Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person on social media

How Social Media Can Help Reduce Overwhelm if You’re an HSP

Following inspiring people and brands, as well as building in time to be online, are two ways social media can reduce overwhelm for HSPs.

I have a confession. I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It is one of the hyped up realities of our modern life I have just not been able to fully conform to. I am sure there are productive and healthy ways to use social media for my benefit, but as a highly sensitive person (HSP), I have yet to find the magic formula.

I have used all the different platforms: Facebook and Tumblr for two years, Twitter for a year, and my current streak on Instagram is fading. 

I usually start off with a genuine desire to connect with family and friends, or to  express my unique perspective on the world. However, before long, I am bogged down by the constant access to people’s joy, despair, discomfort, and mundane observations of life. Since we HSPs absorb others’ emotions in our day-to-day lives, we do so even more when we add social media into the equation. Oh, that person’s happy? We feel happy for them. But, oh, that person’s sad? Yep, cue our sadness…

So as an HSP, I often need more breaks from social media throughout the day, more so than most people. Even though I have tried to disconnect multiple times, I always return. So instead of giving in completely, I’ve learned to navigate social media in healthy ways that not only reduces my overwhelm, but also preserves my energy as an HSP. Here are some practices I have picked up along the way that may help you, too.

5 Ways Social Media Can Help Reduce Overwhelm if You’re an HSP

1. Follow inspiring people and brands

One of the benefits of being highly sensitive and empathetic is that I am easily moved. I can be feeling down and then watch a video or read an article about how someone who went through a similar situation was able to make it through. I am suddenly inspired and receive just the right amount of energy I need to feel better. 

Since most social media sites are designed to keep us scrolling endlessly, I have taken accountability for what I consume by choosing to follow brands and people that align with the values I want to live by. As an HSP, that means slow living, authenticity, and wellness. 

After long days at work, I found myself spending time on social media as a way to destress. However, spending too much time left me feeling groggy and overwhelmed. One day, I decided to comb through my social media lists and stopped following pages that depleted my energy. I also started to follow other wellness and slow-living pages, like @brightxsalted.yoga and @rhea.y_ I soon started to find that I had a more pleasant experience and was more mindful about the time I spent scrolling.

2. Post content that is true and authentic

One aspect of social media that is draining for me as an HSP is the need to keep up with an image I have built of myself. Oftentimes, this image shows only the most flattering, praiseworthy, and validated aspects of me. As a whole human being who finds purpose in flaws, as well as in strengths, presenting this one-sided view of my life often feels fake. 

While I don’t intend on sharing my deepest secrets on Instagram, I have come up with a series of questions to guide my decisions about whether or not to post:  

  • Is this inspiring, and beautiful? 
  • Is this true? 
  • Am I adding value or noise to the world?  

As HSPs, one of our gifts is that we notice and appreciate details in the world others may glance over. Chances are that if the content is helpful for you, it can be helpful for someone else. For example, these days, instead of only posting pictures that garner likes, I’ll post affirmations and poetry that I write to celebrate my sensitivity and unique way of seeing the world.

3. Build in time to use social media

I often find myself taking breaks from my phone when I get overwhelmed. Recently, I began to implement a practice of building in time to check social media, instead of building time to stay off. This practice helps me be intentional about how much time I am spending engaging, as well as which content I am engaging with during that limited time. 

It also breaks the habit of waiting until I am completely overloaded with information before I decide to disengage. I have built in times — at 12 p.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. for 30-minute increments of scrolling. This way, I am able to journal my thoughts and intentions for the day when I first wake up and give myself time to decompress before I go to sleep. Luckily, there are apps and tools (such as Screen Time on the iPhone) designed to help us monitor and limit our time spent on our phones. And, of course, this reduces overwhelm for my HSP senses.

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4. Plan alternate activities to do offline

Recently, I spent a week observing my social media patterns and found that I was often scrolling when I was tired, avoiding tasks, or looking for inspiration. While none of these were necessarily bad reasons, there were other activities I could use to meet those needs. So now, I use these moments for self-reflection and ask myself “How am I doing?” and “What do I need?”

Instead of mindless scrolling, I can plan to meditate or listen to podcasts that help regulate my nervous system, or go for a walk outside during the day. If I am looking for creative inspiration, I can read my past journals or watch a documentary online. Getting to the root of my current need allows me to find creative solutions — without social media.

5. Choose which sites work best for you

One of the ways I navigate social media effectively is by choosing which sites resonate with me and sticking to those. I have found that I can manage two at a time and get the appropriate amount of connection I need by limiting my choices. This practice of focusing on two helps me pay attention to how the content I am consuming is affecting me, while decreasing the chance I will get overwhelmed. 

I also find it helpful to give myself grace to try a new site I am interested in for a couple of months before deciding if I want to stick with it. As an HSP, less is more — and the number of social media accounts I keep is no exception to this rule.

Using Social Media in Ways That Work for Me, not Against Me

As social media becomes more integrated into our lives, everything seems relevant all the time. Five years ago, it seems we had the option to opt in or out of social media usage, but these days it seems unavoidable. 

Sure, I enjoy the occasional selfie that helps me celebrate being alive, and the beauty around us. I also love when I can grasp hope from someone who has made it through a shared struggle. However, as an highly sensitive person, I am careful that my perception of who I am does not become intrinsically tied with how the world sees me. I want to make sure that the growth and introspection designed for my heart and mind is not first sprawled across computer screens for the world to witness. 

If social media completely takes over the time I would otherwise use to journal, practice yoga, or do the activities I need to stay grounded, then I should reevaluate how I am using it. Coming to terms with the reality of my social media experience(s) helps me navigate my accounts in ways that work for me, not against me.

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