian I followed a lot of pages that specifically care about welfare and awareness raising. Greenpeace campaigns and local activist groups. It was distressing to have the algorithm shift on me from, one like on one post, to seeing a news feed full of pictures of injured cats for example. As much as these things are part of our reality, seeing the doom and gloom in the world would send me into an instant spin. A more recent example of this was actually the bush fires in Australia. I literally had to delete my Facebook app from my phone to have time out from it. I actually spent that time instead reading a book (trying) and every time I had that urge to click into Facebook, I would watch something happy about how cool Koalas are on Youtube.
My other triggers include most things topical on the news – I usually find most news media to be upsetting, why can we not have some good news from time to time? So here is a basic example of thinking what affects you the most and how to look at media in another way – Is this healthy types of media to consume, what makes you want to get into a debate in the comments, does the topic itself touch on a trigger so badly you know it impacts on your well being. Make a mental note – understanding what your triggers are will give you a way forward to dealing with them, whether that be avoiding when possible. It would also be useful to seek help regarding these topics if it’s something that is quite problematic in your life. You do not need to suffer needlessly.
Unfollow/Block/Change the channel: The next and probably more obvious step is to start unfollowing media you know is a problem for you. I started with news pages, local and overseas. It’s not like I didn’t care what was going on, but I knew if anything serious was going on, I would hear about it either way, whether that be from friends sharing from certain news sources. It also didn’t mean I had to unlike the page (sometimes I had to stop the temptation of checking anyway) but some warranted outright blocks. For me an example of that would be pages like David Avocado Wolfe, which a lot of people shared from – there was some very problematic, anti-mental health, anti-science and medication shaming that came from the page I couldn’t deal with. It would send me in a spin.
Sometimes we also need to unfollow friends. It’s nothing personal. It literally is “It’s me, not you” situation. For specific friends I care about I check in on their profiles anyway, but it doesn’t mean I am always going to like what they post. Being friends with someone or following someone on Social media doesn’t equate to the value of your friendship, I feel like a real friend would totally understand – ultimately you could always try talk to them about it. However I think learning to pick your battles is also useful. It’s not about policing what other people around you think. It’s about addressing how you feel and what you do with that feeling that counts.
And change the channel on the TV. I grew up in a house hold where my Dad literally listened to talk back radio and watches the news every morning. Often the first sounds in the morning for me would be bad news or people complaining. I couldn’t control what my Dad listened to – but if he had finished with the headlines I would request to change the channel and put on something we could enjoy – or I requested he listen in his own time if possible. But in general – a rule of thumb, if you are feeling triggered or reacting negatively to something you are seeing and hearing – you don’t have to keep watching or consuming that media. Change the channel – walk away or curate it out of your life. Make compromises in your environment.
Type it out but don’t post it: Sometimes we gotta vent, even when we know that our opinions or comments might not get the reaction we want. Or sometimes it leads us into a dumpster fire of a conversation. It’s avoidable though, a lot like arguing with people in your head while in the shower, this follows a similar principle. Have your say, but don’t post it – but you also don’t have to waste your efforts – save it to a .txt file easily on your desktop, copy and paste it in and you will feel so much better for it. Alternatively you can have a memo app to paste it into on your phone, or maybe you blog it in a private blog (or anonymously public one). Choosing not to engage is just as important as when you decide it is the right thing to do – sometimes you can sit on the comment and then post it later once you have mulled it over. It’s a bit like actively using a journal too. You don’t need to bottle these feelings and thoughts up, you can put it somewhere without it being something you might not want to deal with the fall out of later. Ultimately the goal is to train yourself to disengage from negative conversation or interactions with people.
Curate what makes you feel good: Another logical step is while in the process of unfollowing media you dislike, add more media you do like. It’s not about blocking all the negativity in the world but curating a positive online or off-line environment. This can even translate into DVDs or books you own. You don’t need to have things that make you unhappy in your life – you can fill it with positive reminders and things that keeps you at ease.
I started off personally looking for happy animal pictures, something about seeing cute dogs and cats in my feed reminds me of what is good in the world. I also follow positive mental health comics, I have a suggestion list of those in another blog post if you would like to check it out. These people really uplift & validate me.
Groups can also clutter up our news feed and you never know who will post what – I make a point of following groups that I know are filled mostly with positive posts, others I am still a part of and interact with when I choose or I do not follow them at all. Support groups in our news feed can definitely feel like a negative sometimes – I am a part of many ADHD support groups and don’t follow any of them. But I check them on the regular or I just have notifications only. Sometimes I find what I am struggling with can be validating reading someone else’s experience but sometimes it can also be a reminder of those struggles which can be not what you need to see or hear at the time. Reading other people’s problems all the time means you may take that on board into your mental load unnecessarily.
Junk information: The term “Fake news” is definitely something most people have probably heard of before – but fake news isn’t the only thing that is fake on the internet. Sometimes it can be in disguise of helpful information but it’s not, it can be junk information only created to gain clicks for money, these sites have no investment in your happiness. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is and always double check the information. Get advice from professionals. Some people do a lot to take advantage of others in the disguise of looking after peoples well being.
Browser add-ons to block specific topics: Sometimes we feel like we have no control on what media we are forced to consume, on a PC/Home computers we can at least get add ons or browser extensions that will filter or remove topics of your choosing. There may also be apps for phones but I haven’t found any currently.
The one I am using is called: Social Fixer which allows you to hide posts by topic.
You can also use Filters to view a list of predetermined topics and hide those or group them into separate tabs on Facebook automatically. Examples include election news, sponsored posts and spoilers. Social Fixer goes far beyond that, though. You can make edits to the user interface like give Facebook its own font, hide individual sections of the home page, change timestamps to absolute times instead of relative, add a comment navigator on long or popular posts and so much more.
Forced time out from Social media/TV: There are quite a few different app blocking apps out there, but not all work on apple and not all work on android – some you also need to pay for, you may benefit more from premium features than the free ones. Currently I am trialling “AppBlock – Stay Focused” and it’s good for times where I have taken time out from being online. With managing various Social media accounts as part of my work as an ADHD advocate, it’s hard to just switch off as I am always making sure to monitor comments etc – but when it’s time to “clock off for the day” it’s good to have this app to ensure I am taking that time out. My suggestion for looking for an app with this purpose is to search in your phones app store for key phrases like “social media time limit” or “screen time limiter”. There are plenty to pick from, remember to check reviews and rating before making any impulsive purchases!
When it comes to other devices, unplugging something from the wall is a good start – because it forces you to have to go an plug the devices back in before use. This gives you a moment of pause to remind yourself why you are doing this.
Delete the app/Social media blackouts: Sometimes we just need a break, you don’t need to go as far as deleting accounts, just delete the app. Sure it’s easy enough to just download it again but what you will find when you have removed the app from your home screen or deleted entirely, how often you go to click on it. Just that forced reminder is almost enough to see how much time you spend online. You don’t need to share your every thought, you don’t need to know everyone else’s status. This worked for me in times where my news feed, despite all my efforts, turned into a constant stream line of one type of posts on global news. Again most recently Covid-19 or the Bush fires in Australia.
Other times in moments of unwellness, I think it is good to actually deactivate social media accounts. It can become a rabbit hole where all interactions are a trigger as it takes so much from our mental wellness in order to engage. Whatever method you take, we all need time out from social media sometimes. Or screen time in general. In times when I am in a low, I make a point of leaving my phone at home and going for a walk or redirecting my energy somewhere else.