Angry reacts only!
Why social media is slowly killing us all
'Doomscrolling' - it's a term I only recently heard, yet I instantly knew what it meant. That endless trawl through Twitter, skimming each new nugget of negativity. 'Stranger A' shouts at 'Stranger B', and hordes of other strangers wade in. Celebrities and influencers publicly play out their clashes of personality, ideals, and opinions. It gets very nasty, very quickly. No matter when you open the app, you can guarantee that there will be some vicious fight raging. You can also be sure that bad news will leap out with every twitch of your eager thumb, each story worse than the last; corruption, sleaze, death, inept government officials, natural disaster, and, dare I mention, covid19. So much for Twitter. Let's head to Facebook, that's sure to be a happier place. Actually, no. Here we have the option of several 'emojis' with which to display our reactions to the content on offer. Having scoured Facebook for pages that suit our own personal views, we then spend hours at a time scrolling through our timelines, reacting to posts from those pages as well as from friends and family. Invariably, we see stuff that angers, offends, irks. We stab at the angry face icon. If sufficiently moved by the content, we may even risk leaving a comment, usually bashed out in haste while our blood is still boiling. We then move on, having registered our displeasure, feeling faintly fulfilled at having 'made a difference' somehow. But what, precisely, have we achieved? In most cases, nothing at all.
Facebook, Twitter, and the rest are filled with content covering all manner of subjects. Many of the people involved are genuinely trying to make the world a better place; environmental groups, human rights, civil rights, racial equality, and so on. And most perform a vital role in bringing injustice and wrongdoing to our attention. A lot of the content is provided by individuals with their own agenda, whether right or wrong (or, right or left). For every page or post that we may agree with, there are just as many that are certain to rub us up the wrong way. In many respects, this is fine, because we all have different opinions on a wide variety of subjects - it's just how we humans are made. The trouble is, we have become swamped by the flood of information to such an extent that we have reached saturation point. There's simply not enough hours in the day to read every article. So, we stamp our mark on the post, leaving an angry face for the things we don't like.
'But how exactly is this bad for us?' you may cry. I'll tell you why - stress. Stress is a killer. Yes, things are different in this 'age of pandemic', where everything has been turned on its head. If anything, it's made the problem a hundred times worse. With more time on our hands, we have taken to social media with increasing frequency to alleviate our boredom and to seek news of the devastating effects of the scourge that is covid19. On top of the fear resulting from news about the virus, we gorge ourselves on negativity, whether relating to those who refuse to accept the seriousness of the situation, to the apparent ineptitude of those in charge, or even the worries we harbour for our family and friends in the event that they catch the dreaded thing. And then you see the article about drilling in the Arctic. The post about ancient trees being felled. The violent attack on some poor soul who dared to tell the world they were gay/bi/trans/gender fluid, or whatever. It all adds up. You click the angry face and move on, each time adding to your stress levels as the realisation of impotence builds. How exactly has your little emoji helped? It won't save the arctic, replace trees, or save that person from being beaten up. What it has done is add to your own personal stress.
Now, not everyone leads a stressful lifestyle. But the majority of people have learned to live with stress. After all, it's a natural part of life, right? Well, yes. But we aren't reliant on our 'fight or flight' mechanism as much these days, now we're not taking down woolly mammoths for our lunch or fleeing sabre-tooth tigers (those were the days, eh?). The trouble with 'coping' with stress is that we get used to the flood of cortisol that flows through us. And I'm as guilty as anyone. In a rampage of righteous indignation, I waded through Facebook and 'followed' hundreds of pages, proudly displaying my opinions and beliefs. I scrolled through these with determination, before leaping over to Twitter to join a Tweetstorm. I clicked on pages that offered an alternative view, scouring the comments as I shook my head in wonderment at their deluded opinions. And I got stressed. Very stressed. I ranted and raved, sometimes engaging in futile arguments with complete strangers. Utterly pointless, and extremely stressful.
So, back to cortisol. It's a natural hormone produced by the adrenal gland. Which might make you wonder how it can be harmful. The answer lies in the long-term presence of cortisol (as well as the other stress hormones, adrenalin and norepinephrine) within the body. There can be some nasty side effects, such as rapid weight gain, depression, muscle weakness, high blood pressure. Cortisol, the 'fight or flight' hormone, shuts down processes in the body that it deems non-essential, in the event that you will need all that energy to face a threat or run away as fast as possible. Over time, this damages the body, leading to a whole host of health issues. And one of the first things to be affected is the immune system. I don't need to tell you how important that is these days.
Okay, so social media isn't completely responsible for your health issues. But it certainly isn't helping. Think of that stressful day at work or that nightmare traffic. The wining, ungrateful kids. The screaming baby, the sick, elderly parent. The rising bills, or looming mortgage. All of these are things we have to face, and some will add to our stress. Scrolling through social media and finding a whole raft of negativity will help to keep those cortisol levels bubbling. Stressed just reading this? Just focus on the lovely rainbow above. There, that's better, isn't it?
So what's the answer? How do we achieve a better frame of mind? Well, as much as you like to keep informed about your chosen topics of interest, try to reduce the amount of time you spend on social media. Unfollow some of those pages - it doesn't mean you don't care. As mentioned above, your reaction won't make a jot of difference. Try to find some positive news pages or ones that post beautiful photos of stunning locations around the world. Set a timer to stop you from going over your time limit. It's been proven we are addicted to our smartphones and social media, so it may be difficult at first. Try replacing this need with another action, such as learning a language on sites like Duolingo (just don't upset the owl!). Download a mindfulness app or use some of the time to meditate instead of doomscrolling. You will feel the benefit within days.
Well, I certainly did. Having reduced the 'follows' down to a few selected pages and chosen some positive-type ones, I started to limit the time I spent on Facebook. I closed down my Twitter account that I used to engage in political activism. I listened to podcasts or watched Youtube videos instead. I started meditating and reading more. And I felt much happier and healthier! Admittedly, things like the lunacy of American and British politics over the last four years have driven me back to Twitter and FB occasionally in a surge of outrage and indignation, but on the whole, I am a calmer and healthier person. Don't believe me? My family have noticed a change, and some of the long-term (minor) health issues I suffered with have definitely eased.
I sincerely hope, if you made it this far, that you get something out of this post. Give it a try, and see the benefits for yourself. If not, you'll have to vent your feelings elsewhere. As far as I know, Vocal doesn't have an 'angry react' icon.