Taking a social media break isn’t new. Doctors and counselors have been recommending it for years as we’ve evolved into a society driven by instant access to these online social communities. On one hand, the community aspect of it carries the appeal–especially in times of global pandemics and epidemics that drastically reduce the in-person part of our social lives. But throw in some of the most controversial social and political events of recent history, and your newsfeed turns into a rollercoaster from hell.
“Consider this scenario: You have a few minutes to spare, so you open up Facebook and start scrolling…
“First, you see a post from a friend announcing she just accepted her dream job.
“Then you read an overly political rant from a coworker.
“You keep scrolling and watch a video of your neighbor on some amazing, tropical vacation.
“And now, your cousin just posted a before and after picture that makes you want to hide your thighs forever.
“The next thing you know, you’re second guessing your career, feeling angry about politics, wondering why you can’t afford a vacation and Googling the next diet you’ll go on.” (Excerpt from “8 Signs You Need to Take a Break From Social Media” Mental Health, Cleveland Clinic)
But what happens if you’re an empath, someone who absorbs the energy put out by others? It comes across social media as it does in person, and let me tell you: all those fears and anger you’re expressing to everyone on your friends list? They’re heavy, and dark, and feel like poison to an empath.
Over the last year or so, things have been wilder than ever, socially (and politically) speaking. On a smaller scale, muting or “snoozing” a contact on my friends list for a period of time would suffice, but lately it feels like half of my newsfeed is filled with fear-mongering, animosity, and antipathy–from family members and people I consider friends.
As an empath by nature, I felt I was obligated–because I care so much for these folks–to try to talk through their fears and anger with them. To fix it. To help them see the solution hidden by the vast over-exaggeration of their perceived problem, or the calm in the middle of the storm, if you will. Thing is, not everyone is willing to talk things through. They’ve made up their minds. All the “right-wing” or “left-wing” media sources they follow religiously tell them things are so, and that’s that. There is no changing their minds.
And it was making me physically sick.
Nausea, headaches, general feelings of anxiety–these are some of the ways empaths feel negative energy. Doctors and scientists call the absorption of energies between two or more people enmeshment. “Because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions.” [Excerpt from “Stress Symptoms: Physical Effects of Stress on the Body“]
It doesn’t matter which “side” of the political spectrum you fall on, or where you stand on present social issues; when you post and share things that mirror your fears and anger, you are spreading that negative energy out into the world. And, yes, it is worse when your sources are biased.
So when I say “poison,” this is precisely what I mean.
Am I saying that everyone who posts and shares these negative, fear- & anger-driven things is a bad person? No. “We all know social media is a tiny sliver of reality, the best of the best days in a way, a falsified image that we want to portray to others.” [Kristen Fuller, M.D.; excerpt from “Social Media Breaks and Why They Are Necessary“] So if it is true that we only share a fraction of ourselves on social media, then it must also be true that the fraction we share can sit on the positive or negative side of our spectrum.
I can’t tell anyone what to post–or not post–on their own personal social media accounts. That’s not for me to control. But I can walk away from it and put my health and well-being first. I’ve toyed with the idea of deactivating my Facebook account for a while and finally pulled the plug two nights ago. People can still reach me through Instagram (which is far less heavy and dark and poison-y), email, and if we’re close enough, my phone number. I’m not cut off completely, but I do already feel a sense of relief.
Big, beautiful relief.
Does this mean I think we shouldn’t post topics we feel passionate about? Also no. It means if you’re going to post it, I think you should be prepared to have a civil conversation about it with the people you consider friends and family. They might see something you don’t, and vice versa. But no one gets anywhere with name-calling, insults, or bigotry.
If you know me personally and you think I might be referring to your Facebook account, I hope you take the time to really look at where your anger and fears are stemming from. Sit with them for a bit to understand them. Deal with them in a healthy way–because projecting them all over the social community that was designed to bring people together is definitely not the right way.