Waking up and falling asleep to the news is my latest habit – my screen report shows that I spend more than an hour on twitter each day. Between the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Florida, Iowa and Texas, the war between Russia and Ukraine and heading into year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volume of headlines to keep track of has been dizzying. When I give into doom scrolling, I start to feel that the world is in a horrible place and there is nothing I can do about it.
Attending a school like GW can feed the feeling to have to be plugged into the current events at all times. Politics is always a topic of conversation, whether during class, on social media or with friends. Limiting media is important for students to take care of their mental health and encourage thoughtful discussion of current events. To achieve this and combat the overconsumption of information, students at GW should take breaks from their social media apps, engage in deep conversation only when mentally capable and seek out good news to balance out the disheartening headlines.
Constantly intaking information is just not good for the human brain, especially when the information is anxiety-inducing. Staying updated on current events is crucial to avoid ignorance, but taking a break from the consumption of media is equally as valuable to remain mentally healthy and truly understand current events.
Social media desensitizes people to tragedies due to the presence of too much information, misinformation, lack of context and unpreparedness, as reported by HuffPost last year. These platforms are troves of a wide range of information, from cute dog videos to violent content documenting war. It is common to rapidly click through horrific images of current events instead of processing the information because viewing traumatic images causes feelings of numbness in order to avoid the reality of the situation. This is because on platforms such as Instagram, posts can be viewed through stories that give no indication as to what the content will be before clicking on it.
The accessibility of social media makes it so that tragic events become normalized and seem like simply another headline. Repetition of bad news also conditions consumers to continuously anticipate tragedies. This can cause people to become irritable and stressed because bad news makes humans release stress hormones. Students at GW who post infographics and headlines about the current news should include trigger or content warnings to give viewers a chance to prepare or look at it later which could avoid desensitization.
If a conversation in class or with friends is too overwhelming, students should feel comfortable opting out. Listening to a debate about the rights of the LGBTQ+ community or how COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon can be extremely draining, specifically for those directly affected by the issues. Students should engage in serious conversations about the current news only when they’re mentally prepared to do so, because it is not only more responsible for the sake of personal mental health, but also to contribute more meaningful insight rather than obligatory participation.
Students have a responsibility to create a culture at GW that values thoughtful discussion of current issues and prioritizes mental health. Students should avoid pressuring others into sharing their views about current events and encourage their peers to step away to re-center or wait until a new topic arises is nothing to be ashamed of.
Focusing on personal responsibilities, like schoolwork and jobs, or participating in relaxing activities, like exercising and indulging in a hobby, can keep students from feeling doomed. Helping those in one’s immediate community or finding local and smaller issues to tackle are imperative and make the world feel less out of control. GW students should use some of the extra time they spend consuming the news to instead allow for a reset that helps personally regain energy.
Students should also balance out their doomscrolling with some positive headlines. Sources like Good Good Good, The Optimist Daily and Good News Network are great outlets to find uplifting stories. Gaining perspective on the overall state of society includes the articles that are happy as well.
Nothing is beneficial in excess and with the accessibility of social media and constant discussion among politically involved people, students must go out of their way to balance their intake of information. The next time you find yourself appalled at your screen time, like I have been, consider taking a break from social media, limiting conversations about heavy topics and seeking out some good news too.
Riley Goodfellow, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions columnist.
This article appeared in the March 10, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.