We’ve never been more connected, but the ever-present onslaught of information can be difficult to deal with – here’s how to cope
Sometimes, it can feel like our entire day is made up of social media notifications, breaking news alerts, and streams of work and personal messages. If it’s not updates on conflicts around the world, it’s news of political unrest or troubling social issues – and that’s before we even get to the hurried texts and emails from our jobs, family, and friends. Especially in the aftermath of the draining Covid-19 pandemic, such an onslaught of information can leave our brains feeling scattered, making it a struggle to know where to turn our attention.
If you often find yourself feeling this way, you’re not alone. A 2020 Pew Research Center survey found that 66% of adults felt worn out by the amount of news they were consuming. And it’s having a real impact on our mental wellbeing. Psychologist Ella McCrystal says: “This information is coming in faster than we can fully digest and understand it. This overload can make us vulnerable to lowered mood, information fatigue, and increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“And the impact of attention fragmentation is that we become less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions.”
Disconnecting from technology entirely isn’t all that practical – so how do we combat the issue of information overload, while grappling with the need to stay up to date?
Turn off notifications and alerts
One easy change you can make to set boundaries with the outside world is to turn off all of your notifications, be it email, WhatsApp, or Instagram. “We need to give up the fictitious narrative that we need to be on top of everything,” Ella explains. The reality is that very few things need our attention so urgently – so denying these outside influences’ constant access to you is a helpful way to protect your wellbeing. If the thought of turning off all notifications makes you feel anxious though, schedule in five minutes every hour or two to check your necessary platforms.
Schedule in chunks of time to disconnect
“Giving our brains downtime to process new information input is a critical element of learning and thinking,” Ella explains. In order to do this, it’s helpful to disconnect at regular intervals during your day. Not only will this help you to process what you’ve read and seen, it’ll also help you to calm any feelings of anxiety it may have sparked.
Try meditation, or simply sitting quietly, looking out of a window for five to 10 minutes at points during your day. Therapist and author Marisa Peer says: “While these ‘mindless moments’ might feel like a time waster, it actually gives your mind the time to reboot.” If this doesn’t work for you, you could try getting outside for a 10-minute walk without any digital devices, or practising some relaxing yoga poses.
Do a brain dump
One of the main problems with information overload is that it can leave us unable to prioritise – how can we plan out our family’s weekly schedule when our mind is full of the world’s political turmoil? An effective solution is to do a ‘brain dump’.
“At the start of the week, write down everything that comes to mind that you want to achieve in the week ahead,” Marisa suggests. You could also journal about any worries or wider issues in your life that you’d like to address. This will help you to get all of those jumbled thoughts out of your brain, so you can tackle each of them in a more considered way.
Make bigger decisions in the morning
Before your brain has a chance to become overloaded, Marisa advises making any important decisions that need addressing in the morning. This will allow you to think clearly about your priorities before any distractions pop up, be it work messages, breaking news, or texts from friends.
Reserving that time – not every day, but as and when the need comes up – is a great way to honour what is actually important in your life, rather than what might be grappling for your attention daily.
Look for the positive
The negativity of our media consumption is usually what weighs on us so heavily. To balance this feeling, intentionally seek out stories and connections that make you feel good. Ask your friends about their favourite moment of the day, read positive news sites, offer praise to someone at work, or practise gratitude. Often, it is these small things that will lift you out of any bleak and overwhelming feelings you may be experiencing.