Attempting an internet detox for my brain

August has not been my best month ever. It definitely wasn’t the worst either, but I had a lot of days where I honestly felt pretty crappy. The land of low moods, anxiety, stress and self-doubt.

When I feel like this, I notice myself slipping into some unhealthy internet patterns. Things like:

  • checking the news over and over
  • scrolling through Twitter for ages
  • binge-watching YouTube for hours at a time

These habits are part cause and part effect. I definitely don’t think they’re entirely to blame for my rubbish moods, but the first two can spark or exacerbate them. While YouTube doesn’t tend to make me feel more negative, it often distracts me from doing something that would actually help me out. And when I’m feeling down, it’s a lot harder to exercise discipline around using them.

I want to try to break free of this cycle, so for September I’m going to attempt a sort of internet detox. I am not doing this to boost productivity or anything like that (you know my thoughts on this). But I am hoping it’ll help with my general wellbeing.

The news

Oh god, the news!!!

I really struggle to switch off from the news entirely, because I feel like it’s important to be informed and react when I can. Also, while I’m able to put my head in the sand and not read about some horrible things going on in the world, the people who are immediately affected by them have no such luxury, and that is a privilege I feel rather guilty about.

However, confronting myself several times a day with headlines about the Amazon forest fires is a great way to completely annihilate my mental health. I frequently spot an article which I know will send me into a spin for the rest of the day, and then I read it anyway, and then I become the anxious mess I predicted. This happened today. It happens a lot.

So, as a compromise: I will allow myself to check the news for a maximum of five minutes a day. Ideally when I’m already in a decent mood and know I’m about to do something enjoyable or peaceful immediately afterwards. And I will try to exercise some restraint about reading things which I know will set me off.

Twitter

Just one big nope. Twitter is like a weird slot machine where you pull a level and have a 50/50 chance of getting something enjoyable (a nice update from a friend, a good meme, a cute dog, etc) or something horrible (more news, screaming racists, general expressions of despair at the world, etc). I don’t think I’ve ever once been happier after looking at my Twitter feed, but I’ve certainly been sadder and angrier.

I have ostensibly been “off” Twitter for ages, but while I don’t post anything, I still catch myself doing a lot of lurking. I really need to stop.

Twitter is no longer installed on my phone, but I’ve now logged out of my account on my laptop too. With apologies to the memes.

YouTube

I don’t think YouTube has as negative an influence on my mental health as the news or Twitter. Generally I find it a much more comfortable place. But it can be significant distraction from improving my mood.

YouTube is designed to make you stay on YouTube for as long as possible, and it plays me like a fiddle. In the last week, I’ve watched 11 hours of YouTube. The algorithm is now really, really good at recommending me stuff that looks just interesting enough to click. On Sunday evening, I spent about 4 hours binging through an interior decorating channel that I didn’t even particularly like, but just kept consuming anyway because part of me just had to see the hosts make over their loft for the zillionth time. That is a long time to be watching stuff I know has no value to me. I could have watched two quality films in that time. Or not watched anything.

So, my rule for the month is that I can only watch one YouTube video a day. This will give me a little leeway to watch those creators whose work I do genuinely enjoy, but will force me to make conscious decisions about what is worth watching and what isn’t.

The one exception to this rule is Yoga with Adriene, a channel which provides free yoga videos that I try to use a few times a week. Propping up my phone next to my yoga mat has never once led to me spending hours watching a stranger do yoga, so I think this is one occasion where I’m safe from the algorithm.

What will I do instead?

I don’t know, just… not these three things?

When I feel bad, there are certain activities that I know can help with my mood. Things like:

  • going for a walk outside
  • doing yoga
  • reading a book
  • cooking something
  • playing a nice video game
  • actually interacting with another human being

The problem is that the news/Twitter/YouTube trifecta is much more addictive, and that’s where I often end up going instead. (The fourth horseman of this apocalypse was Reddit, which I blocked on my phone a few months ago and have been doing a decent job of avoiding.) I’m hoping that without the garbage internet to distract me, I’ll do more of these things that actually offer me some value.

All those hours of YouTube videos and the accompanying adverts have also made me give in to that 2-month free Skillshare membership offer (I blame Jay Forman and his catchy jingles) so if I really want to just watch some short videos, then I can use that and maybe get some knowledge out of it. I’ve already learned some tips about knife skills, so that’s something. (This post is not sponsored.)

I don’t think this is the golden ticket to health, happiness and righting all the wrongs of the world, but I’d just like to make September a little better. Here’s hoping.

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