How To Break The Cycle Of Social Media Exhaustion, According To The Experts

Right now, it feels like we are holding our breath. While the rest of the world is opening up, Australia is contracting. Folding in on itself. Entangled and discombobulated. Some people are angry, others are bewildered – how are we still here? Nowhere is this frustration more evident than on our social media feeds. 

It is easy to sling mud and lay claim to which platform is the worst for our wellbeing. We’ve all heard the fear mongering. The algorithms probably know more about us than they let on, the Apps are designed for overuse and the newsfeeds and chatrooms can incite hate, bullying, and fear. Yet, we willingly drink the social media Kool-Aid. 

As some states ebb and flow between lockdown, we are all emotionally fatigued. Whether you seek out lockdown news and views or not, there is no denying that our scrolling obsessions is making our exhaustion worse. Each year is a rinse and repeat of the tales from the year prior. Politicians and lobbyists call for enquiries into social media platforms, well-known faces become the tragic casualties of trolling and the keyboard warriors only get louder. 

A new Aussie podcast delves into the tragic life of Australian model and TV personality Charlotte Dawson, who took her life following a ruthless duel with social media trolls. Dawson died almost a decade ago, yet we continue to ignore the real-world implications of social media’s dark side. Scrolling on to our next dopamine hit. 

The anti-lockdown protests over the past week again showcased that our feeds have become more venomously negative. As we bicker back and forth, like, retweet and share away, the tools that were designed to empower our ability socialise are in fact forcing us to retreat. The team at youth mental health organisation batyr agree that excessive use of social media can leave us feeling irritable, unmotivated and fatigued. However there is a way to negate the exhaustion.

“There are lots of recommendations for avoiding digital burnout,” says the batyr team. “We always defer to really practical things like a regular digital door knock on how you’re using social media and devices, setting boundaries on when and where you log in, turning off notifications, and considering platforms you may want to cull.”

However, for most of us combatting social media is exhausting in itself. It’s kind of like breaking up with a toxic, albeit fun best friend in your early 20s. You know you need to cut them off, but golly, life without that buddy seems daunting. The good news is that you don’t have to go cold turkey to have a better relationship with your social feeds.

Whether you find yourself caught in the rabbit hole of a benign dance craze or need a break from rampant political discussion, start by reassessing your social media diet with the help of the Apps themselves. Each platform houses nifty (albeit, often well hidden) tools that allow you to self-serve that negative content out of your life. Of particular note, TikTok has a Not Interested button that enables you to hide the kinds of content you don’t want to see on your feed.

Director of the Melbourne based Resilience Project Hugh van Cuylenburg argues that the strategies that social media platforms have deployed to keep us scrolling is disgusting and only foster our addiction. He says that when it comes to limiting your scroll time, we must put in place or own mechanisms to keep us off the apps.

“Notifications should be turned off,” says van Cuylenburg. “You should decide when you check your phone, not the other way round. At the moment, the second someone likes a photo we get a notification and we get stuck.”

“Then it’s time to rearrange your home screen. We have the Apps we check most on our home screen because we think that it is efficient, but they are so often the ones we are addicted to. Create a folder where all your social media Apps live and call it ‘Regret’. The most common emotion anyone experiences after 10 minutes of more on social media is actually regret.”

As a country, we are spending a lot more than 10 minutes on social media. In fact, We Are Social’s Digital 2021 report found that Aussies spend a staggering 1 hour 46 minutes per day on social media. If you are rightfully shocked by this number, then time to set parameters. While I could harp on about diarising a social media break each day, an obsession requires real-time intervention. Most platforms have in-built time restriction settings that notify you when you’ve hit your self-designated peak for the day.

As the social media vacuum gets louder, maybe it’s time to consider who you hate follow. By following people or accounts that we actively dislike, Clinical Psychologist, Founder of Open Parachute School Wellbeing Programs, Dr. Hayley Watson agrees that we are setting ourselves up for further exhaustion.

“When we focus on things that make us angry it releases stress hormones that put a strain on our nervous system and lowers our resilience to handle other stressors that arise in our life,” says Dr. Watson. “By following people we dislike, we are also priming our mind towards being more distrustful and disconnected from others, which in turn increases our sense of isolation and negatively impacts our overall wellbeing.”

While changing up how you use social media is undoubtedly a great first step to overcoming exhaustion, in some cases it is worth considering complete retreat from the battlefield and removing ourselves from the discussion. As New South Wales lockdown extends yet again, maybe it is time to ponder that break up. 

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