Social media, high sensitivity and overwhelm

As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) I often find the world overwhelming. Sometimes I think it would have been good to live long ago before television and the internet, and the crazy thing that is social media, were invented. But I’m equally aware that not having things like antibiotics and antibacterial soap and clean water and refrigerators and washing machines and indoor loos and central heating would have been overwhelming too.

Somewhat 'detached' bendy man, photo by Marija Smits
Somewhat ‘detached’ bendy man, photo by Marija Smits

Still… switching off and getting away from social media, which I find particularly challenging, is difficult (and yes, I am aware of the irony that I’ll probably be using social media to let people know about this post!). But what I find particularly difficult about social media is its speed, and the ferocity of people’s (almost instantaneous) reactions to certain topics.

This is because it takes me a long time to process things. If I see an image, or a discussion that upsets me, or angers me, I become overwhelmed with emotion. That’s when I need to take time out, away from the computer and to do something that helps me to feel more calm (cuddling my loved ones, taking a walk, reading a book, or doing something dull like the accounting, all help. Also, talking about it with my wonderful husband helps enormously too). But it can take me a while, maybe half an hour or an hour or two, to feel more neutral again. Meanwhile, though, as I’m trying to calm the storm of feelings swirling through my body, my brain is whirring away and trying to process what I’ve just absorbed. It can take me days, weeks, months even, to fully reflect on what I’ve just seen and to put into words my reflections on the matter. And for the up-to-the-minute social media world that’s just way too late.

I’m still navigating a path through this everyday challenge. I want to be involved and comment on friends’ statuses and to take part in meaningful dialogue when it comes to issues that I feel passionate about, but I’m also aware that taking part can also be like entering a black hole of doom. I have had to acknowledge that, for much of the time, it is better for my wellbeing that I simply use social media for short, set tasks (mostly to do with my small press or to do with this blog). Very occasionally, I share things about myself; although I do find that overwhelming too. (Friends have been absolutely supportive when I have shared personal things online but it’s also interesting to note that kindness has the potential to overwhelm me also – but please don’t think I’m saying ‘don’t be kind’! What I’m saying is that virtually anything has the potential to overwhelm me, and hey, that’s just how I am.)

If I’m still reflecting on an issue months down the line writing about it helps; though whether it goes public or not is another matter… Though, interestingly, topics that I’m passionate about have a habit of cropping up in my short stories and other pieces.

A lot of the time I feel left behind by social media; rather like when I was doing cross-country running at middle school. I was the slowest of all the runners out there on the muddy school field, in the cold and the rain in inadequate shoes and clothes; a dripping wet chubby loser being lapped by the fast, athletic kids.

But this is who I am. Just because I’m not witty or quick to engage in dialogue doesn’t mean that my thoughts on the topic aren’t worthwhile. They’re just different; perhaps even a little more well-rounded for the extra reflection I’ve put into them.*

But knowing that I have to have boundaries in place when it comes to social media (and that perhaps it’s not quite the right medium for me, as an HSP) is beneficial. Yes, social media is an amazing tool for a variety of things: marketing (& other business-related stuff, for instance), story sharing, fundraising, activism even, but it is also a horrible time sink. And in author David Mitchell’s wise words:

The world is very good at distracting us. Much of the ingenuity of our remarkable species goes towards finding new ways to distract ourselves from things that really matter. The internet — it’s lethal, isn’t it? Maintaining focus is critical, I think, in the presence of endless distraction. You’ve only got time to be a halfway decent parent, plus one other thing.

For me, that one other thing is: I’ve got to be writing.

This totally chimes with me because I want to put a lot of my energy and time into being ‘a halfway decent parent’ and so there’s only time and energy for one other thing. At the moment the one other thing is my small press and helping to make ends meet by taking on editorial and book production work. And so I save a few gorgeous slivers betwixt being a halfway decent parent and a halfway decent editor/publisher to write or create art. Is it worth me spending all those precious slivers of time on social media? For a lot of the time the answer is no. And sometimes, occasionally, the answer is yes. The trick is to understanding how social media affects you and working out some effective boundaries. This is something I’m still learning.


*And to continue with the cross-country running analogy… I might be the last one to the finishing line but still, I’ll get there at my own pace and in my own inimitable fashion (muddy briefs and all).

Thanks again to Maddy (who wrote brilliantly on a similar topic last week) and Chrissie for being such great #WhatI’mWriting hosts.

