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Anxiety and the Algorithm

Photo: Markus Spiske

Three weeks ago, I decided to quit scrolling: To ruthlessly ignore Instagram Reels, TikTok and Facebook, and observe my mental health in their absence.

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Of course, I’ve resisted that forever. I run Facebook ads, I post six days a week, I operate my life coaching business from my phone. I can’t just walk away from it, silly.

Question: What percentage of my business requires starving polar bears, six pack abs, raging wildfires, Kendall Jenner, racial violence, chalk paint, houses that are better than mine, lip plumping, those same pants but in magenta, space balls, Tom Cruise, and my Governor all delivered in 1.9 second snippets of comparison and catastrophe?

Zero percent. The answer is zero.

Plus, I’m a natural anxiety-gal, so my feeds are a veritable buffet of terror for my nervous system. Bonus, they’re ground zero for ADHD because I only focus on polar bears long enough to fear-trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisol in my body.

So that’s fun.

Here’s what I’ve noticed since I quit scrolling:

  • I am less hurried. Calmer.
  • I’m slightly more laissez-faire. Like I’m outside the game, watching it – bemused.
  • I have fewer arguments in my head – fewer withering rebukes.
  • I’m a little bored. I feel like I don’t know what’s going on.
  • I am walking, reading, and meditating more.
  • I am creating live experiences with others rather than just observing virtual ones.

So far, that feels like a solid win, despite the fact I still open Instagram and Facebook reflexively. So, I just like whatever shows on the screen, and then close it.

And yes, I get the irony. You’re probably reading this on your phone, and you got here via Local Pulse’s social media efforts. Does this make me a hypocrite? Maybe.

That’s what I had to sort through regarding my phone. What’s baby, what’s bathwater? What’s good, what’s toxic?

Maybe you want to figure that out too. Here’s a test.

  • When you’ve been scrolling a while, what do you feel in your mind and body?
  • Anger? Fear? Despair? Inadequacy? Or Joy? Accomplishment? Love? Expansion?
  • Which sites/people produce which emotions? Which do you want more of in your life?

Email, messaging apps, and sites like Local Pulse are fueling and helpful to me. I’m keeping them.

The dancing UPS guy on TikTok? He’s a gateway drug that leads to hours of bitter catatonia. So he’s got to go. Sorry Russell.

The big thing I don’t want to admit is this:  When something gets hard or I’m confronted with an emotion I don’t want to feel, I grab my phone, which is what alcoholics do with vodka. Have you ever known it’s long-past time to put it down, and you still don’t?

That’s addiction, and it’s likely to worsen your anxiety. We don’t think of scrolling social media as an addiction because it seems like a trivial behavior, but according to the people who invented it, it’s not.

So here’s a method to discover what you actually need from your phone.

  1. Decide what your phone is for. Phone calls? Remember those? Email? Texting?
  2. Decide what it is not for. Probably sites where you passively absorb whatever is served.
  3. Give those up for a time.
  4. Notice how often you want to check them and why.
  5. Don’t chastise yourself when you do, just say “Oh look, I did it again,” & close it.
  6. Notice any changes in your mental or emotional health.
  7. Then, if you want to pick some or all of it back up because it benefits you, do it.
  8. If not, do something else like go outside, look at flowers or talk with your neighbors.

Our connection to our bodies and emotions has gotten so out of whack, we need to be told when something we do regularly is actually pretty harmful, but your body already knows. In many ways, anxiety is just an alarm telling us what we’re doing isn’t working, it isn’t safe, and we need to change course.

Maybe change course a minute and see what happens.

Erin Kirk, Life Coach

Girl Catch Fire

hello@girlcatchfire.com

www.girlcatchfire.com

*Note from Local Pulse Editor: Erin Kirk is a part of our Community Voices series. Community Voices is a group of Pensacola dwellers that are making a difference in our city by sharing best practices, experiences, their perspective on impactful subjects, and contributing expertise that leads to movement forward for a stronger community.