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Wellness > Mental Health

How To Declutter Your News Feed & Avoid Activist Burnout

Our phones are flooded with bad news everyday. Being on our phones constantly enables us to be regularly swimming in a sea of people’s opinions and bad takes. If you don’t like your timeline, you should declutter your news feed in order to see things you actually care about. 

This past week the news cycle consisted of the Texas ban on abortion, updates of protests to Taliban rule in Afghanistan and the announcement a new caretaker government, and reports on the flash floods on the East Coast. All these news updates involve large groups of people being seriously harmed, with long-lasting effects. It can make our hearts feel heavy, making it difficult when we go on about our day with our own issues to worry about as well.  What’s worse is there is often not much we can do to fix the injustices we see.

It can be even more troubling when we see people agree with prejudicial or damaging policies. The Pew Research Center found in a 2020 survey that 86% of Americans get their news from digital platforms and 42% of the respondents aged 18-29 (aka, Gen Z) get their news from social media. In addition to the news, we are constantly exposed to internet trolls and people who spread misinformation, and engaging with them can be exhausting. 

To activists, this phenomenon is nothing new: in their line of work, they face activist burnout, which is dealing with constant struggle while receiving little gratification in the form of systemic change. But burnout is not exclusive to activists, says college sophomore and human rights advocate, Alliyah Logan, 19. “It’s important to declutter your news because it’s overwhelming to want to solve everything,” she tells Her Campus.

We can choose to stop seeing certain news if it is too heavy a burden to carry for our mental health. Here are some strategies to help you cut through news clutter:

Figure Out what to prioritize

So many things happen every day. It’s impossible to be informed about everything — as much as you may like to be. It may help to narrow your attention to issues that mean the most to you. Here are some questions to sit with:

  • What do I believe everyone is entitled to?
  • What will be interesting or impactful for me to learn about?
  • Do I need this to be easily fixable?
  • Which issues affect my loved ones? Do I see it in my community?
  • Will this knowledge be helpful in my future career?
  • How would I like to get involved?

Alliyah says she decides to focus on human rights. “I do particularly enjoy learning about human rights,” Alliyah tells Her Campus. “I think a majority of the news could be classified as human rights violations so I enjoy reading things of all sorts. I think it’s a great way to learn about different topics.”

Unfollow, Create, And Follow

Once you figure out your values, you need to determine your course of action should you pursue those values. Like Marie Kondo said, “Discard everything that does not spark joy!”

To cut through news clutter, Alliyah first recommends finding quality sources. She says, “I do a lot of work on gun violence prevention. I find too often that dangerous rhetoric pushes a narrative that sort of criminalizes the entire community for those specific actions instead of discussing the root cause of gun violence. When it comes to decluttering, if I see a specific source continue to not show certain perspectives, not accurately present the information, not respect the victims or not use the proper terms, I will look elsewhere.”

Alliyah also notes that sometimes, you just have to log off. “A second way to declutter is really to unplug,” Alliyah elaborates. “There’s so much negativity in the news. It’s important to occasionally unplug because it can be so overwhelming, especially when you’re an activist who feels like you have to solve everything on your own but you physically cannot.”

If you get your news from social media, consider unfollowing or blocking accounts that distract you. Your social media algorithm is a product of your attention. You continuously redesign it with every like, follow, and clicked link. Don’t engage in online arguments, because that interaction may prompt further unpleasant content on your feed. Consider making another account solely for political education purposes. By keeping your personal account and informational account separate, you can tailor your timeline to include the content you want and reinforce necessary boundaries.

If you want to get away from your phone while still staying informed, you can always watch documentaries and read books on the issues you care about (without the extra commentary from everyone on your Twitter timeline). In her work as a Parade contributor, Alliyah compiled these book recommendations from Black booksellers. Invest in yourself and your community by prioritizing media that shed light on important issues.

Create Intentional Timeslots For News

With boundaries in mind, dedicate specific times for news consumption, which will help prevent news overload and doomscrolling. Consider setting a daily limit. Alliyah even advocates for necessary unplugged time from social media.

Personally, I incorporate checking the news into my morning routine. At the gym, I’ll spend my first 20 minutes on the elliptical machine while watching CNN on the connected television screen. I consume my news early in the day in order for me to process the information and so I can lift my mood later through music if need be.

Recognize Your Capabilities & Needs

Taking the time to give yourself a break from the world’s structural inequalities will go a long way. The fate of the world is a lot of pressure to bear on your shoulders all of the time.

A 2017 study by Paul Gorski of George Mason University found four major reasons why anti-racist activists felt burnout: emotional-dispositional causes, structural causes, backlash causes, and in-movement causes. Because the reasons related to internalized structural issues and denied community, Gorski urges the prioritization of a collective approach to self-care in the form of community care. Responding to the community’s needs at large will help remind you that you are not alone. You can address problems collectively. This is the key to sustainably achieve change. 

Alliyah also found herself drawn to collectivism. “I’m trying to get out of the negative loop where I do everything alone,” she tells Her Campus. “Collectivism is saying that if you take your time to make sure that you’re good, your entire community and the entire group that you’re working with will be good. When you are in a community that recognizes collectivism, when you need a break they won’t question the reason you need that break.”

Alliyah’s final advice is to “find your people” in your community. Having a collectivist-oriented support system can help you stay connected to the issues and causes you care about, while also giving you time to focus on your self-preservation.

It’s okay to set boundaries around hearing bad news. You don’t have to engage with everyone’s perspectives, all of the time. Do what you must to stay engaged and to avoid burnout. Build your communities. Organize to enact structural change.

Studies Referenced:

Shearer, E. (2020). News Use Across Social Media Platforms in 2020. Pew Research Center American Trends Panel.

Gorski, P. (2019). Fighting racism, battling burnout: causes of activist burnout in US racial justice activists. Ethnic and Racial Studies.

You are what you love. In my case, it's riot grrrl music, healing reads, and bell hooks quotes. I am a national HC writer and a chapter editor at UC Irvine, where I study political science and social ecology.