Writing Bubble

24 thoughts on “Social media, high sensitivity and overwhelm”

  1. Oh this post resonates strongly with me. I carefully craft all my comments, social media interactions and blog posts to the nth degree, editing and making sure that they say what I intend and I end up completely missing the boat. In fact, I just don’t get Twitter at all, its too fast for me and I make so few personal connections. I still find that social media absorbs a lot of my energy though and I need to get better a setting boundaries. I love that quote from David Mitchell – parenting and writing seem to be my two things to balance at the moment. Thanks for sharing. #WhatImWriting

  2. maddy@writingbubble

    That David Mitchell quote chimes with me too – as does this post! Social media is exhausting and I’m there with you running along at the back! I’m much quicker and wittier in person (well, when I’m with people I trust) but social media just feels too huge and unstructured and even dangerous at times, so I never feel I can really be me. I think you’re very sensible to stay away as much as you do – I check my feeds (particularly FB) far too often and I think it can be an energy-drain as well as a time-drain. This post and Susie’s have really made me think about taking another (short) social media break. Thanks for mentioning my post and for linking up!

  3. At Blogfest at the weekend, one of the people behind Buzzfeed said that they teach their social marketing mums that 10 hours a week will let you run two social media channels. Just two and nothing else. On the one hand it was overwhelming because I really don’t have that sort of time unless I entirely give up on the idea of sleeping, but it was also quite freeing – I really can’t keep up so I can just accept it and let it be whatever it is to me without being pressured by the pace – well that’s the theory anyway!

    1. Hello Carie! It’s good to meet you here. 🙂 I can see how it must have been freeing to realize that you can’t do it all and to therefore let go of that kind of stuff. Sounds like you’re doing well in being mindful of your own boundaries. Sending you best wishes xx

  4. I definitely identify with this. Very occasionally I will have a lightening reaction to something that’s happened, but most of the time (like with the recent tragic events in Paris) I find myself scrolling through other peoples’ thoughts worrying that because I haven’t said anything people will presume I just don’t care. Ridiculous, really, because I’m pretty certain no-one would notice – but that’s paranoia for you! 🙂

    1. So glad you can identify with this. 🙂

      And yes, I didn’t really go into the added issue of the extra energy/time spent worrying on what others will think of our (supposed) non-reaction to certain issues, but I’m sure that there are more productive things for us to spend our energy and time on! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. 🙂

  5. Another brilliant heartfelt post Marija. As a fellow HSP, who also coaches HSPs, I totally get this. In fact, it pretty much sums up why I very rarely (if ever) comment on major global events – it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just too overwhelming. I think this is a misconception that some people have of HSPs, and those on the autism spectrum as well – that we don’t care, when in fact the problem is that we care too much (does this resonate?). Those who know us well always know the difference though. On the David Mitchell quote, well, I wear a lot of work hats at the moment, but for now my two main things are being a good enough parent, and helping others to see that they, too are good enough as parents. Hence no posts to share for the past couple of weeks! Glad I took the time to read yours though. x

    1. Thank you very much Rachael! And as I can totally understand the whole thing about wearing a lot of work hats I’m sending you my best wishes and hope that you have enough energy and time to cope with it all. x 🙂

  6. I couldn’t have said it better myself! 🙂 It’s massively heartening to know that you/others feel the same overwhelming love/hate towards social media. These days it’s so hard just to be alone with one’s thoughts. That said, I’ve never been so engaged with politics and current affairs as I have since the days PS (post smart phone) and so that in particular has broadened my horizons massively X

    1. Oh yes, there’s lots of good things about social media (raising awareness of politics being one of them) but still there’s some not-so-good things too… (Although I’m aware that at the end of the day it’s *just* a tool for communication and it’s the actual humans who make it what it is…) Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  7. This is a partly found poem I wrote in the library of Avalon. It made me think of you.

    The Odic Force

    There are those in whom
    the mirror causes
    a peculiar kind of fear
    as if a tepid repulsive breath
    emanated from it
    And those who cannot
    entertain yellow
    neither citrine, nor gold,
    nor fiery orange
    There are women who
    become frequently unwell
    in church
    And people who cannot eat
    with a spoon made of paktong
    without disgust
    Others cannot enjoy tea
    made in a brass utensil
    or bear someone standing
    behind them
    or put up with the heat
    from an iron stove,
    but easily from one of brick
    They shiver when stroked
    and will tell you
    that people have poles
    no less than magnets
    It is not kind to trespass
    on their peculiarities
    since each is sensitive
    as a mimosa
    And at night they array
    the planet like petals
    all of their feet
    pointing the same way

  8. I can empathise with what you say although I am guilty of checking Twitter far too often! I try to keep my tweets light and chatty, steering away from the big and global as, like you, I often find those events too overwhelming to dash off a quick tweet. The idea of taking a break from social media is very attractive, maybe one day a week to start with would help me gain some much needed perspective about Twitter.

    1. I usually take a day off each week and that’s just the right time for me to feel re-balanced. I hope you find something that works well for you. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated. 🙂

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