For many, the past five years have maxed out stress levels. Yes, I’m including 2015 because in case you forgot, the whole presidential election season was gruesome. Fights. Name-calling. More name-calling. Did I mention the grade-school playground name-calling?

To a large extent, I blame social media for the unrest. Let’s put aside the Russian trolls (they exist), the “planted” posts to stir up emotions (they exist), and politicians who seem to have lost their moral compass … if they had a moral compass to begin with. I’m talking about the comments section.

The subject of social media’s effect on mental health has been addressed over the years by numerous health experts. Here’s an excerpt from a recent article on the website EverydayHealth.com: “There’s evidence that the ability to connect with others via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and other social media platforms, as well as text messages, can help strengthen social ties and keep us more attuned to our mental and physical health. But there’s also evidence that such interactions stifle human connectivity, lower our self-esteem, make us feel lonely and isolated, and just plain stress us out, says Emily Weinstein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who studies the effects of social media on young adults.”

Let’s look at the first five months of 2020 (like you need reminding, but … here you go): We almost got dragged into a war in January; knowledge of a pandemic began creeping into global news in February; the world essentially closed down in March, including schools and businesses, causing worldwide panic among those who couldn’t get their hair and nails done; workers got laid off and furloughed and businesses faced extinction in April; we all crept to openings in May, with the aforementioned people who couldn’t get their hair and nails done starting to show up at state capitals with guns, masks and camouflage clothes demanding their constitutional rights to look good. Also in May, an unresisting George Floyd was asphyxiated by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee pressed to his neck, cutting off oxygen flow for nearly nine minutes.

It’s June. COVID-19 is still with us and we still have absurd arguments on social media and in stores nationwide about constitutional rights to not wear a mask. My blood boils at that civic selfishness, but right now, I’m more concerned about systemic racism, although I also want to protect others by wearing a mask.

And ALL of these stresses have caused normally sane people to lash out with horrible words and sentiments in the comments sections of posts. If you have found yourself caught up in that cycle, as I have occasionally, you know how it affects you. The tightness in your chest. The pain in the pit of your stomach. The tensed muscles. The emotional turmoil.

Let’s decide right here and now not to fight, at least with total strangers. I exercised that restraint this week when I complimented a Facebook post by a friend from the respected publication “The Atlantic.” Immediately a complete stranger aggressively asked me how I could support the magazine. I was so proud when I just responded: “I don’t know you and I don’t argue on social media. Peace out.” Nipped that right in the bud. And it felt good. Relaxing even.

Here are five other ways to reduce your social media stress from Everyday Health.

1. Track your use. Find out how much time you’re spending on social media.

2. Be selective about who and what you follow. Stop following accounts that make you feel insecure or upset.

3. Browse with more awareness. Don’t browse with the sense that every image serves as evidence that others are happier and living better lives.

4. Make time to disconnect. Pick a time in your day to actively NOT check social media.

5. Use social media with intention. Using social media in a healthy way means using it in a way that supports the other parts of your life, such as family time, work, exercise and other interests. Think about what you want to say and whom you want to say it to, and respond to others thoughtfully.

Now that we’ve dealt with that, all we have to do is avoid murder hornets, tornadoes and (probably) killer locusts.

Contact this reporter at editor@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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