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Why I Stepped Down From The Social Media Soapbox

by Meagan Francis on February 23, 2014

winter, road, driving

The other day I was driving the familiar stretch of road between the grocery store and our home when I made an error in judgment that very nearly led to my plowing into another car.

Not paying full attention, I assumed a driver who stopped in front of me was trying to turn right into a parking lot – but actually he was stopping to let another driver make a left-hand turn into the road from behind a huge snowbank. As I passed the first driver on the left, the turning car suddenly lurched a few feet forward, nearly pulling right out in front of me before he slammed on the brakes. I had to swerve out of his way, realizing too late that he thought he had clear passage.

I drove the rest of the way home feeling a little sheepish and shaken, but forgot about it quickly enough.

The very next morning Clara and I were on our way to the gym. I was driving and she was peppering me with questions, which I answered thoughtfully for a few minutes. Until my mind wandered to something that I’d read on the computer right before leaving the house.

As we reached the gym I realized that Clara had been asking me questions relating to her birth, and I’d been giving her mindless “mm-hmm” answers to every question she’d asked for at least five minutes. I asked her to repeat back what she’d just said, and as it turned out, I’d unthinkingly approved a birth story in which she was born in the river amid biting fish and had floated to the surface with the help of arm floaties she’d apparently been wearing in the womb.


At that moment it struck me that, two days in a row, I’d been guilty of very distracted driving. And it wasn’t because I was texting, or talking, or singing along with the radio. No…both times, I’d been distracted because I was thinking about something irritating I’d read on Facebook. I was guilty of my own special kind of DWI – Driving While Irritated.

The world is so full of opinions these days, isn’t it? Or maybe we aren’t any more opinionated than we once were, but now have endless outlets via which to air our opinions, and a developing sense of entitlement, even obligation, to let the world know exactly how we feel about…everything.

Yes, the big stuff, like politics and the environment and religion. But the small stuff, too, like whether or not it’s OK to recline your seat on an airplane or whether or not it’s funny to film kids falling down on ice (two real-life examples of “debates” that sucked me in over the last few days.)

It feels harmless enough to share whatever random opinion is on my mind or weigh in on someone else’s Rant du Jour, sure. But I’ve found that in the end, it almost always leads to an unmanageable influx of other people’s opinions, many of which conflict with mine, creating a virtual tussle that rarely leads anywhere constructive (you can’t really change somebody’s mind via a Facebook status update) and often leads to a lingering sense of anxiety or discomfort.

brain scan

In my conversation with Kristen Race, Ph.D on the Home Hour Podcast earlier this week, she told me that each stress-causing interaction, like getting in a tiff on the Internet, triggers the fight, flight or freeze response in your brain. After a trigger, even a small one, our brains don’t return to baseline right away, meaning that we are constantly experiencing a state of low-level anxiety. And because of the way technology is completely integrated with our lives, our days have become long chains of small triggers, leading to spike after spike after spike. 

As I listened again to our conversation yesterday after getting entrenched in a heated Facebook debate over something most definitely not very important, I recognized that this is exactly what I’ve been allowing to happen to me. The distracted driving was just one example of the fallout – when I’m feeling irritated, anxious, or frustrated over a exchange gone wrong, it affects everything from the way I feel physically (tight chest, racing heart) to the way I interact with my family (definitely not present and engaged.)

There’s nothing wrong with letting off steam via a spirited discussion on Facebook or Twitter. But what it comes down to for me is this: I’ve almost never regretted not climbing up on my social media soapbox to unload an opinion, but I’ve often – quite often – wished afterward that I hadn’t stepped into the fray. And maybe just because I can spout off – just because I have this ready-made platform and access to thousands of people – doesn’t always mean I should.

There are opinions worth expressing, fights worth having. Speaking out against injustice or ignorance matters, and may lead to important change. When I’ve stood up for a cause or person I believe in, or have made a case for compassion over cruelty, I have always felt that any possible fallout was worthwhile.

