Been a while, hasn’t it? Terribly sorry for going so quiet for so long! There have been some good reasons for my blogging absence, which I’ll address in a future post. I promise it won’t take me another seven months to drop that one!
But for now, let’s talk about Twitter.
Overall, Twitter has probably been my favourite form of social media. Yes, in current darkest timeline it’s a breeding ground for toxicity and trolls, and a platform for world leaders to threaten nuclear war in the same way a kid in primary school offers out a classmate for a fight behind the bike sheds after school. But I’ve met countless wonderful people and moved in many wonderful circles and fandoms thanks to it.
But of late, I found it to be having a really negative impact on my mental health.
I’ve noticed several patterns. My mood plummeting. My brain grinding to a halt. Idly scrolling through my timeline, feeling worse and worse but seemingly unable to drag myself away from my phone or laptop, even when a small voice in my brain was yelling at me to do just that. So what gives?
For me it was a mix of three things:
– Information overload: the human brain can only process so much information at once. And given I was following over 2,000 accounts at one point, all tweeting so many different things demanding my attention, it’s no wonder I felt overwhelmed. And as much as my autism means my brain struggles more than normal to process information, I’ve heard from plenty of neurotypical folks who told me they have had similar levels of information overload.
– Excess negativity: yeah, like I said, we are kind of living in darkest timeline right now. There’s a lot to be scared, upset and angry about. And through following a lot of political accounts, having friends retweet and discuss political news, AND any dramas going on in circles closer to home such as in fandoms, is it any wonder I was going through such drastic feelings of hopelessness? There’s only so many ‘haha we’re all going to die aren’t we’ and ‘oh all your faves are trash’ tweets one can take in a day, y’know?
– FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out): in many ways this is the counterpoint of the previous post; hey at least it’s not more negativity right? But when your timeline fills up with friends all having these wonderful adventures, falling into great relationships, and making memories that last forever, it’s easy for the depression and anxiety gremlins to translate that into ‘see? They never liked you anyway, they’ll forget about you, look at all the fun they’re having without you!’
So in lieu of all those things – and with some help from my pal @thalestral, who gave me a lot of this advice in the first place and helped me put it into practice! – I have come up with a little toolkit to help you avoid falling down rabbit holes and look after yourself on Twitter. 🙂
1. Curate Your Timeline
I mentioned earlier that at one point I was following over 2,000 accounts. OVER TWO THOUSAND. That’s an ungodly amount of hot takes, existential crises, selfies and rage demanding my brain’s full attention. So I set about trimming this down to a much more round number, and I’m down to 1,300 as I type. This isn’t simply about reducing those numbers though. The key here is to curate a timeline you actually WANT to browse through. So for me, it was goodbye to all the political accounts and the ‘things you might have missed’ feature, and hello to more pictures of cute doggos and steam trains. As much as there is a huge pressure to ‘be woke’ in the current social climate, it’s ultimately your choice what you want to see; if it’s silly stuff that makes you smile, then so be it.
2. The Mute Button Is Your Friend
Much like the Unfollow button on Facebook, the Mute button can be your best friend on Twitter. Obviously its most important function is to silence trolls and stop harassment, so if terrible room-temperature takes or toxic people end up on your timeline, the Mute button is a great way to shut them out. But it’s also super useful when, as you curate the accounts you follow, you run into the dilemma of wanting to keep following certain people but avoid potentially triggering stuff they post. Muting is a great way around that – indeed, I’ve seen people warn their followers that they will be tweeting about potentially triggering things, and to feel free to mute them temporarily. The mute function is incredibly useful on multiple levels; don’t be afraid to use it.
3. Don’t Spend All Your Time On Your Timeline
This isn’t the same as ‘not being on Twitter altogether’ – we’ll deal with that one later. Rather, it’s about avoiding a trap I often fall into; scrolling my timeline endlessly and without thought, almost on autopilot even as my brain is yelling at me to put my phone down and go to sleep already. It’s possible to spend time on Twitter without even looking at your timeline – especially if you just want to tweet stuff yourself. Often that’s all I want to do on Twitter; vent my own thoughts without having a truckload of other people’s thoughts dumped back onto me. Or more often than not, post bad jokes and wrestling GIFs. Wholesome Content, I’m sure you’ll agree.
On mobile this is a little tricky, but try to train yourself to get into the habit of immediately tapping the Notifications icon when you open the app on your phone. On laptops, I’d highly recommend using Tweetdeck; mine is set so I don’t even see my timeline, only my own tweets, notifications, DMs and scheduled tweets. If you really want to browse your timeline, it’s still easy enough to do, but it’s not right in your face from the very moment you go on Twitter.
4. Share What You Are Comfortable With
Twitter is a place where people can be super open with subjects they often find tough to talk about, such as mental health struggles. I myself have found amazing support circles from tweeting openly about some of my darkest days. But remember this: you are under no obligation to tweet the same things as anyone else. Some people find tremendous closure and catharsis from sharing on the platform, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing the same thing then that’s absolutely FINE. This applies to whatever you tweet about, not just heavy topics; if you see people discussing a hot talking point on your timeline, but you don’t feel knowledgeable or informed enough to contribute, there’s absolutely no shame in taking a back seat. Tweet about whatever you want; it’s your Twitter account and no-one else’s.
5. Know When To Log Off
Statement of the obvious this might be, I can testify that this is also far easier said than done. But while I’d never advocate completely leaving Twitter altogether – mainly because I’d be a MASSIVE hypocrite if I did – I’d definitely advise knowing when to step back. Try if you can to avoid browsing the timeline first thing in the morning and last thing at night; a tired brain is much less able to process information than normal, so it’s a lot easier for things to overwhelm you and affect your mood. Additionally, learn to recognise when Twitter is not a healthy place for you to be, either because of your own frame of mind and/or because of what might be the major talking points of the day. If things are getting dark, heated or emotionally intense, there’s no shame in stepping away for a bit. And when I know lots of my friends will be at a show and tweeting a lot about it, I try to stay offline to avoid bouts of FOMO. Sometimes, giving yourself an entire day or two off the grid can do absolute wonders – instead of watching other people be happy and feeling garbage about missing out, how about you go and do things that make YOU happy instead?
These are my personal tips to help manage your mental health on Twitter; they work for me, and I hope they are some help to you as well. If you have any advice of your own, please do drop it in the comments below – I’d love to hear it. And as much as I’m trying not to spend all my time on Twitter these days, when I am tweeting wrestling GIFs and dad jokes, you can find me at @AJV1Beta. 🙂