Suffering from Digital Overload? Time For A Mental Diet

Calories in, calories out goes for your mind as well — here’s our top tips for cleaning up your mental diet in honor of World Mental Health Day.
Reading time
6 mins
Sam Ripples
Time For a Mental Diet
Illustration by Ty Dale

Does this sound familiar? After a long day of work, you come home and turn on the TV. After a few moments of watching, you begin feeling fidgety, so you find yourself scrolling through your phone. You’re hoping to quiet your mind, but with twelve tabs open and the lull of Facebook and Instagram calling, eventually you give in entirely to your mindless scrolling and endless distraction. This cycle repeats itself, over and over again. This is a picture of our scurrying, hurrying minds in our modern world of information overload.

In an era of digital chaos, it can be a challenge to be a diligent user of media. When you move through content so quickly, it’s difficult to absorb the real-life impact that it has on your thoughts. Calories in, calories out goes for your mind as well.

And with most of us spending over half of our days entranced in the digital pull, it’s more important than ever to examine the 1) type of media we consume as well the 2) amount that we consume.

The benefits of going on a responsible mental diet abound: you’ll experience less anxiety, have more self-awareness, and you’ll learn more from the media you do choose to expose yourself to. When you get pickier about what you allow into your mind, you curate a better life for yourself, one made wholly of your own choices and passions.

An Endlessly-Connected World

An Endlessly-Connected World

You’re not the only one suffering from this online information affliction--with the average user spending just over 12 hours a day tuned into the endless stream of new content, we’re all vulnerable to the downsides of excessive amounts of media exposure. In fact, those who tended to abuse their online time by mindless scrolling on Facebook were over twice as likely to be depressed, according to a study done by the Philadelphia School of Medicine.

And it’s not just the amount of media we expose ourselves to--the type of media matters. “Different Web-based activities or content can have specific effects on mental health,” as reported by a longitudinal study done by the National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health.

Not to mention the negative effects of the availability of news at all hours--over half of Americans report feeling anxiety from excessive exposure to the news, according to a study done by the American Psychological Association.

How is it then, when we know about the effects of excessive media use and the possibility of exposure to negative content online, that we still spend so many of our hours entranced by devices?

The War For Your Attention

The War For Your Attention

It’s not entirely your fault that your experiences online can have negative effects on your mental health--there is a war for your attention afoot. The algorithms on most popular websites are designed to keep you engaged for as long as humanly possible with clickbait titles and over dramatic attention-getting images.

This, along with the endless stream of notifications and the never ending amount of new content being thrown at you, makes it difficult to tear yourself away from the glowing, glittering pull of a screen.

It might seem like you only have two options here: completely drop out of the online world or to give up and not care about the quality of the content you ingest.

However, there is a middle road: going on a mental diet, one that feeds your brain positive and intelligent thoughts in the right amounts. Just like feeding your body a healthy diet allows it run at optimal performance, the same goes for feeding your mind a positive mental diet--you’ll find your mental capabilities increasing and your attention span lengthening.

The Importance of a Healthy Mental Diet

The Importance of a Healthy Mental Diet

It’s simple to get pulled into the lull of distraction and not as easy to get out. When you’re viewing uplifting or enlightening content, you’ll know because you can pull yourself away or pause without feeling hungry for more distraction. You’ll feel uplifted and elevated by the content instead of brought down.

Think of what you feed your brain the same way you would think of a diet: calories in and calories out.

In this case, however, the calories in represent the type of and amount of media you consume, whereas the calories out represent the emotions you feel because of that media.

When you intake intelligent and brain-boosting media, such as articles that make you think or television shows that challenge you, you give your mind the chance to explore new concepts. Instead of just staying within your own little opinion bubble, you open your mind to new possibilities and positive emotions will naturally follow.

Feed your mind nothing but endless junk food on the other hand, you’ll find that negative emotions naturally follow. You are the information that you consume, and if you consume nothing but fluff, your mind will reflect that state.

The importance of a healthy mental diet is just as vital to a happy mind as feeding your body a healthy diet. Think of it as consuming clean to benefit your brain. A more rational and well-thought-out mental diet can boost intelligence, give inspiration, and help us to improve our habits and thought patterns.

How to Improve Your Mental Diet

There are a few simple and easy ways that you can improve your mental diet. These strategies are not full-proof, but they will give you a better idea of what content is affecting you negatively and allow you to cut down on overconsumption to focus on what’s important in your life.

  • Go on a media cleanse and then slowly reintroduce content, paying attention to how it makes you feel. Much like an elimination diet, this strategy can help pinpoint what specific type of media might create negative feelings or anxiety within you and allow you to cut it from your media diet.

  • Cater to your interests. If certain things on the Internet bother you, try to only consume content that you are passionate about and that will serve to improve your thoughts and habits. Ignore content that riles you up or irritates you, and resist the urge to comment or reply only on media that makes you angry. Unfollow or unfriend users who cause problems or always seem to start arguments. Curate your online spaces to only exude the emotions you wish to feel.

  • Escape is okay--but the type of escape matters. Reading a good book that stimulates your mind is a very different escape than watching cartoons all day. If you seek to escape, escape into a more positive world, one where you are learning more and challenging yourself to become a better person each day.

  • Keep an eye on your mental health. If you find your mood takes a nosedive when you spend too much time consuming media, take a break. If you’re feeling disconnected, it might be time to reach out to a few friends or family members on social media. Utilize your media usage to fulfill your needs, not drain them.

The Leftovers

The Leftovers

Because the digital era is an era of change, it feels as though we might find one strategy that works, only to have it swept away by changes in technology.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to feed our minds the right content, and not just the junk food information that’s readily-accessible and appears so irresistibly clickable.

A healthy mental diet that consists of the right amount and the right type of content can not only have positive effects on your mood and mental health, it can also improve your life satisfaction.

In the wise words of Victor Frankl, “When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”

Find your deep sense of meaning. It’s out there, waiting for you, amongst all of the junk food on the Internet.


Author of THE BURDEN I CARRY MAKES ME STRONG: Essays on Surviving and Thriving with Mental Illness