It's OK to mute your WhatsApp, in fact it's good for you

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

The stress levels in our house – like millions of others the world over – are currently at an all-time high. Juggling home schooling, with a non-stop timetable of activities and snacks, trying to work and generally, you know, stay sane feels almost impossible. 

As I write this, my two boys are having a bath together. From the depths of some random toy box, my eldest found a dusty old bath bomb -a silver lining to his hoarding fixation. It's a win win. 20 minutes of entertainment for them and a warm cup of tea (as opposed to cold) for me. 

Obviously, there are still fights breaking out. Mr four weed in the bath, neither wanted the plug end and apparently Mr 9 kicked Mr four in the face 20 times (eye roll). But, other than confirming that the latter didn't happen (it was only five times), I can pretty much tune them out. 

I only wish it was that easy when it came to my social media and WhatsApp accounts. 

As the spread of coronavirus has increased, so have the number of messages hitting my phone and the related posts on my Facebook feed. As my friend groups in WhatsApp all compare, share and upload stories, it's a frenzy of never-ending noise. But it's not just noise in the physical sense, but also the mental. 

As time's gone on, I've found myself glued to my phone all hours of the day and, increasingly, in the night, conversing and reading about the COVID-19. 

My brain's on permanent overload. As a naturally anxious person, I have a heightened sense of anxiety every time my phone beeps. But, like a bad movie, I can't look away. 

A good friend of mine, Megan, has experienced the same. 

"I've got two kids, so I'm in two separate year WhatsApp groups and both have 20 or so members," she says. "It felt like everyone was typing at the same time and no one was saying anything different. The constant pinging was driving me crazy. I couldn't keep up with WhatsApp, let alone my actual work email."

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Feeling overwhelmed, Megan decided to mute the chats to clear her head. Her husband also implemented an 8pm phone curfew. She says it's really helped. 

"It's made a huge difference. When I'm in the right headspace I can get involved, but when I'm struggling, it means I can give myself a break."

After empathising with Megan, I've decided to follow her lead by muting my WhatsApp for a period of time that I can manage (without suffering FOMO!) and limiting my access to social media. 

Wellbeing psychologist, Marny Lishman, says it's a great idea, especially in the current climate. 

"Nowadays, we can be interrupted 24/7 with our handheld devices and this can be detrimental to our mental health because of constant interruptions, noise, and other peoples' demands," she says. "It also diverts our attention away from being in the present, even if we ignore the message or person."

Lishman notes that at the moment, more than ever before, putting boundaries in place is really beneficial as it allows us to take control of our accounts and when and what we engage in. It helps us be more proactive rather than reactive, which causes stress. 

Lishman advises picking a couple of times a day to check your phone and allowing yourself a certain amount of time to do so. However, she suggests avoiding starting your day with your phone as it may set you up thinking about something or someone else. 

Similarly, avoid phone checking immediately before bed as, otherwise, your subconscious will be thinking about it all night.

"Just because someone engages with you, it doesn't mean you have to answer straight away," she says. "Turn off your notifications so you can control when you go in and look at the communications

Check in with groups you're involved in and perhaps set some group boundaries or rules straight up to maintain wellbeing for everyone."

It's early days for me, so I'm yet to feel less anxious and stressed. But I'm hoping that my brain will slow down soon, and the mental noise will decrease. If only the same could be said for the physical around here!