Self-care for when social media gets too toxic

These days, there's no excuse for apathy. We have access to information, news, and updates 24/7, thanks to our mobile devices. We can engage, critique, and discuss thanks to social media platforms and vibrant online communities. And while it's important keep abreast of the latest issues and even more important to participate in conversations and fight for the causes we care deeply about, the online landscape can be overwhelming.

I've been handling and monitoring social media closely as part of my job and trust me, it's not just you who's feeling burned out. Social media has gotten really toxic these past few months and I've seen the worst —from your run-of-the-mill spam to verbal abuse, abusive images, and even death threats.

Back then it was just about posting personal updates and happy photos but these days our feeds are filled with grim and frustrating reports, peppered with the occasional fake news, propaganda, and trolls firing invectives in the comments sections.

One awful comment or message, you can easily shake off, but this can be emotionally draining over time as you are exposed to more and more of it. So how do you deal? How do still participate in discussions without getting caught up in a frustrating cycle of vitriol?

Moderation is key and taking care of yourself is crucial so you can be productive without burning out. As someone who has to handle digital spaces on a day-to-day basis, here are some tips and tricks I personally use to help me cope with the hostile online environment.

Phase one: Moderate your social media use

1. Set a time limit for yourself.
If you're one of those people who are addicted to their phones, it's crucial to log off once in a while. According to a recent report, Filipinos spend an average of 8 hours and 59 minutes every day online, the most in the world! That's not a good thing.

When you're at home, it's too easy to reach for your phone and browse mindlessly. To help curb this you can try setting a timer whenever you find yourself going online. If you're at home and looking for something to do, set a timer the moment you boot up your computer or open Facebook. Unless there's work you have to do, setting an alarm for, say, an hour, will make you aware that you've already spent this amount of time on the internet. This has helped me reduce the risk of looking up and realizing I spent the entire afternoon scrolling through my feeds.

Another trick is to carve out blocks of time where you don't go online. It can be two, three hours before you sleep where instead of going through Instagram, you can catch up on some reading. If that's too much, try at least 30 minutes first. Keep your phone out of reach and head to bed.

2. Turn off notifications.
Notifications are the triggers that have you reaching for your phone. One moment, you're checking a Facebook comment, and next thing you know, you're on an endless scroll. I've already eliminated notifications from my social media apps and I find myself using them so much less. It's because I no longer get prompts to check them compulsively and I only log on during the times where I want to, which makes setting time limits for myself so much easier. Trust me, you don't need the notifications.

3. Delete the apps.
If the first two don't work for you, I recommend deleting the apps from your phone for at least a week to wean yourself off them. Deleting the apps mean you limit your social media exposure to only when you're on your computer. I do this occasionally whenever I catch myself going online more than I ought to. This is also helpful when I have deadlines for school or work coming up and I need to focus. Without easy access on my mobile device, I'm eliminating distractions.

Phase two: Decompress

Of course, curbing your exposure to social media by eliminating the triggers is just half of self-care. You also need to handle the after-effects of the emotional exhaustion or stress. Here are some ways to do it.

1. Distract yourself.
Indulge in your favorite TV shows or watch a YouTube video on your favorite topics. (But don't forget to set a limit!) I usually give myself an allowance of two to three videos from my favorite beauty vloggers or an episode or two of The Office just to give myself a quick break. I also like to get out of the house and hole up in a coffee shop with a good book or work on my bullet journal.

2. Exercise!
Remember those blocks of time you carved out to be social media-free? Sign up for a class, learn a new sport, or go for a quick session at a nearby gym. There's no need to shell out cash, either. You can try downloading workouts online or head out for a run. Exercise is a great way to clear your head and help you manage stress. Even a light 45-minute workout can help boost your energy levels and give you those much-needed endorphins to help you battle stress.

3. Do chores or run errands.
Bringing out your inner #TitaofManila is about to come in handy! I know a couple of friends who destress by cooking or following a recipe. For me, it's deep cleaning the bathroom. It doesn't necessarily have to be a home-related task but engaging in an activity that requires your concentration and some elbow grease can help you get out of a stressful headspace. As a bonus, it can also be cathartic to see how your space is now organized and clutter-free. If you're cooking, it can be satisfying to reward yourself with a good meal that you prepared yourself!

Find something on your to-do list that you've been meaning to get out of the way, whether it's finally organizing your closet, cleaning the car, or even the load of laundry you've been putting off for a couple of days. Knocking something off your list will be satisfying.

4. Get creative.
Trying your hand at a creative hobby is another way to help you manage stress. You don't necessarily have to be skilled. Don't be afraid to pick up something you've always wanted to try. Is it watercolor? Calligraphy? Creative writing? Keep in mind that you're doing this for yourself. You don't need to show it to anyone so there's no pressure to come up with a masterpiece. Lose yourself in the creative process and don't be afraid to express yourself. It can be a simple as quick doodles, crafting a collage, playing around with clay, writing poetry using fridge magnets, or getting yourself a coloring book.

5. Interact with people offline.
When you're dealing with the worst of people online, it can be easy to forget that there's value in real human connections. Talk to a friend on the phone, schedule a coffee date with an acquaintance, or spend some time playing with your siblings or kids. You can also reach out to groups and communities and attend meet-ups. I've found it very helpful to carve out safe spaces where I can have meaningful conversations with people I care about or supportive communities.

It's also valuable to ask for help or reach out to professionals like therapists. You don't have to wait until the stress becomes unmanageable. After all, you don't go to the doctor only when things get worse, right? Therapy sessions can be helpful for you to check in with yourself and to keep stock of how you're managing your day to day stress.

It's important that you fight misinformation and that you speak up for the issues that you care about. It's crucial that you engage critically online and keep yourself informed, especially in a time of fake news, alternative facts, and "creative imagination." But remember that you need to take care of yourself before you can make the world a better place. Be kind to yourself so you can get up and fight another day. –