This summer, I headed home to Connecticut to relax and unwind from a busy school year. But I’ve stayed connected. Through social media, I’ve been able to keep in touch with friends and witness the interesting ways my classmates are spending their summers from afar. At the same time though, whether it’s GW students on Facebook or strangers on Twitter, social media makes it difficult to truly unplug. There are constantly alarming headlines to see and political debates to join. So I decided to use time during the summer to take a break from the social media conversation that dominates campus during the school year.
As we often boast, GW is the most politically active student body in the country. This title translates into a campus environment that is exciting to be a part of, but also a constant stress. Heavy topics and political debates on campus naturally carry over to social media where students’ views are frequently on display and called into question. In the last year alone, GW students endured a stressful political campaign season, marched in protests like the Women’s March and the Climate March and confronted issues in the Student Association like sexual assault on campus and a pro-Palestinian divestment resolution. That motivation to be engaged and start conversations doesn’t disappear in the summer. But for students who feel fatigued by the constant barrage of bad news and the social media echo chamber, they should take a break by spending less time on social media and getting news from other sources to help their mental health and boost energy so that they’re able to do more meaningful work in the fall.
If you’re like me and feel exhausted from the politics on social media, then you’re not alone. In a study of U.S. adults, the Pew Research Center found that 37 percent of social media users are “worn out” by the political posts and discussions, and 59 percent find social media debates to be “stressful and frustrating.”
But there are several ways to stay informed without feeling overwhelmed. Take a complete break from social media by deleting Facebook or Twitter for a few days or even a couple weeks. This is a strategy that I’ve personally found effective. If you can’t last for a long social media fast, because knowing the news is too important to you, then you can always ask friends or family to speak about what they’ve heard. A social media cleanse for a day or two won’t cause you to miss big news, and it won’t be hard to catch up. After spending a few days away from social media, I felt refreshed and ready to give more focused attention to political issues.
The cycle of bad news can in fact add psychological pressure to anxiety and exacerbate existing mental health issues. Negative news and experiences stand out to us more and stick with us longer because of a natural “negativity bias,” a term psychologists use to describe the public’s collective hunger to hear bad news. Due to this, it may seem like every news story or Facebook post is negative, so seeking out positive news can help keep a balance and ease the social media stress. Many people have boosted their mood and developed a more positive outlook by visiting uplifting news sites. After the election, visitors to the website Positive News increased by 93 percent.
Another option is to read local newspapers, which tend to have some positive local pieces and share national or international news in brief. For those who are in D.C. over the summer, try reading the Washington City Paper or the Washingtonian. Staying in touch with the District’s news and culture doesn’t have to mean only focusing on the Hill or White House politics.
But as a political communication major, it’s hard for me to take a break from politics on any media platform. Being informed is a critical part of being both a journalist and a citizen, but that doesn’t mean we only need to be educated on current politics. This summer, I’ve been seeking out investigative pieces and think-pieces on social media that are apolitical, which have given me some mental clarity. Instead of watching the news on TV, I’ve chosen to listen to NPR in the car and read the print edition of my city’s newspaper. I’ve even returned to reading print magazines that inspired me to be a journalist, like National Geographic and TIME. Reading about arts, science and cultures has reminded me that there is more to the news than politics. Switching up your reading routine can expand your outlook and keep you refreshed on social media.
It’s not always realistic to suggest that students ignore all current events and mentally check out all summer. For many students, especially those personally threatened by our current political situation, staying vigilant is a necessity. But by using the summer as a chance to take some mental breaks, students will be able to jump back into GW with a renewed drive to tackle both schoolwork and the world’s big problems.
Matilda Kreider, a sophomore double majoring in political communication and environmental studies, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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