Navigating Online Media: Strategies for Mental Wellbeing
Daily Opinion

Does the online world make you doubt yourself and your reality?

I wonder if many of you share my daily struggle: I am constantly conflicted about what I think and feel I should be thinking and trying to stay upbeat. This may come as no surprise when you consider how your thoughts can spiral following a cursory look at specific types of online news articles that frequently spoil your mood for the rest of the day!

Setting Boundaries with Social Media Consumption

You are not alone if you have trouble creating healthy boundaries between the news and your ideas. A tidal wave of accessible media channels from the safety of our bedrooms makes it harder to shut the floodgates.

Due to online media in the last two years, I have sometimes doubted myself, my ideas, and my sense of reality. Certain words have new connotations, and topics previously deemed okay to discuss at parties have become less comfortable. The introspection initiated by the pandemic and post-pandemic period has made people seem more sensitive to negativity, criticism, or different stances than auto-generated online opinions appearing in news feeds.

Even if we pride ourselves on our “live and let live” attitude, forgetting to consider other perspectives naturally causes us to lose the battle with our own social anxieties and end up saying nothing at parties.

Online World and Evaluating Sources: Importance of Critical Thinking

Does reading too much of the same material create a sense of malaise in a person? I am convinced that what we absorb through the media shapes our character and determines our happiness. I regard myself as a “happy enough” person and am comfortable in those shoes, but I am equally discerning about what online content I choose to engage with.

If I start the day in a foul mood, I disconnect from electronics, ignore the news, and switch my phone settings to greyscale to make idle checking less appealing. This practice has really promoted getting lost in other activities, and I believe I am closer to achieving my goals and feel less agitated.

In a recent article for The Conversation, Professor Fuchsia Sirois of Durham University philosophises, “Do optimists really live longer?” The research suggests that aside from eating healthily, exercising, managing stress, and practising good sleep hygiene, there is significant value in staying positive.

However, to increase life expectancy, we need to take the suggested multi-pronged approach to maintaining our well-being. Moderating how often stories or certain people provoke an unwanted emotion cannot be underestimated and should be prioritised. Communicating how you feel with others could alleviate tension and release anger.

Online World

Much of the online chatter concerns concepts of hate and what defines hate. Genuine, courteous, and kind people may find these conversations overwhelming or overbearing and start doubting whether their values meet the apparent demands of modern society. Are we perhaps overlooking the shades of grey? 

By examining fundamental principles of cognitive behavioural therapy, and introducing a sense of perspective, we can re-establish mental boundaries. We can create a safe space between what we absorb and produce, in terms of ideas and conversations, and live life on our own terms.

Do we get an impression of what others want us to think based on the media and online commentators? I have noticed sometimes that people mix facts and opinions seen online and on social media, not clearly distinguishing the two in conversations or debates.

Storytelling has taken centre stage alongside an emphasis on personal accounts, which, if expertly curated, can build a connection between the author and the readership. Problems arise when the author conveys a message which generalises behaviours, a situation, or a way of thinking. We can quickly get drawn into a world created by a stranger and, perhaps due to a thirst for gossip, fall into the trap of assuming these stories are a precedent for future interactions with others. This rabbit hole is best avoided.

Having studied history at secondary school and university, assessing the quality of sources feels familiar and logical: Who wrote it? When did they write it? What are they trying to convey? Why are they writing it? 

We could all be more critical of what we read and evaluate whether we should continue reading a particular genre or watching a digital medium that prevents us from falling asleep. I would add another “W” to the toolkit: What qualifies us to write about anything, and why should others care? We can all be biased and carry our baggage, whether or not we wish to admit it. 

I urge you never to stop questioning what is in front of you and to remember that we are all flawed human beings. We all have our viewpoints, but that does not permit us to enforce our belief system on others to get little bites of “justice”.

When faced with articles and conversations with too many standpoints and not enough substance, I try to sit back and ask myself: Does it really matter? Most of the time, the answer is no.