On the other hand, venting about a pet peeve – or defending myself because it turns out that something I regularly do is somebody else’s pet peeve – may feel good for a moment, but so often devolves quickly into a sort of petty aggression that only serves to wreck my day and keep my energy tied up in something that ultimately doesn’t matter. 

It turns out there’s no real reward in being right about something inconsequential.

There is still much I love about social media. It’s just plain fun to be able to walk into a crowded virtual room and ask a simple question like “Stripes or polka dots?” and see the enormous variety in responses, how different we all are and yet how much the same. I love the fact that I have access to this platform to share fun and silly things that pop into my head or that happen to me during an ordinary day.

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 8.55.51 AM
But I’m working on being more conscious of whether a potentially contentious complaint or rant is really worth giving virtual voice to. Whether my opinion on some petty matter really needs to be said out loud.

Short of going off the grid, there’s no getting away completely from the pull of technology and the intoxicating brew of opinions, opinions, opinions, in which social media now allows us to swim at any time of day or night.

But I’m realizing that not all self-expression is worth indulging in, and that I can much better control those spikes of anxiety if, instead of giving into those urges to tell everyone exactly how I feel about the silly email I just got, I take a deep breath and let it go instead. 

After all, there are better things to save my energy for, yes? My kids, my work, my home, my friends, my family. The things that matter, the people I can engage in a face-to-face conversation with, instead of just serving as recipients of my random thoughts. 

Like anything other form of communication, we’d probably all be better off it we did a lot less talking and a lot more listening.

And then, when even the listening gets to be too overwhelming, turning it off and taking a soul-calming break from all the billions of opinions in the world. 

social media, anxiety

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Elan Morgan February 23, 2014 at 10:17 am

Nodding along. I keep my mouth shut and my ears open more often these days, and I’m happier!


Kelly {the Centsible Life} February 23, 2014 at 10:22 am

Well said. I try to use my soapbox for things that do matter but it always tempting to weigh in on a ‘hot topic’. I recognize the same behavior in myself and this is a good reminder to think before we type.


Meagan Francis February 25, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Sometimes the hottest topics are ultimately the silliest, too, aren’t they? Thanks for weighing in, Kelly!


Veronica February 23, 2014 at 10:51 am

This is so true, Meagan. I’ve always tended to just let things pass, but on occasion, I have found myself adding a comment. Almost always, I regret it. It ruins my day or days or weeks to be in the middle of some stupid debat. I prefer keeping my mind on postive and uplifting things whenever possible. I’m much happier that way!


Claire February 23, 2014 at 10:56 am

This is definitely a struggle for me. I have a hard time resisting the urge to weigh in, and I take things too personally and definitely have anxiety during these debates (and after). I actually closed my FB account a few years ago for this reason, among others. I still engage in some discussions on blogs, but much less than I used to. Thanks for the reminder to limit it!


Anna February 23, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Found this via The Art of Simple. I head this same direction you write about, trying to minimize overexposure of my opinions and my family on social media, but it IS a delicate balance. One of the virtues of social media is definitely keeping in touch with faraway friends and family. And the ones with whom we often disagree, “keep us real” in our own beliefs–as long as mutual respect is demonstrated.
May I add, as a side note, Americans’ emotional attachment to their opinions and “everyone who disagrees with me is wrong”….this is a cultural thing. Members of some other cultures can have heated arguments over issues where parties passionately disagree…and emerge with no hurt feelings, relationships intact.


Meagan Francis February 23, 2014 at 4:37 pm

That’s interesting, Anna, and I’ve heard that before too regarding this being an American thing. For myself, I’ll say that in my “real” life I often disagree strongly with friends and family over issues big and small – in fact, debating politics is practically a spectator sport in my family. But we all come away without hurt feelings because we all understand the intention of the people around us. Online it can be trickier. I’ve seen an amazing amount of vitriol get introducted into discussions about relatively innocuous subjects. I think it can be worth disagreeing when it matters…but it’s exhausting to always feel on the defensive/offensive about every little thing.

