I'm still reeling from the events of 2020. Who could have anticipated the outbreak of a deadly virus that would have the power to shut down countries and keep us in our homes? Or that the deaths of two men and one woman (among the countless others that have come and gone) would ignite a movement that would set the world on fire. No one could have predicted any of this, or the toll these incidents would have on our mental health.
Suddenly everything we were used to, changed. There was no more shopping at grocery stores and malls, no more school, no more getting together with friends and family, and unless you were an essential worker, no more going into work. News story after news story focused on the reach of the virus, increasing infection rates, and rising death tolls. My social media feeds from Facebook to Twitter were filled with warnings, predictions, and advice. And everyone from real experts to my neighbor had an opinion on what we needed to do. The information explosion was confusing and scary. I felt like the world was crashing in on me, and there was no escape. I was worried about my children's future, as well as my own. Although I was never one to fall for doomsday prophecies, to me, it was beginning to feel like the end of the world.
I reached a breaking point somewhere around the 4th or 5th week of the coronavirus pandemic reaching North America. One afternoon, after a particularly paranoia-filled scroll through my Facebook feed, I took stock of my physical reaction to the information overload. My heartbeat was fast, my stomach was in knots, my body was tense, and my chest was aching. Tears flowed as I let my thoughts run wild, overwhelming me. I felt certain that this virus would be the end of us all.
The mind is powerful, and what we perceive to be true can influence how we feel.
At that moment, my mind was in the deepest, darkest of places. I hated how all the negativity was affecting me – sending me on a downward spiral that was getting harder to pull myself out of every day. But what could I do to stop it? In that same moment, I made a conscious decision to change my behavior. I knew I had to take a step back from everything triggering and disruptive, or I risked falling into a deep depression. I have a family that I need to stay mentally and physically healthy for; they depend on me.
So I did the easiest thing I could think of, I put the phone down and vowed to stay off my social media accounts until I was able to better cope with this crisis.
I also decided to turn off the news. I told friends and family I was taking a break so that they wouldn't converse with me on the latest coronavirus updates. And, I told my husband to stop reading me global stats on death tolls and out of control infection rates. I switched off, and yes, I lived in a protective bubble for almost a week, and it was freeing.
I made sure to follow how living social-media free affected me. I felt relaxed, happier, appreciative, and in control. Most importantly, I felt present and not worried about the world's impending doom.
The simple act of turning off the phone brought me back to life.
When I finally decided to reintroduce social media and the news, I did it with caution. I eased back in with Instagram, and I quickly got hooked on posts featuring the #savagechallenge, a dance challenge that originated on Tik Tok. Seeing people make the best out of a bad situation – isolation at home – filled me with happiness. I also started following trainers who were posting at-home quarantine workouts. Exercising and staying active helped to boost my mood further and made me feel optimistic.
From there, my next step was to take control of how and what I viewed on my social media accounts.
I decided to choose one outlet to follow instead of multiple ones. I stopped reading everything and limited myself to only a few posts from reliable sources, and those that could help deal with coronavirus-related issues. I skipped articles with negative headlines and avoided anything about death toll counts and infection rates. I made sure to read uplifting and light-hearted posts, as well. Finally, I limited time on social media to 5 minutes at the beginning of the day and 5 minutes at the end of the day. These positive actions made it possible for me to control my social media exposure and my reactions to it.
But my solace would soon be broken by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, and the ensuing unrest that resulted. As my feed once again filled up with images, videos, commentary, and calls to action, I dived right back in and it broke my heart. Reading the details of these senseless murders brought tears to my eyes. How was it possible to cry for complete strangers?
I cried because deaths like these were all too familiar, happened too frequently, and reminded me that something is grotesquely wrong with a society where people die at the hands of police violence and hate. I cried for the families left behind, for the suffering we, as black people, have endured for centuries, and for the lives of my boys. What would be their future?
My heart was heavy and my spirit was tired. I was angry and fed up. When would things ever change for us? After years of fighting for equality and social justice, people were still in the streets protesting and demonstrating, only to be met with violent pushback. When will our lives be valued? And why do we need to prove our lives are worth valuing? We are human, and we are so tired of having to validate our existence. Watching these events unfold was consuming me from the inside out. But this time, I recognized the signs that I was falling into the abyss of hopelessness, early on. I made some immediate changes.
I took a day or two away from social media to absorb and work through my feelings. When it felt safe, I resorted back to my self-imposed social media guidelines and started limiting what I read, the sources I followed, and the time I spent on these outlets. I found positive ways to stay involved that didn't raise my stress levels like donating, sharing information, and amplifying the message of those on the front lines of the movement.
While staying away from social media wasn't easy to do – we are, after all, addicted to our phones and the information we can find there – it was necessary for my self-care. Of course, there were times I wanted to pick it up and find out the latest, but I knew I would regret it. Easy access to social media contributed to the decline of my mental health, so I forced myself to put my phone down and keep it down so that I could heal.
I've learned that it's okay to admit that sometimes we simply can't take on anymore before we totally collapse, and it's more than okay to step back and reconnect with ourselves.
As helpful as social media is, too much exposure can be damaging, especially at turbulent times. Preserving our mental health is crucial, and though we often feel like we can't go a day without checking in with our feeds, the reality is we can - and probably should - more often.