Struggle Town. Population: Me

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I logged on to Facebook while I was waiting to board my plane. As I scrolled through the feed, it’s as if everyone was shouting. The screen filled with arguments about right and wrongs, with humble brags and not so humble brags, with politics and choosing sides. My DM’s weren’t much better on all of my social media platforms, with “you should do this” and “can you help me with something” as well as the random smattering of unhelpful and downright rude comments.

Stuff this, I thought. I do not need to listen to this for a second longer and so I logged out of each and every one of my social media accounts, temporarily deactivated Facebook and put down my phone just in time for take-off.

If you ever want to see panic, deactivate your Facebook account, even temporarily. They give you more chances to change your mind and come running back than a needy ex as they ask repeatedly, ‘are you sure, really sure you want to leave?’ Yes Mark Zuckerberg, I really am sure that I do not need Facebook in my head every second of every day for a little while at least.

My utter disdain for social media was not just about social media. It was about all of the other things in my life. Work pressures, life pressures, quick turn-around travel itineraries where I forgot my shoes, socks and phone charger. Things have been overwhelming me for a little while now and as a quintessential type A personality, I tend to pile my schedule so full that it’s only when I feel as though I’m about to buckle under the weight.

When that time comes, I find turning off social media just one tool in managing my stress. I use social media for my day job, where on Twitter I can keep up with the latest developments I need to know about and network and learn from colleagues. On Instagram, I post health information and interact with other people. Facebook has become pretty much centred around groups for various interests or friendship groups. All in all, a large chunk of my brain can at times, be taken up by social media.

When other things start to get busy and life starts to get complicated, social media is always the first thing I take a step back from. As soon as I do so, I can feel relief wash over me. I don’t think I ever really appreciate how draining the constant connection, the bickering and the seeking approval that seems to make up online interactions can be until I take a step back and just breathe. It’s like the volume on the shouting got turned down.

Don’t get me wrong here; I think social media is a tremendously useful tool. It can connect you to people in a good way, forge important relationships, provide mentorship, information exchange and democratises access to expertise that doesn’t happen in the real world. It’s also fun. But the stressors of living life online are omnipresent and it’s important to mindful of them.

Research has supported this phenomenon of stress coming from social media. On Facebook, teenagers were studied and those with a strong FOMO (fear of missing out) found that they had significant stress from being online. Social media use can contribute to and cause burn out. Other research has shown an association with the number of platforms used and depression and anxiety.

For me, at this time, social media wasn’t the cause of my burn out. My feelings of being overwhelmed and under-rested/poorly taken care of are the result of many things happening in my life. I work a very busy and stressful job, I had just cancelled my upcoming holiday (long story), I know the coming months are going to be busy and bring some challenging times. I am also incredibly worried about a few things going on in my world at the moment. But by logging off, I got some perspective and mindfulness about what I needed to do in the real world, not the one on my phone, in order to feel and function better.

It has taken me a long time to understand the importance of taking care of myself and recognising when I need to recharge my own batteries. I am far from perfect or even good at it. The thing is that I know how important it is. My patients and my colleagues rely on me performing at my very best and so I owe it to them to do that. And I owe it to myself. Over time, stress and burn out have very significant side effects on our mental and physical wellbeing and I do not want that, not one bit.

Struggle Town is not a great place to visit and when I feel like I’m heading there, I know exactly what to do to keep myself out of its pull. When I’m ready, I’ll rejoin the shouty Facebook groups and the Insta-stories or whatever else goes on. But for now, I am enjoying the peace and quiet.