How Digital Media Professionals Manage Stress in a Chaotic Online Environment

Don't let doomscrolling become a way of life

Sarah Walker of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Let's face it – in the year 2020, a lot of the stressors we're facing come from that tiny device that fits oh-so-comfortably in our hands. At our fingertips, stressful push alerts, Twitter trolls, and political spats in the Facebook comments all come at us full-speed to our screens. For those who have the control, putting your phone down for a day or two and doing that digital detox can lift a weight off of you. But for digital media professionals – social media managers, digital organizers, content creators, writers – that detox is much harder to come by. We spoke with three digital media professionals about what it's like to make your living engaging with online communities, and best practices for getting offline.

Sadie Hernandez

Content coordinator for a national nonprofit for immigrant rights

The stressors of Sadie's job: "Because I work in immigrant rights, it's a nonstop cycle of political attacks, news articles about violence, and stories of people being failed by the state. It's very emotionally taxing, especially living in a border community where we are directly impacted online and offline. It's stressful to keep up with the rapid response of the administration who purposefully concoct media frenzies on a 24-hour cycle – it's hard to detox from this, and planned rest usually gets canceled at the last minute. This has been worsened by the pandemic, as the digital workload has more than doubled since nonprofits had to completely move their organizing, education, and actions to the digital space."

How Sadie unplugs: "I have become more firm on my boundaries in my personal life. I purposefully do not discuss the news or politics to enjoy my off days. I consume art and entertainment that is unrelated, like YouTube drama channels. I try to pick up hobbies that don't require a screen, so I like to do hands-on DIY projects."

A'nysha Aileen

Digital marketing strategist at a local nonprofit

The stressors of A'nysha's job: "A major stressor for me is that a lot of people don't entirely understand what goes into managing a digital presence for a brand. Many people have personal social media accounts where they post what they want when they want with no strategy, which makes people think social media management is 'easy' or that I can just throw things up at random. I also deal with platform exhaustion. If I've been on a platform for work all day, I'm usually annoyed with it in my personal time."

How A'nysha unplugs: "I'm really big on deleting the apps altogether. My thumb definitely knows the exact place where Instagram is on my phone, which causes muscle memory and mindless scrolling, so I make it a point to delete the app when I'm done using it. Even during the workday, I try to be diligent about posting and keeping it moving so that I can give the rest of my work my full attention. At the end of the day, I still have to re-download the apps to post the next day or post something else. But gaining those couple of hours back is always really nice. Especially when I pick up my phone and the app isn't there. That moment of staring at the empty spot where the app(s) were makes me mindful of why I deleted them in the first place."

Sarah Walker

Digital organizer for Planned Parenthood Texas Votes

The stressors of Sarah's job: "I work on a fast-paced communications team and love that my job is never boring or repetitive, but that comes with sacrificing the normal 9-to-5 workday. I think there is an expectation in digital advocacy work in particular of always being 'on,' especially in a state like Texas, with a fast-paced legislature that is hostile toward reproductive care. Almost immediately after the state shut down in March, Governor Abbott exploited the pandemic to temporarily block access to abortion care in Texas. Obviously, abortion is time-­sensitive health care, and PPTV fought back by mobilizing its supporters online to take action. My workload tripled, all while I was trying to mentally grapple with the sudden significant changes COVID-19 presented in my personal life. It was rough.

"At the beginning of the pandemic I was suffering from migraines on an almost daily basis. When I saw that my average screen time was clocked at 16 hours a day, I realized I wouldn't make it through COVID-19 if I wasn't very intentional about how I developed new routines and set firm boundaries with my work and personal time."

How Sarah unplugs: "I'm a morning person and love waking up with the sunrise. I go for an hourlong walk around 6am and listen to an audiobook. I won't touch a computer or social media before I've completed my morning routine and try to get my news from the radio first when I make breakfast.

"My daily walks keep me grounded when the world feels so out of balance. While many things may be out of our control, we still have a responsibility to ourselves to give our bodies and spirits what they need while also practicing care for our communities through social distancing. I'm also currently restoring an old used bicycle, so I'm excited to hit the road when that's done!"


People spend nearly two hours on social media every day – and the time the average person actually spends on social media in a lifetime equals five years and four months.


If you're trying to limit your social media usage, try disabling notifications from apps that you use the most.

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