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Navigating Digital Worlds with Depression and Anxiety

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I wish social media sites came with a disclaimer when you signed up for a new account:

“This free website is engineered to make you spend time on the platform so that we can maximize our ad revenue. Anxiousness is a free bonus.”

It’s starting to become clearer to me that the social platforms we rely on so much could have a detrimental effect on our health — especially if you struggle with depression or anxiety. In fact, more and more research is suggesting that social media use may be associated with increased rates of depression, especially in young adults.

Don’t worry, things are starting to change

The good news is that there’s a groundswell starting to happen. Thanks to movements like Time Well Spent led by the Center for Humane Technology, major tech companies are starting to test and implement tools that prioritize the mental health of people over ad profits and nice-looking engagement metrics.

Time Well Spent essentially wants tech companies to think more about the impact of their products on the users’ quality of life — instead of just maximizing the time spent on screen.

The potentially negative effects on the human psyche caused by using these sites are becoming better understood as more research is done. However, along with the potential downsides and the intentions behind how these social networks are set up, there are many benefits that can come with using them responsibly.

As with everything, the key is moderation and finding what works for you when it comes to using social media. Below are some of my personal top tips on how to navigate the digital world so you can prevent many of the negative effects while still taking advantage of the ways it can enhance your life.

My best practices for life online with depression and anxiety

Turn off your notifications

In my experience this is quite possibly one of the most important and beneficial things you can do­ — especially for anxiety. Here’s a guide for disabling notifications on iOS and Android.

Check your notifications when it suits you, instead of allowing them to interrupt you throughout the day. For most apps on your phone, the notifications aren’t crucial — those alerts can wait. Better yet, you can silence notifications from some apps altogether.

Give yourself permission to choose (and leave)

If you need someone else to say it, here it is: You don’t have to be on social media all the time. You’re allowed to leave Facebook or not sign up for the next cool thing. Is someone online annoying or bullying you? Block them. There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back when you need it.

Constantly anxious over tweets about North Korea and the prospect of World War III? Mute the terms on Twitter so they don’t show up anymore. I often feel that so much of the news that shows up in my feeds adds to feelings of anxiety and fear, and I’ve realize that I don’t have to participate in it 24/7.

Prioritize what adds value to your life, cut out what doesn’t

Have you heard of the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto principle)? There are a lot of applications for this rule, but essentially it states that 20 percent of the input creates 80 percent of the result. For me, it has provided an extremely valuable lens with which to reflect on different aspects of my life.

In terms of time spent online, it might be useful to use this principle to look at what causes you the most stress or frustration, and find out where you benefit the most.

Are there meditation apps that help you stay consistent? Is keeping up with a growing comment thread making you anxious? Are you constantly checking and re-checking the views on your latest story?

Search for new tools and constantly reevaluate

Everything is changing constantly, including your needs, the coping strategies you use, and how you experience your challenges with depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s important to check in with yourself on a regular basis.

I try to do this every few months to see if there are any new ways for me to reset things. Are there new communities that I can contribute to or get support from, and are there other things that are no longer of value? Remember what works best for you so you get the most from your time online.

I hope that these tips help you in your journey online — and offline. As our digital tools and world continue to mature, always remember to get outside, see people face-to-face more, and put yourself (and your health) first.

Stay strong my friends!

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