Now more than ever, it feels incredibly difficult for many of us to simply exist in the world. If you’re black or brown, Muslim (or appear to be Muslim), a woman, LGBTQ, disabled, low-income, an immigrant — or some combination of these — your mere presence is considered offensive to far too many people.
This feeling is only magnified online, where there is no shortage of platforms, thinkpieces, news coverage, and fearless, constant harassment to remind us of the injustices that exist. And just last week, the onslaught of frustration that is the year 2016 reached a fever pitch in the form of president-elect Donald Trump.
The internet has, at times, been touted as the great equalizer. We know that comes at a cost. It’s true that, for many of us, the Internet is a source of accessible information, an amazing platform to get out our message, and a place to find community.
But for those of us who spend a huge chunk of our time online — or even make our living there — we often have to interact with every part of the Internet, warts and all.
Self-care, or the act of intentionally caring for your physical and emotional health, is always essential — and even radical. But self-care online can take different forms. So as things get harder for us, we have the unfortunate duty (just one more placed at our feet) to develop skills to protect our emotional health.
Protect your privacy.
First, make sure that your online house is in order. Use Safe Hub Collective’s DIY Feminist Cyber Security Guide (full disclosure: I’m a founding member of SHC, but did not write the guide) to make sure that your accounts and communications are secure. The guide was written by someone who knows tech, but it’s aimed at a general audience — so you don’t need any special background in order to implement the recommendations.
Save articles for later.
If you care about topics like gender equality and the future of our country, it can be hard not to read every article on the topic. But that’s also a sure-fire way to end up emotionally run-down. Luckily, there are plenty of apps to use to save articles for later. I use Pocket, which has easily searchable tags and a plugin for my phone and browser, so I’m not clogging my bookmarks. I can find everything to read later on when I have the emotional bandwidth — instead of having a meltdown during work because I went down a Trump wormhole.
Within Facebook, if you click on the carrot on the top right of any post, you can save an article for later. This menu also lets you turn off comments, which comes in handy when arguments with your uncle devolve beyond what is healthy.
Avoid certain hashtags and searchable terms.
Trolls and the internet go together like the beach and sand in your food: a thing you love and an unavoidable consequence that you hate. One way to minimize the presence of trolls in your life is to have tight privacy settings on all of your social media platforms.
However, for those of us trying to build a following or seek out a community of likeminded individuals, that isn’t always an option. But on public platforms like Twitter, you can avoid tagging certain individuals, stay away from hashtags that were started by (or have become a magnet for) trolls, and use euphemisms to refer to people or events for which supporters may have alerts set up.
Seek out supportive voices.
There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to be in safe spaces — surrounding yourself with people who share your views or, at the very least, respect them. This is particularly important when you’re grieving and vulnerable, as so many are right now.
There are times for outreach and discussion, but not at the expense of your well-being.
Take the time to process and heal among people you trust.
Not all discussions of distressing news topics are created equal. For me and many others, Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire was incredibly cathartic. I saved it for a time when I could focus on her words and cry as necessary. Hearing a smart, accomplished, supportive woman like Michelle Obama call out everything wrong with Trump’s conduct — all without ever naming him or describing his behavior in detail — reminded me what we have to be proud of in this country.
She also reminded me that it’s not okay, and that there are so many of us fighting to make things better for women, LGBTQ people, minorities, and others. We need voices like hers to remind us that the loudest, scariest ones are not the only ones.
Find the sunny side of the internet.
Hillary Clinton had the right idea when she suggested cat gifs as an antidote to election stress, although my favorite quick hit of online positivity is The Marmoset Song on YouTube — a motown hit by the Shirelles played to a slideshow of tiny baby marmoset photos. A good sitcom, like The IT Crowd or Brooklyn Nine-Nine can be a nice way to lighten your mood. Or you can go with a reality show and give your brain a break altogether.
This is either really obvious or completely ridiculous, depending on how completely plugged into the Matrix you are. Either way, it needs to be said:
Some time away from the internet (as well as from news shown on TV or published in newspapers and magazines) can do some serious good.
It’s fall in the northern hemisphere, so go pick some apples, sit on a hay bale, or arrange some decorative gourds. Engage in some typical self-care like physical activity, or just sit in a park with a friend, enjoying the fresh air and people-watching.
Be the change.
Sometimes the best way to get over that stifling feeling of powerlessness is to get active and do something, whatever that means to you. Whether that’s standing up to bullies, donating to or supporting social justice organizations, showing your support for and solidarity with marginalized people, not having a comments section, or talking to the young people in your life about respect and consent, we can all make changes — big and small — in our communities (online and IRL) that make the world a better, easier place to live.
We aren’t going to run out of reasons to need self-care online anytime soon.
There is certainly always a need for organizing and for being online — but make sure you don’t do either at the expense of your own well-being. I hope these tips help you practice self-care online. Good luck out there.