If you’ve used my self-care checklist (and if you haven’t, grab it now—it’s free!), you might’ve noticed that the first two sections focus on logging out of or blocking certain websites. Why is that? Is it random? No, and the reason it’s set up this way is very often we’re reading something on the news or scrolling through Facebook or flicking through Instagram, and right after we do that, we feel awful. And yet, we continue doing it!
How many times have you promised yourself that you’d only go on Facebook for five minutes—that’s it—before finding yourself on the page of your friend’s cousin’s classmate’s teacher’s son’s dog five hours later? Or perhaps you were scrolling through Instagram one day and found yourself still there after an afternoon had passed? Maybe you have a paper due tonight and instead of researching like you should, you’ve found yourself on Reddit or YouTube, then cursed yourself after the deadline has passed?
Procrastination is a huge problem, but that’s an article for another day. Today we’re focussing on how we mindlessly surf the web and how that impacts us, especially those of us with depression, and how we can surf in a healthier way.
How most people surf the web
Raise your hand if you’ve done this before:
You’re Googling something—maybe for a research paper, maybe because you’re worried about that suspicious mole on your back, or maybe it’s four in the morning and you just have to know who wins between vampires and zombies—when you stumble on a page that looks like it has all the answers you need. You
read skim through the page and next thing you know, a headline on the sidebar screams out at you there’s 21 eccentric habits all billionaires have (number 13 will surprise you!), and you just had to click.
So what do you do? You click, of course. Then after reading through that disappointingly fluffy list (filled with ads, no doubt), you read another headline that captures your interest, so you click on that too. And on and on it goes until you realise it’s been five hours and you’ve already forgotten what you were Googling in the first place.
Replace Google with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and pretty much any site on the web, and you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of the interwebs. You just couldn’t help it. It’s not your fault—that’s how these sites are engineered. They’re designed like that to capture and retain attention for as long as possible because in the age of information overload, every eyeball equals clicks. And every click equals cash… but I bet you already knew that.
What you might not know is that this ruthless clicking really does a number on us.
How mindlessly browsing impacts us
First of all, we already tend to compare the worst version of ourselves with the best versions of our peers. That’s been beaten into our psyches since day one. Sadly, social media amplifies that a thousand fold, because instead of comparing yourself to your rail-thin-yet-super-curvy, always-on-vacation, super popular cousin, you’re now comparing yourself to every single sexy ass, rich ass, vacation-going-ass person in the world.
Obviously cousin Stacey isn’t perfect. Logically, you know that. Heck, you probably remember the time she burnt off her eyebrows doing a crayon wax in Year 8, and had to go to school with shakily drawn tadpole brows… which you definitely know led to one month’s worth of quizzical expressions. Well, those beautiful strangers on Instagram have stories like that too, but since people tend to only showcase the best versions of themselves online, we don’t get to see it. Neither do we see their suffering and pain.
Then there’s FOMO.
Oh, how we fear missing out.
So not only are our peers and these strangers prettier than us, they also seem to live more charmed lives than we do. For the reasons listed above, you probably know it’s not true, but they seem to have the latest gadgets, wear the latest fashions, go to places you’ve never been but always wanted to go and have partners that are just so wonderful and attractive while you have… none of that. And now you feel like you’re missing out.
I get it. I really do.
When I was transitioning into my teens, everybody had a phone—except me. Now granted, they were flip phones and what kids nowadays would call “brick” phones, but at that time they were the very height of fashion. So while everyone could trade numbers and text each other and flip their phones shut in teenage sass, I was stuck on the landline and MSN.
Anyway, I ended up begging my parents for one and by the time they finally acquiesced, flip/”brick” phones were already on their way out. It was the same with glitter jeans, gel pens, diaries, lip glosses and whatever else was on trend at that time. Was I missing out? Yeah, maybe. Did it matter that I didn’t get it in time or even at all? Unlikely.
See, I thought I needed all that… except I didn’t.
And another thing we don’t need is to be informed all the time.
Yes, I’m talking about the news.
Guess what—the news is also designed to be addictive, in that they only showcase the worst of humanity because news that shock us (i.e bad news) sells. It’s in line with how most of the world’s marketing hone in on people’s insecurities to elicit feelings of shame and guilt, because that translates to wanting something to make those terrible feelings go away (which conveniently the product offers,) which then translates to sales. Except in this case, the news corporations want you to feel miserable so you’ll keep reading.
Something about pain and pleasure lighting up the same part of the brain…
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t actually need to know every little thing that’s going on in every corner of the world in order to be informed. Reading it doesn’t make us more educated either! And to make it worse, most of what we read don’t even impact our lives on a day to day basis, except to make us unnecessarily angry. This then contributes to and worsens depression.
So how can we take control of the time we spend online?
We browse mindfully and with intent. That means we don’t click on links that don’t have anything to do with why we’re online in the first place, and we don’t read comments that are guaranteed to infuriate us.
That’s also why I tell you to log out of and block certain websites. But to take it to the next level, we must know why we’re online in the first place (it may feel like it, but we don’t actually have to be online 24/7/365!). Here are two questions to help with that:
- How will this help me in my everyday life?
- Will this make me feel good after reading? Alternatively, will this make me feel worse after reading?
If the answers to 1. isn’t clear and concrete, or you’re only getting vague answers such as “it’s entertaining” and “I really need to know how paint is made,” then you really don’t need to read that article or view that video.
If the answer to 2. is, “no it won’t make me feel good” or “I’ll feel terrible after reading this,” then you should avoid viewing it at all costs. There’s no benefit to viewing something that’ll just make you mad, sad, or tired.
Fret not, help is at hand!
Here is a list of extensions and apps to make browsing with intent so much easier. All are free to download, some may have paid versions but for most, the free version will usually suffice. And while I personally use all these tools myself, I’m not being paid to endorse them.
- No News (is Good News!) – blocks most of the news, use website blockers like the ones below to catch the ones it missed
- Block Site – Website Blocker for Chrome™
- Block Site
- NoComment – blocks most of the comments, there’s an allow list if you want to let comments through on any particular site (like this one *wink*)
- Forest: stay focused, be present (available as a Chrome extension, as an app on iOS and Android) – productivity app based on the Pomodoro technique, use it to block all distracting sites for a set amount of time
- RescueTime (available as a Chrome extension, desktop app for Mac, and as an app for iOS and Android) – tracks how long you visit each site and tells you whether you spend more of your time on distracting or productive sites
- Momentum – productivity extension that takes over your homepage on Chrome with a to-do list on a beautiful background
- Lo-Fi Radio – an app for iOS and Android that plays calming music to help you relax or focus (think of those chillhop study playlists you see on YouTube)
Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below! (S
he says as she recommends a comment blocker…)
So, to sum up:
- Most people surf the web mindlessly.
- Mindlessly being online gives us FOMO, makes us compare our worst selves to other people’s best selves, and the highly addictive nature of the news only serves to keep us angry.
- Browse mindfully and with intent. Ask yourself if what you’re about to click on will be of any use in the real world or if it’ll just make you feel worse. Browse accordingly.
- If you are weak-willed like I am, there are tools to help. Experiment and see which ones work for you.
Until next time,
Your friend in the trenches, the depressed duck
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