The Internet is a mixed blessing. It can connect you with people and resources that make your life better, but it also can make you angry, anxious, and demoralized, particularly when you run into highly charged or hostile online exchanges.
Whether you’re posting on Facebook, tweeting, or sharing your opinion of a film, licensed professional counselor Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, MS, LPC, offers a few simple strategies that can help you handle the stress of online drama.
- Understand what’s being attacked. In many cases, “the person going after you is attacking what they’re reading, not you personally,” Lohmann says. “The battle is entirely about words.”
- Be aware of your insecurities. “Maybe you’ve struggled your whole life with feelings of not being smart enough,” says Lohmann. “When a cyberbully calls you stupid, you’re likely to overreact.” Being conscious that a sore spot has been touched can be a signal that you need to disengage.
- Know your physical triggers. “We need to be aware of our physical cues when we’re getting sucked in by anxiety or anger online,” says Lohmann. “Your heart rate might go up, you might feel flushed, your breathing might start to change. Some people get muscle tension. Being in tune with these cues early on can help you disengage before you hit the full level of a negative emotion.”
- Talk it over, safely. If you’re upset about an online exchange, get another perspective, Lohmann suggests. Call a friend and vent a little, or ask him or her whether something that was said to you — or something you said — seems appropriate.
- Edit your response. If you’ve written an angry comment, take a few moments to tone it down before posting. When you make the effort to cut all abusive terms (“moron”) and delete personal attacks, you may also broaden your own perspective.
- Be positive. “Increase the peace” in a thread — and lower your own stress level — by being positive in your exchanges. Thank people for sharing their perspectives (even if you disagree with them). Compliment them on their passion and conviction. Refuse to take up the trolls’ gambit of hooking you into a nasty frame of mind.
- Take advantage of tech features. If it’s too hard to avoid social-media battles, Lohmann advises using available options to hide, unfollow, or unfriend people whose comments tend to trigger feelings of stress or anxiety. You can also adjust privacy settings to disable comments.
- Walk away. “One of the best methods for restoring your own peace of mind in the middle of online drama is [to hit] the power button on your device,” says Lohmann. “Not every post needs to be responded to.”
This originally appeared in “When the Internet Turns Ugly” in the October 2015 issue of Experience Life magazine.