OPINION: Ignorance or Mindful Distance: Digitally Detoxing in Today’s World

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Hailey Stessman
OPINION EDITOR 

You are valid for choosing what is best for your mental health during this time. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

With COVID-19 continuing to affect millions across the globe, all news outlets and media are broadcasting updates, ways to cope with the pandemic, the increasing death toll and resources available for citizens. And because of the order to stay at home in quarantine, I’ve been spending every morning planted in front of the TV screen absorbing the constant stream of information.

Sometimes it’s all just too much: the headlines, the numbers, the reports. It will get under my skin, and I can’t seem to shake the unsettling feeling off. A heavy weight will rest on my shoulders for the rest of the day, and my list of things to still accomplish will grow longer and longer.

I always thought that because I was home, it would be easier to cross everything off on my to-do list. I thought that the extra free time in my day would allow me to pick up a new hobby, to practice mindfulness, or to finally clean out my overflowing closet. But as the days continue to pass by, I have been met with a different reality.

My thumb mindlessly scrolls through Twitter and Instagram on the daily where I see countless posts yelling at the Trump administration for how they’re handling the pandemic or making humorous, dark posts in order to process the state of our world. Or I’m seeing the tears stream down the cheeks of nurses who are on the frontline, seeing the virus destroy lives.

I’ve always been an advocate for staying informed on the political and social happenings of the world and of the United States, especially in a time like this. I feel it’s my duty as a citizen to understand what’s happening in the White House or what’s happening abroad in order to comprehend and become aware of certain injustices present in my community, state and nation.

But now I dread waking up every morning to be met with a new story of a family being ripped apart because of a loved one passing away from COVID-19 or of students scrambling to pay rent and trying to keep enough food in their cabinets.

So, I made the conscious decision to digitally detox by decreasing my time on social media, my exposure to news updates and my overall screen time. I asked my family members to leave the TV off in the morning and to try and watch the news at night.

Immediately my mind felt clearer, and I found I could focus on my online homework that I’ve been falling behind on. But along with that mental clarity, a new feeling arose in me.

Guilt.

Am I being ignorant by choosing to distance myself from the news? Am I not being a good citizen? Should I constantly be keeping up with the news in the midst of a pandemic?

I felt guilty for not checking the trending page on Twitter and not watching the morning news to receive the latest stats and updates. It was this constant battle of whether I was practicing ignorance or mindful distancing for the sake of my mental health.

I’ve struggled with mental illness in the past few years, and a large contributor to my depression and anxiety was social media. In order to maintain my anxiety, I have decreased my time engaging on social media, but when the pandemic was announced, I felt myself draw nearer to my phone, laptop and TV screen. I pushed my anxieties down because I thought my previous limits of digitally distancing were invalidating the state of the world and my duty as a citizen.

But through my struggle of facing my anxieties while trying to stay informed on COVID-19, I came to a conclusion.

It is okay to want to create some space between you and the news. There is a difference between sheer ignorance of consciously ignoring the news and mindfully setting some boundaries for yourself in your daily consumption of the news.

What we need to be advocating is balance. Your worries are valid. Your anxieties are valid. You are valid.

It is possible to stay informed on the pandemic while keeping your mental health in check. Boundaries are key. Try setting a time limit for news media consumption and a reserving time for some self-care whether that be journaling, meditation or physical activity.

There is power is acknowledging your limits and your needs during this stressful time.

If you are struggling with your mental health, there are plenty of resources out there that can help.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1-800-662-HELP

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

Additional Resources: https://ncadv.org/resources

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