Teacher Wellness Practice #2: Engaging Wisely with News and Social Media

A teacher friend, hearing my plans for this post, commented, “I’m glad you’re not titling it something like ‘Abstaining from News and Social Media.’ I want help setting limits around that stuff, but the notion of abstinence doesn’t work for me; it just makes me feel guilty. ‘Engaging wisely’ sounds manageable.”

She’s right. Most of us have no intention of eliminating coronavirus-related news and social media from our diets. The fast-moving health crisis has ramifications for every aspect of life right now, from planning virtual lessons to deferring the root canal and stocking the pantry. What’s today’s thinking on how long we’ll need to shelter in place? Any updated guidance on social distancing? What additional behaviors should we all be adopting to help slow the virus’s spread? And what new solutions have friends and family concocted for avoiding stir-craziness?

Educators tend to be phenomenal planners. We crave the late-breaking news so we can keep finding ways to smooth out each new bump in the road for our students, colleagues, loved ones, and ourselves.

Plus, of course, our devices are usually at hand. We all know how easy it is to use them for a quick hit of contact with the world or a momentary escape from stress. How tempting it is to jump on the phone to check one thing, only to fall down the rabbit hole of clicks and likes.

And we’re not to blame. You and I didn’t invent these distracting devices. Nor did we invent the fact that important reporting, overstimulating gossip, and well-meaning social media posts are at times difficult to distinguish from one another in our current mediascape.

But there are often unintended consequences to checking coronavirus-related news and social media multiple times per day. Whether we’re motivated by a sense of responsibility, a desire for connection, the need for a break, a belief that the more we know, the more in control we will feel, or some combination of these––lots of checking can heighten the already increased anxiety many of us are feeling.

Does this ring true for you? 

If so, you don’t have to go cold turkey. Experimenting with paring back could have real benefits. Less just might be more. Here’s a practice to try out for the next week:

Adjusting News and Social Media Intake

  • Take a few minutes to reflect on your current behavior patterns. What times of day (or night) do you usually check news and social media? What are you feeling right before you check? During? After? Are there particular things that trigger you to check? 
  • If part of your checking has to do with wanting a moment of escape or pleasure, take that seriously. You do need breaks and pleasure! Can you make sure to brew yourself a cup of tea or step outside for some fresh air? Have ideas ready to act on when you have a hankering to tune in.
  • Now that you’ve reflected on current patterns, it’s time to figure out what this week’s more intentional practice will look like for you. Set specific times of day for checking news and social media. You’re the boss here. If you’re a check-at-least-once-every-hour person, then checking just three times a day might feel like your cutting edge. 
  • Set the amount of time you will spend when you check. Five minutes? Twenty? You know best what feels like a worthy but doable stretch.
  • If possible, partner with a buddy when doing this practice. Check in each morning to set your intention. Ask your buddy if you can reach out when you’re feeling tempted to deviate from your practice. Ask them to tell you how fabulous you are for taking this on. Ask them to say, “Given the ocean of device and social media addiction our entire culture is swimming in, it’s incredibly noble and inspiring of you to even try this! You’re my hero!”

I recommend that you check in with yourself or your buddy each evening to reflect on how it went and plan for the next day. 

After one week, it’s useful to reflect on the overall impact on your sense of well-being, and decide how you want to proceed.

Q     How did it feel to adjust your news and media intake? Turn to your imaginary or real partner!

You might be thinking:

“That was hard! I’m seriously going to need help if I want to mess with my phone-checking habit. I’ve arranged with a colleague to do this together and text each other for support.”

“What I’ve realized is that my social media use is vital to my sense of well-being. I come across memes that crack me up or make me think. I feel supported by my various online communities. I know social media can become a problem for some, but for me, it’s value-added.”

“I hadn’t considered there might be an emotional aspect to my news checking. As I reflect, I see that often I do it because at some level I want reassurance or contact. I’m going to arrange some walk-and-phone-chats with friends as a more satisfying way to fill that need––plus get some exercise.”

“I’m checking the World Health Organization website once a day; my loved ones will alert me if there’s anything urgent I need to know outside of that.”

“I love keeping up with the news. It helps me feel connected and informed. And it makes me a better teacher and citizen. I don’t at all feel out of control with it, so this week’s practice isn’t a good match for me.”

“As a teacher, I like having things at least quasi-organized. And so much feels unstable right now! But let’s face it––I do not control most aspects of this situation. And turning to the outside world to help me get a grip can, ironically, leave me feeling even more overwhelmed and depleted. So then I do it again, and again … it’s a vicious cycle sometimes!”

I’ve set up a jigsaw puzzle. Whenever I feel the urge to check social media, I plan to go work on it for a few minutes. Plus I’m going to indulge in the fancy tea I bought for guests when I need a little break. Can’t have guests over anyway, so I might as well enjoy it!”

If this practice sounds right for you, are you willing to commit to trying it for one week? 

It’s never easy to shift our habits. My hope is that this experiment in self-care will lead you to greater peace of mind and freedom of choice. That will benefit all those who depend on you. 

And most importantly, it will benefit you.

Review the Introduction to the Teacher Wellness blog series here. Next week’s post will focus on an antidote for our tendency to just muscle through all our work and responsibilities.