Selina Gomez is an international pop star, actor, and home chef. She also hasn’t been online in over four years. In a recent interview, Gomez revealed she avoids the mental health landmines of social media by trusting her accounts to a media team. I don’t have a publicist, and chances are you don’t either, but following Selina Gomez to the promised land devoid of platforms is highly appealing.
For five years, I presented workshops about identifying and avoiding burnout. Whereas stress is natural, burnout occurs when we can’t properly manage or actively give up on managing stress. Common signs of burnout are apathy (particularly a lack of joy), numbness, and an unwillingness to try. The focus of each workshop was career burnout. Maybe it’s now time to look at internet burnout.
What if the very thing that connects us is also burning us out? Constant division, toxic positivity, and unreal expectations have taken a toll on my mental health — maybe it has for you, too.
While I haven’t given up platforms completely like Selina Gomez, I have drastically reduced my online time in recent weeks. It’s still early, and overcoming burnout is often a challenging and timely process, but I believe my disconnecting is helping. Maybe my experience can help you, too.
How to disconnect from the internet
My entire business is built online. I can’t just take an internet sabbatical between my clients and The Writing Cooperative. Though, if I’m being completely honest, the idea is very appealing. Instead, I systemically cut aspects of my online time to improve my mental health without impacting my livelihood. Here’s how.
Eliminate the news
There’s been a lot to be concerned about for the past few years. However, absorbing too much information does more harm than good. When we’re overexposed to negativity in the news, apathy seeps its way into our brains, opening the door for burnout and anxiety.
A study published in March revealed that consistent exposure to pandemic news leads to hopelessness and general worry. While it’s nice to have scientific confirmation, I don’t think any of us would have doubted the hypothesis.
I recently stopped following most of my news sources — no more local news, journalist and politician Twitter accounts, or news-based newsletters. While I don’t want to be uninformed or ignorant of what’s going on in the world, I do want to protect my mental wellbeing. Plus, the reality is I don’t need to know about every local crime report or atrocity committed in the world.
Instead of constantly being fed negative information throughout my day, I now consume news on my terms. Siri plays the headlines from NPR, or I’ll watch a few minutes of the evening news before watching Jeopardy!. The few accounts I still follow do not typically focus on negativity or operate from outrage — both are toxic traits worthy of unfollowing.
Unfollow toxic accounts
I’ve written a lot about adding authenticity to social media. Yet, no matter how real we get online, research shows that social media is still detrimental to our mental health. So, why are we collectively torturing ourselves by giving in to the addiction?
The reality is that we control 100% of what we see in our social feeds. Sure, it’s easy to blame the algorithms for manipulating our feelings because it’s true. However, we choose who and what we follow. Ultimately our platform happiness rests on our shoulders.
Does a particular Twitter account consistently make you angry? Unfollow them. Are the perfectly curated photos from that former friend making you jealous and question your life choices? Cut them from your life.
Do you want to know a secret? Chances are these people will never know you unfollowed them. And if they do, so what? Your mental health is more important than their hurt feelings.
I’ve unfollowed so many accounts on Twitter and Medium recently, and I felt zero shame. Sure, the feeds still suggest stuff that it thinks I may want to see (I usually don’t), but a lean and focused feed is entirely under my control.
Stop glorifying freelancers
Freelancing is a sexy career choice. Be your own boss. Set your schedule. Many freelancers on social media share their success stories and point out how easy it is to follow in their footsteps.
But, let’s be honest here, freelancing is hard. Sure, you get to do all the things, but you really get to do all the things. You’re responsible for marketing, vetting and supporting clients, legal compliance, marketing, taxes, health insurance, marketing, and, did I mention marketing?
There’s a reason freelancer accounts are fun to follow and glorify — they’re great at marketing themselves. Dig a little deeper, and there’s likely a course or guide or something else to sell you.
Most freelancers don’t share the brutal reality of the job: you spend a lot of time alone with your thoughts. Seeing all the savvy marketers tout their success causes so many comparison issues for a freelancer like myself.
The reality is that my business is successful, but compared to some of the big names, that success is hard to see. To avoid the comparison trap, I’ve unfollowed many self-promoting freelancers leaving a handful of people whose success and authenticity I admire and aspire toward.
Reduce screen time
There is a lot of research into reducing screen time among children, teens, and young adults. However, a similar analysis focused on adults is strangely missing — what would happen to the workforce if the National Institute of Health suddenly recommended adults only have 8-hours of screen time daily?
I once attended a conference where a marketing executive described the regular need to leave the office and recharge. To clear their head and tap into creativity, they frequently went someplace that made them feel small: a large park, forest, beach, or otherwise open space. That experience helped ground them and improve their mental well-being.
While I don’t have a pressing need to feel small in an outdoor space, I do adhere to the benefits of walking. I don’t walk as often as I should (it’s hot in Florida), but I always feel better when I do.
Focus on positivity
Let’s get one thing very clear: I’m not talking about toxic positivity, which is everywhere online. Focusing solely on “good vibes only” or never showing the slightest hint of negativity is extremely harmful. Most glorified freelancers discussed above are powerful wielders of toxic positivity. Instead, it’s important to focus on genuine positivity.
I’m a huge fan of journaling, though I recently discovered that journaling could become a place to stash negativity. That turns journaling into an unhealthy habit that fuels negative self-talk and dramatically impacts mental well-being over time.
I changed my daily journaling prompt to focus on the positive moments experienced throughout the day. No matter what happens each day, there are always positive things worth highlighting. Then, I explore how those experiences helped me grow as a person. Focusing on personal growth ensures that positivity dispels toxicity.
Disconnect from the internet to reconnect with reality
I know it’s unreasonable for us to pull the plug on the internet and start over. It’s also unlikely that we can hand our social media accounts to a team like Selina Gomez. Yet, it’s worth constantly reevaluating how we can reduce and reframe our social media usage.
There’s no doubt our inviting screens affect our mental health. We need to learn to disconnect more often. Not only will that help our mental well-being, but it will provide more time to invest in the people and relationships around us. Disconnecting from the internet is the best way to reconnect with those we love. I don’t know about you, but that’s more than enough of a reason for me to reduce my online time.
How do you disconnect to care for yourself and reconnect with those around you?