How many unread WhatsApp messages do you have? I have a few dozen. Good morning messages from the entire clan, press releases from media friends, messages from distant relatives about how I am doing and some old colleagues asking for technical help. In addition, there are requests for feedback on write-ups on WhatsApp. Links to stories my friends thought would enlighten me about the state of affairs in the country, and memes that they found to be funny and hashtag relatable. There are quite a few unanswered calls as well. In addition to that, there are Instagram messages, Facebook Messenger messages, emails and SMSes (umm…no one takes them seriously any longer).
Just thinking about the mountain of information that I am expected to consume daily is anxiety-inducing. And I wouldn’t claim any moral high ground. I subject other people to a similar onslaught of memes, links and my over-indulgent thoughts on my blogs and social media pages. How exactly are we supposed to keep up? Every unanswered call, unopened message and unread link leaves behind a trail of guilt and anxiety in us. How do we face that person the next time, if we haven’t even watched the stand-up comedy video they shared with us?
Our mobile phones are a living embodiment of anxiety. It is such a permanent fixture in our hands that it has started to feel like an appendage or a prosthetic limb that you only take off before sleeping. It is impossible to not pay attention to the ever-increasing clutter of notifications on your screen. Neither is it possible to fully engage with it. Then we are left in a perennial limbo of experiencing FOMO, guilt and lack of connection.
Many would prescribe getting off WhatsApp or other social media platforms as the only way to evade this continuous sense of anxiety. However, that may not be possible for professionals who remain connected with their workgroups through these platforms.
Then how do you work through the clutter and get some clarity on how to best optimise the use of these platforms without hindering your sanity?
One of the easiest ways to detach would be to draw gadget boundaries. And these are personal boundaries. You are solely responsible for being accountable to yourself. Keep a cut-off time. That you do not touch the phone after a certain point in the day, taking into account your shift timings, and other significant factors in a practical way. Second, if you can manage to do this, take social media sabbaticals every few months.
The very belief that all the piling messages are stressing you out is detrimental for you. Work at the belief level. Don’t let social media messages overwhelm you. Create a psychological shield that keeps your reality separate from the portal to connection. The portal exists and you can choose your time when to engage with it. Research has shown that stress is not such a bad thing. But when we believe that it is causing us trouble and affecting our health, that’s when it starts to get lethal.
Finally, let’s deal with the addiction part. According to a study, we tap, swipe and click on our phones 2617 times per day. For a majority of people, the phone is the first thing they see after waking up and it’s the last thing they see before sleeping. Yet despite spending all this time on our mobiles we are not able to answer everyone. So, you know it’s an addiction and not working in your favour, if you find it easier to scroll through the notifications but don’t have the strength to engage actively. If active engagement with notification exists, most probably you are addicted to your phone. It’s not only eating into your productive hours but also bombarding you with information that you do not care about.
Here are a few ways to protect your mental resources from the forceful onslaught of notifications:
1. Schedule calls with people that matter. Always. Let them know you may not be able to respond immediately to the message. But if they matter, call them up.
2. Instead of feeling guilty about not networking with your professional connections, take out ten minutes to half an hour to one once or twice a month to do that. It is vital you do it. Message, call, email— anything. Do it. You may not always have that cozy job. You may need a professional favour. People and networks are all we have in such dire situations.
3. Put official communications on mail. There is a psychological separation between WhatsApp and e-mail. Even when both the apps exist on your phone, on WhatsApp the communication is expected to be faster. On mail, things can wait till the next working day.
4. Mail your friends as well. Engage with them. Write to them once in a while about how you have been missing them.
5. Use zoom calls to get on family or friends and community meetings once in a while rather than constantly micro-messaging them while on the verge of exhaustion.
6. The time you save from micro-messaging and disengaged engagement can be used to form genuine relevant connections.
7. Don’t be guilt-tripped by anyone who tries to tell you that you don’t care enough if you don’t respond.
8. Finally, set your rules and stick by them.
(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found as @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter.)