I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Twitter is a stressful place these days.
You can get the news faster than ever before by relentlessly refreshing your Twitter timeline, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
We all probably know someone who is stressing themselves out right now by anxiously scrolling Twitter all day. If you find yourself doing this, please know that there are ways to stop. Whether it’s asking friends for help or using a time management app, it’s totally possible to cut down on your Twitter time.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
The last time I went out with friends before the coronavirus pandemic was in early March, right before it became clear that was no longer a safe thing to do. A lull in the conversation led to one of us looking at Twitter only to see the breaking news that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had tested positive for COVID-19. Suddenly, everyone pulled out their phones to see it for themselves, only to see just a few minutes later that the NBA had postponed play indefinitely because of Rudy Gobert’s positive diagnosis.
Those news items pale in comparison to what’s happened since, but the way they dominated Twitter made them feel cataclysmic. Despite this, we couldn’t stop refreshing our timelines. Dr. Anna Lembke is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford who specializes in addiction. She broke down why some of us feel the need to do this even when we know it’s not great for our mental health.
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“What’s kind of happened is that we all in our day to day lives … struggle with free-floating anxiety, and we manage that in a variety of different ways,” Lembke said. “A lot of our usual coping strategies are no longer available to us.”
In other words, those of us who used things like sports or pop culture to get through each day couldn’t do that anymore. Obsessively tracking baseball statistics turned into obsessively tracking the coronavirus case counter.
“Somehow they’re in this compulsive vortex”
There is nothing wrong with being informed. But on Twitter, a lot of information ends up being redundant since many people spread the same tweets at once. Since we don’t know what else to do, we might keep doing it no matter how bad it makes us feel.
“That phenomenon does happen where it just becomes kind of like a bottomless pit where people just keep going with it even when it’s not new information, it’s not useful information, it causes them to be anxious, and yet somehow they’re in this compulsive vortex,” Lembke said.
Abstain if you can, when you can
The obvious solution to Twitter stress is to just not look at it. That’s easier said than done, though, as it’s a valuable source of socialization, news, and even income for many of its users. If you can’t just delete Twitter from your life, what can you do to mitigate the anxiety that comes from looking at it?
Lembke recommended a kind of measured abstinence from Twitter. Don’t cut it out wholesale. Maybe take 24 hours off to see how you feel, and if that works for you, identify a day each week to do a “digital detox,” as Lembke called it. If a full day is too much, maybe give yourself a “no Twitter after 8 p.m.” rule on weeknights or something to that effect.
You might find that you can still stay adequately informed by just honing in on a few trusted news sources instead of succumbing to Twitter’s information overload. If Twitter is one of the primary ways you interact with your friends, it might help to make this measured abstinence a group effort.
“Just like the way that sheltering in place is a lot easier to do because you know the whole rest of the globe is doing it at the same time, it’s much easier to stay off of Twitter if people in your circle are doing it at the same time,” Lembke said.
Temporarily ditch the group DM for a Zoom call, or something like Zoom that’s more secure. Finding a way to have something resembling face-to-face interactions with your Twitter pals could do you some good.
There are tech solutions, too
Credit: Amanda Yeo / Mashable
Real quick, we have to acknowledge that Twitter allows you to mute words and phrases from appearing on your timeline. If you want to avoid news on a specific topic altogether, that’s one way to do it. If you still want to follow the news on Twitter but can’t make yourself take breaks, you can actually make your phone do it for you.
Anyone who has an iPhone has probably noticed those Screen Time notifications that implicitly shame you on Sunday mornings for how much they’ve used their phones. Well, if you go into your iPhone’s settings, Screen Time has its own little section (in same area as Notifications and Focus) where you can set a period of downtime each day. During that period, you can only make phone calls and use apps that you approve of beforehand.
Screen Time also allows you to set time limits for specific apps. Maybe you only want to give yourself two hours of Twitter a day, for example. Android users aren’t left out of this, by the way, as Screen Time is on the Google Play Store(opens in a new tab).
Android folks can also take advantage of Off the Grid(opens in a new tab), which is a more aggressive version of the same idea. You give it a time when you want to be away from your phone and it’ll not only lock you out, but auto-reply to anyone who tries to message you. Try to access your phone during off-limits hours and you’ll have to either pay a $1 fee or watch an ad.
That might be a bit much, but just know that there are ways to force yourself to stop looking at Twitter. Next time you feel that pang of anxiety in your stomach while scrolling through the infernal timeline, think about taking some steps to stop it from happening again.