ETA I do agree though that the benefit of social media is that it can expose us to many ideas and opinions…but sometimes you really have to go out of your way to expand your circles and listen/debate intelligently so that your closest networks don’t just become echo chambers…or worse, shouting matches. I think that the reason “real life” discussions can have such a different flavor from those that go down on Facebook or in comments sections is that the people involved don’t have the same emotional investment in understanding one another as a close friend or family member might.


Katie @ The Surly Housewife February 23, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Amen to this 1000%. The regret of posting or saying something I wish I hadn’t is plain awful. I have to learn to ignore some posts. At times OTHER people venting and whatnot annoys me, and I didn’t even add to the conversation! For the most part, I hide, block, or unfriend people who cause me to feel this way. I feel much like you do, I have better things to devote my time and energy to. Great post!


Jennifer L.W. Fink (@jlwf) February 23, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Interesting. I’ve never really thought about it in this way before, but I’m thinking this explains why, when I go away on vacation or camping, I don’t really miss the virtual world. Don’t get me wrong: I love my Internet. I practically live on it when I’m home. (Like you, I’m a work-from-home-writer; it comes with the territory.) And part of me really likes being in the know — knowing who’s talking about what, what’s trending, etc. But when I’m gone…I don’t miss that. I realize just how stupid and meaningless a lot of the stuff online really is. I also realize that I’m spending more time doing things I really enjoy, like reading or enjoying nature or spending time with people I like and love. Every time I come home, I vow to cut down on the computer time, to spend more time in the real world and less in the virtual one…and I’m writing this after spending nearly an hr. on social media. ;)

I’m learning.


Angela February 24, 2014 at 5:09 am

Recently, I found myself caught in the same kind of anxiety and distraction caused by what you described. It led to a decision to unplug from social media and other forms of social interaction apart from the Facebook (e.g. group chats). I feel more isolated from ‘the world’ for sure, since I am a SAHM, but that decision has reduced the dissonance in my life so much I feel it is worth it.


Olivia February 24, 2014 at 7:31 am

I hate the feelings of anxiety during a fight on or off line. I’m definitely a confrontation avoider. I do a lot of surrounding myself with like minded people and when we do have a difference of opinion I stay out of it unless it is something very important to me. I’m not living in a bubble, I know those opposite opinions exist and I do read from time to time, but I don’t often engage in a debate that will raise my blood pressure.


Brittany @ The1000th Voice February 24, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Such a fantastic piece! I definitely see my interactions colored by my outrage over things online or in the news. My husband is always reminding me to chill out. Hopefully understanding the physiological response will help me stay out of the fray more often.


Sylwia February 24, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Agree 110%. These so called ‘opinions’ (and I am not talking about important subjects here) create such chaos in ones brain there is no room for other stuff. It’s aggravating that someone’s silly outburst about something seemingly insignificant can disrupt my thoughts for so long.


Meagan Francis February 25, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Yes, that’s what I’m talking about – that brain chaos! We are bombarded by so many conflicting opinions (many of them over stories, quotes, etc that turn out to not even be true!) I am finding that the best defense is simply to allow my rebuttal to come to mind and then let it go again without ever putting it onto the screen :)


Lindsay February 28, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I just discovered this blog and love this post. I completely identify, and it’s not something I’ve seen given voice to very often. Although I tend to save my social media disagreements for things that do matter, political things, and I still usually regret getting involved. Every time it seems like I end up in a lengthy debate with a casual friend of a real-life friend whom I’ve never met or even heard of, and it doesn’t feel like it makes for mutual respect. I think social media is a lousy forum for debate. There’s not enough context or room for nuanced opinions. This post is a great reminder to avoid the anxiety and save political discussion for real life with real people I know.


Katelyn March 1, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I just read Facebook (rarely comment) but still get so upset and irritated over all the quabble. A few weeks ago I decided to stop using it and it’s been amazing how different my life feels (and before that I only checked it once or twice a day.) I’m a lot happier and more present. Nice to hear some science behind why!


Juntae DeLane May 22, 2014 at 4:06 pm

This provides a good detailed analysis on social anxiety. Here’s a great article about ways to over come social anxiety:


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