I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Twitter is a stressful place these days.
You can get the news faster than ever by relentlessly updating 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 it. Whether it’s asking friends for help or using a time management app, it’s totally possible to cut back on your Twitter time.
Why are we doing this to ourselves?
The last time I went out with friends before the coronavirus pandemic was in early March, just before it became clear it was no longer safe. A pause in conversation resulted in one of us checking 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 for themselves, only to see just minutes later that the NBA had postponed the game indefinitely due to Rudy Gobert’s positive diagnosis.
Those messages pale in comparison to what’s happened since, but the way they’ve dominated Twitter made them feel disastrous. Still, we couldn’t stop updating our timelines. dr Anna Lembke is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, specializing in addiction. She broke down why some of us feel the need to do this even though we know it’s not good for our sanity.
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“What’s happened is that we’re all struggling in our daily lives … with free-floating fear, and we’re handling that in different ways,” Lembke said. “Many 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 stats became obsessively tracking the coronavirus case counter.
“Somehow they’re in this compulsive maelstrom”
There’s nothing wrong with being informed. But on Twitter, a lot of information becomes redundant because many people are posting the same tweets at the same time. Since we don’t know what else to do, we may keep going no matter how bad it makes us feel.
“This phenomenon occurs where it becomes kind of a bottomless pit where people just keep going, even if it’s not new information, not useful information, it makes them anxious and they’re still kind of obsessive about Eddy,” said lemke.
Abstain if you can, if you can
The obvious solution to Twitter stress is to just not look at it. That’s easier said than done, however, as it represents 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 ease the anxiety that comes with viewing it?
Lembke recommended a kind of moderate Twitter abstinence. Don’t cut it out wholesale. Maybe take 24 hours off to see how you’re feeling, and if that works for you, set aside a day each week to do what Lembke called a “digital detox.” If a whole day is too much, maybe treat yourself to a “no tweet after 8pm” weekday rule or something similar.
You may find that instead of succumbing to Twitter’s information overload, you can still stay reasonably informed simply by focusing on a few trusted news sources. If Twitter is one of the main ways you interact with your friends, it might help to make this measured abstinence a group effort.
“Just as it’s a lot easier to protect yourself locally because you know the whole rest of the world is doing it at the same time, it’s a lot easier to stay off Twitter when people in your circle are doing it at the same time,” said Lemke.
Temporarily drop the group DM for a Zoom call or something like Zoom which is more secure. Finding a way to do something resembling a face-to-face interaction with your Twitter friends could do you some good.
There are also technical solutions
Give yourself some time away from the phone.
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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 about a certain topic altogether, this is one way to do it. If you still want to catch up on the news on Twitter but can’t take breaks, you can actually let 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 been using their phones. Well, if you go into your iPhone’s Settings, Screen Time has its own little section (in the same section as Notifications and Focus) where you can set a downtime each day. During this time you can only make calls and use apps that you have previously agreed to.
Screen Time also lets you set time limits for specific apps. For example, maybe you only want to give yourself two hours of Twitter a day. By the way, Android users are not left out since Screen Time is available in the Google Play Store(opens in a new tab).
Android folks can also use 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 not only locks you out, but automatically replies to anyone who tries to message you. Try to access your phone after hours and you’ll either have to 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 checking Twitter. The next time you feel that angst in your stomach as you scroll through the hellish timeline, consider taking some steps to prevent it from happening again.