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  • Writer's pictureAbi Sims

Navigating the Impact of Constant Internet Access & Global Events on Mental Health


Ah, the internet: the world's largest repository of information, connection, and entertainment. It's hard to envision life before the internet, right? Our lives have become intertwined with its existence. From social media updates to breaking news alerts, the internet embeds itself into every aspect of our daily lives. While the internet brings convenience and connectivity to our world, its constant accessibility and exposure to global events have immense implications for our mental health.


Exposure to Global Events & News Cycles

The internet has done some pretty incredible things, one of those being its ability to enable us to communicate instantaneously across vast distances and access information easily. With smartphones, the internet is always within reach, blurring the boundaries between reality and virtual. This type of connectivity can create a sense of belonging, and also helps us expand upon our knowledge, but the infiltration of digital stimuli can overwhelm us and disrupt our mental health. One of the most significant impacts of constant internet access is exposure to global events and news cycles.


Our current generation is the first to have constant, instant access to events happening around the globe. Previous generations relied on nightly broadcasts or newspapers for updates, which created a boundary between someone's present reality and global events. While having access to information instantaneously is empowering, it also exposes us to a consistent stream of crises, conflicts, and tragedies, which leave us feeling desensitized, anxious, depressed, traumatized, and emotionally drained.


The 24/7 news cycle amplifies the sensational and the negative, showing us alarming headlines and distressing images. Whether it's natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or political issues, the internet forces us into the midst of global crises, mostly without our consent as many of us are coming across these images while scrolling through social media, compelling us to witness human suffering on an unprecedented scale.


Obviously, awareness of global events is important. It helps us create social change and fosters empathy. But, the constant exposure to trauma can take a toll on our mental well-being. Many of us are walking around with vicarious trauma, simply from consuming information on the internet.

The Algorithm

The internet has an algorithmic design that curates personalized content based on our preferences and browsing history. While this is intended to enhance our experience as internet users, this personalized content often creates echo chambers, which is when we're surrounded by beliefs and biases that already reinforce what we believe while also shielding us from other viewpoints. When this happens, we become "protected" from alternative perspectives, causing us to be even more unaware of the broader social and political story. This echo chamber effect undermines healthy communication and constructive dialogue, creates polarization, and chips away at our sense of empathy, creating even greater social divides.


Social Media

Social media plays a central role in shaping our digital experiences. In a way, our social media accounts serve as virtual town squares where we share our lives and converse with the people in our circle. While social media helps us stay connected to family and friends, especially those who live far away from us, it also exposes us to curated highlight reels of other people's lives, creating unrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacy. The pressure to maintain a perfectly curated online persona causes people to feel anxious, depressed, and struggle with low self-esteem. A common struggle is one of comparison and FOMO (the fear of missing out) as we watch the highlight reels play out in the lives of our internet friends.


Social media platforms are also breeding grounds for conspiracy theories and misinformation. Because of the internet, these spread like wildfire, causing distrust and paranoia. Seeds of discord and confusion are sown, causing people to feel like they don't know who or what they can trust anymore. The relentless onslaught of misinformation heightens our sense of existential dread, leaving us questioning reality itself.


Work Life

Having smartphones and other digital devices has led to a culture who believes they can constantly multitask (we can't, multitasking actually isn't a thing) and be connected at all times, leaving us tethered to our screens and always distracted.


Many jobs utilize the internet for efficiency, which makes sense, however boundaries are blurred between work and leisure. The demands of email notifications, social media updates, and work-related tasks invade our personal time and moments of solitude and introspection. Being unable to disconnect and unplug contributes to chronic stress, burnout, and diminished cognitive function because our brains remain in a state of perpetual hyperarousal.


What Can We Do About It?

As much as we know having constant access to global events is damaging to our mental health, we're gaslit by others (and ourselves) that because other people are suffering around the world and don't have the luxury or privilege to "not look", we also should suffer alongside with them by constantly following along with the tragedies that global events that are occurring around the world.


It's a privilege to close our eyes to suffering. Period.


However, we cannot be all things for all people at all times. We are all human beings living in our own individual realities, who have unique relationships with other people and go to our different jobs and contribute to our community in different ways and have families and cook dinners and laugh with friends and move our bodies and play instruments write stories and suffer and rejoice and play and experience love and loss.


We simply do not have the capacity or the ability to consume trauma on a global scale.


We. Most. Literally. Cannot. Handle. It.


And I think we're really seeing the effects of that today.


The most important things we can do to actually enact global change is to:

  1. Be present with the people around you (laugh with others, cry, suffer alongside your people, celebrate their victories, mourn with them, hold space for them)

  2. Heal your trauma

  3. Stay educated on global events with boundaries in place. This is what we call mindful consumption. Evaluate the content you consume and how it's impacting your mental well-being. Practice discernment when browsing news articles and social media feeds, and give yourself permission to be super selective about the information you expose yourself to.


Your family needs you. Your partner needs you. Your children need you. The people in your circle need you. You need you.


And we can't fully show up in the ways it actually matters if we're constantly being consumed by the toxic flames of the 24/7 news cycle.


It's okay to take a break. It's okay to look away. It's okay to be present in your own life.


 

At Root Counseling, we help clients figure out what healthy boundaries look like for them in all aspects of their lives. To schedule a session with one of our therapists, you can visit us here.



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