Person in a fuzzy sweater types on a laptop.

With so much going on in the world around us, it can be tempting to give in to endless scrolling on social media. However, checking every notification and reading every headline can have a negative effect on our mental health. 

Here are five things you can do to take control of your feeds and improve your well-being online. 

1: Set a time limit

Allow yourself to take a break from social media and the news. Limiting the time you spend on social platforms and news sites can help you feel more at ease. It can also help free up some of your time, so you can focus more of your energy on activities and hobbies you actually enjoy. 

One way to decrease your time on social is to designate phone-free spaces. For instance, you may decide that the areas where you do schoolwork are phone-free zones. This can include classrooms, study spaces and your desk area. By keeping your phone out of reach, you may find that you’re able to focus more on class (it has also been shown to improve grades and performance on tests). 

Connecting with friends is another great way to take a break from social media or the news and focus on the people you’re with. Spending meaningful time offline can help you disconnect from your feeds and reconnect with your real life. 

2: Create boundaries

We all have different expectations for how we interact with people and how we want them to interact with us. Boundaries are a helpful tool to give us agency over our physical safety, communication, emotions, energy and time. They can also help us live by our values and determine what is and isn’t okay.

Setting boundaries online may look different for everyone. Choose boundaries that reflect your values and protect your well-being. Here are a few examples of boundaries you can set for yourself and others on social:

  • Opt to discuss politics offline with friends or family members that understand you. They may not always agree with you, but you may find that having an actual conversation vs. commenting or messaging online is more productive.
  • Arguments through comments or messages online are unlikely to change anyone’s opinion, especially if they are committed to engaging with you in a rude, disrespectful or hostile way. Sometimes it’s best to not engage with people who are committed to misunderstanding you. 
  • Save your energy by allowing someone else to have the last word. If you’re caught up in a thread that feels like it’s going in circles, allow yourself to end the conversation by ending your engagement. Walking away from passionate conversations can be hard, but sometimes it is the best choice to preserve our own well-being.
  • Give yourself permission to not read the news. Remember that the news and updates will still be there tomorrow, so you won’t miss out on anything by skipping the news cycle for a day or two. You can always go back to read it if it was something really important or that you need to see.

Remember that we cannot control what other people do online, but we can control how we respond to it. Boundaries are just one of the many ways to do this.

3: Focus on things within your control

Just like we can’t control what other people say or do online, we can’t control what the news chooses to report on. If we get absorbed in the news, we may start to catastrophize it by assuming the worst possible outcome will happen. When we do this, we may lose our sense of control.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by news stories, announcements or hypothetical outcomes, it may be time to take a step back and refocus your attention to things that are within your control. Sometimes it can be helpful to create a list. Here are a few examples of things that you can directly control:

  • What time you go to bed and wake up
  • How you spend your free time (hobbies, interests, etc.)
  • Daily activities like exercising, eating, etc.
  • What you choose to read or post
  • How much time you spend on social platforms
  • Notification and privacy settings

Instead of focusing on what is outside of your control (like the pandemic, politics, current events, etc.), focus more of your time and energy on the things in your life that you have a say in.

4: Mute or unfollow

We all know people who have strong opinions who love to post on social media. Whether it’s a coworker, friend or family member, it’s important to remember that we have the power to control what appears on our feeds. If your social platforms have become hostile or are negatively impacting your mental health, it may be time to hit mute or unfollow.

Muting can be a great tool to hide disturbing posts or rescue yourself from heated debates and discussions. If you don’t have a close relationship with someone, unfriending or blocking them may be good options. This will remove them from your view entirely and stop any notifications about their posts, comments and messages.

5: Pause before you post

It can be tempting to vent or troll accounts online when we are feeling upset, overwhelmed or frustrated. However, it’s important to remember that our actions can have consequences down the line. Employers and graduate admissions officers often check candidates’ social media profiles during the hiring and recruitment processes, and they may look back further than you’d think. Group accounts and even those that aren’t directly tied to you can have a negative impact on your future. 

Before you post, ask yourself:

  • Will posting this positively or negatively impact my life down the road (hiring, grad school, scholarships, etc.)?
  • How will it impact other people?
  • Am I breaking any rules, policies, ordinances or laws?
  • Is voicing my opinion or proving a point worth the potential consequences?

If it seems like you may find yourself in hot water, skip the share button. If you’re feeling emotional, angry or hurt, give yourself some time. Allow your emotions to settle before doing anything or making decisions that could affect you or your relationships. Oftentimes, our emotional mind hijacks our brain, which can lead to consequences that can be uncomfortable or destructive. Don't allow frustrations or disagreements to affect your reputation online.