Prioritizing Your Mental Health in the Era of Social Media Activism

From the Arab Spring to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, social media has been and continues to be a powerful tool when utilized to fight for causes bigger than ourselves.

We see in real-time how social media has become the loudest microphone for exposing injustice and is quickly becoming an essential tool for many activists. Unfortunately, with all the positive impacts of social media, we often neglect how it can negatively affect our mental health.

With the deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and many more, we are constantly reminded of how expendable people of color, particularly Black people, are in the United States. Social media often serves as a reminder of this, with hashtags calling for justice for someone who has experienced racial or gender-based violence. For the past few weeks, many of us have been preoccupied with spreading awareness, signing petitions, donating, and educating ourselves on the history of racial injustice in the United States, and many of us have neglected our mental health in the process.

As we protest injustice, we are also experiencing a global health pandemic. Instead of focusing on our health and spending time with our loved ones, many of us feel obligated to go out and march and spend hours on social media to stay updated.

One thing many of my friends and I can attest to during this time of protests and digital activism is the constant feeling of fatigue. Long hours spent staring at our screens, refreshing Instagram and Twitter, and constantly being exposed to bad news from different parts of the world regarding racial violence is exhausting. Our brains are constantly processing these traumatic posts and images, and they deserve a break.

When the COVID-19 lockdown was announced, social media became a way for us to connect with our friends and family that we were not in quarantine with, and it provided us with a sense of socialization through the quarantine period. But, what do you do when the thing you use as an escape becomes a constant reminder of the injustices in the world?

A lot of us struggle to stay informed, and yet it is okay to take a break from your phone and prioritize your mental health. For one’s activism to be successful, you have to take care of yourself first.

While scrolling through social media and retweeting posts to raise awareness can seem harmless at first, constantly being exposed to traumatic information can have a negative impact on mental health. We have become so used to the feeling of constantly being on high alert, checking our phones, and discussing violence in a casual manner that—out of necessity—we have learned to normalize bearing the weight of our own trauma and the trauma of our communities on our shoulders.

Videos, images, and posts shared by well-meaning people can re-traumatize us. We often don’t even acknowledge how such re-traumatization is affecting us because we have become so used to the anxiety and weight that comes along with centuries of racial injustice in the U.S.

Completely deleting all your social media is one way to take a step back and recenter. However, deleting social media entirely may be hard during this time, and there are other ways you can set social media boundaries to help limit your exposure to distressing news content.

Utilize ‘Screen Time” on your phone to remind yourself how long you have been on social media every day.

This feature is built into the iPhone and can be found under Settings. For those that don’t have apple products here is a list of apps that can help with this:

  1. Moment
  2. App Detox
  3. Offtime
  4. ShutAPP
  5. Space

Filter your feed to manage the type of content you are exposed to.

Whether it is merely unfollowing people who constantly post triggering content, muting certain words on Twitter (i.e., Violence, death, etc.), or creating a separate account for activism and one purely for escapism purposes, filtering your feed is another way to control your social media feed.

Turning off your social media notifications can help one be present at the moment.

Instead of being notified every time someone tweets, you can create your own schedule for engaging with social media

Cut off-screen time 30 minutes to an hour before bed to help foster better sleep techniques.

Instead of being on your phone, try breathing techniques to calm you down before bed. The same thing goes for when you first wake up: instead of reaching for your phone, try stretching, journaling, and setting your intentions for the day.

Disconnect! Set time aside for yourself without social media and do something you love.

Whether it’s putting together a puzzle, reading a book, or simply talking to your family members or the people you are in quarantine with, blocking time out of your day to do something for yourself can really ground you.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgent, it is self-preservation.” Audre Lorde

Picture of Jediael Peterson

Jediael Peterson

GALS Intern

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