Bring back the photos of avocado toast.
Remember the days when humblebragging was the worst thing happening on social media? (Another beach house pic?) Then 2016 happened. (Psst...Here's How to Reset After a Bad Year.)
"Things are more politically charged after the election, and this has absolutely affected social media," says Andrew Lepp, Ph.D., an associate professor at Kent State University who researches social media use and behavior. Feeds that were once saturated with photos of lattes are now studded with rage-y political posts. FOMO gave way to even bigger mental health nightmares, from Twitter jitters to Insta-anger. And commenting turned into bickering.
Not even a pretty filter can make all the online angst look good. It's enough to make anyone want to log out permanently. But get this: It is possible to stay sane without opting for an all-out social media cleanse. The best strategies, according to Lepp:
1. Don't bookend your day with drama.
It's habit—we wake up and fall asleep to our screens. But beginning and ending the day with news that gets your emotions kicked up really screws with your mood. (Debates on foreign policy before you've had your morning coffee can be a real buzzkill.) Spending time on social media shouldn't replace activities that are good for your mental health. Opt to squeeze in an a.m. workout or use your evening leisure time to read a book.
2. Do the good stuff first.
Try reorganizing your phone's apps. Put things that have value to your wellness on your home screen (think things like meditation apps). If you catch yourself getting ready to tap on those trusty social media icons, make it your routine to click on a good-for-you app first. Once you do a quick meditation exercise or strike a yoga pose, you're less likely to turn to social media just because.
3. Remember to breathe IRL.
Research has shown that when you're in your online bubble, breathing can get shallow or you unconsciously hold your breath. (It's often called "email apnea" because researchers focused on that tech medium, but it's a good bet the same holds true when you're on social media.) Your body functions better with oxygen (obviously), so if you're in a tense state, you're more likely to be affected by what you see.
4. Block. Mute. Unfollow. But don't quit.
Ditching your accounts may sound like the fix, but giving up your digital circle may only make you feel worse because that means you're also missing out on connections you enjoy (pics of your BFFs new baby! watching your cousin's engagement video! rooting for your faraway friend as she competes in her first marathon!). Just remember that you don't have to eat up everything served over bytes. Instead, curate what's constantly popping up on your feed. If you have an aggressive aunt who's always posting things that upset you, unfollow her (not the same as unfriending). But be careful about going on a frantic unfollow fest—you don't want to put yourself in a bubble. Only pull out that trick if the content is particularly troubling to your state of mind.
5. Limit yourself.
In the world of fake news and fast opinions, it's tempting to feel like it's your job to comment on everything. But commit to only engaging in a way that's healthy for you. Maybe that's choosing one issue that you're really well-versed on that you'll comment on but nothing else, or perhaps it's limiting yourself to only posting one political item a week.
6. Share something proactive.
Engaging in every single post will likely only make you feel worse. Try pitching into the conversation when you can share something that goes beyond an opinion, but instead offers up something actionable. It could be a link to donate to a cause you care about, or re-posting an upcoming event that is important to you.
7. Master the rules of engagement.
The big rule: Only write on social media what you'd feel comfortable saying in a room full of strangers. If you do choose to engage, state your opinion, allow for one rebuttal, and then end it. You'll feel much better than if you find yourself in a 205-comment (and counting!) quarrel.
If it is someone you care about, and you'd like to continue the convo, suggest meeting up in person for a true discussion. "Posting something confrontational and controversial is easier online because the immediate consequences are distant—the offended person is elsewhere," Lepp says. But if you were talking to your in-laws over dinner, banter about "how could you vote for that person?" is broken up with "don't you love this wine?" It humanizes the conversation and allows for real discussion. And let's be honest, we can all use a little wine right about now.