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Do you find the internet an overwhelming place? In this article, guest writer Katherine Mackenzie-Smith shares practical tips on how to thrive in the online world as a highly sensitive person.

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Let’s face it, the online world is NOISY and it doesn’t help that we are living in the “attention economy”, where the people who seem to thrive most online are the ones who capture the most attention. But it is not only possible for highly sensitive people to be socially active online but to actually thrive online.

Yet, I know what it’s like to feel the real burnout of being connected all the time, and I talk to people every day who feel so overwhelmed with how to maintain their energy and identity, how to cut through the noise, and how to properly connect with their people online, in amongst all the noise.

So here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about carving out a little place in a digitally connected world, without the burnout and overwhelm.

Understand Your Own Intentions and Motivations For Being Online

This is how much social media and the Internet as a whole has infiltrated our lives. Most of the time we aren’t even sure of what our intentions are for being on a certain platform or sharing what we share.

It’s become such a gradual process. 

I often ask myself this question:

Are you in certain online spaces to consume, to create, or to connect?

To be honest, I love TikTok. I have been exposed to new people and ideas and information that I never would have found in the little bubble I live in.  But I’m not much of a creator there, I’m more of a consumer.

But even though I have a podcast, I don’t really listen to podcasts because I am not an audio learner and I get distracted too easily. So I’m definitely more of a creator. 

And I tend to talk to friends and family via DM on various platforms. Instagram is probably a mix of all three. But I know that I’m mostly showing up in places like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to share my work. I don’t even know if I’d be on social media if I didn’t have a business.

How To Be More Intentional Online As A Highly Sensitive Person

New platforms and new websites pop up every day. Sometimes we know straight up they’re not for us (and I’m always a fan of checking things out before I make a call on that). But having some idea of why we’re on there in the first place is important. Maybe it’s for your business or brand. Maybe it’s to keep in touch with friends or family. Or as a creative outlet. 

There’s no right or wrong, but having an understanding of how we’re using online spaces, especially social media platforms, really helps to know why, how, and where we’re putting our energy online.

Be Mindful Of Who You Follow 

I don’t know about anyone else, but I think I’ve unfollowed more people in the last 12 months or so than ever before. There are a number of reasons for that, and I’m sure you have your own, but as we become more aware of our energy in relation to being online, we also notice where it starts to dip and change based on interactions or observations of the people we follow.

The number one reason my clients feel overwhelmed by social media is that they are following too many people who are doing (or trying to do) the same thing they are. 

I’ve been there, I get it. Following people you admire, look up to, and aspire to, or are even peers can lead to serious comparisonitis.

In the ‘life’ category, we know this as ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ (when you compare your life to a stranger on the Internet and feel that overwhelming envy that they have the perfect house/partner/dog/life).

And, if you’re online for your business, it’s pretty much the same.

When you’re scrolling on your phone and ‘that’ person comes up and you start to feel icky or frustrated or annoyed, unfollow or mute them. This is your permission slip. It doesn’t make you a bad person to do that. And it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. But if seeing them on your feed makes you feel bad, you have every right to step back from that and observe what’s going on there for you.

Check In With Your Energy Regularly 

So often the feeling of burnout comes from mindless scrolling. When we have an idea of why we’re spending time in these online places, we can intentionally set boundaries around our interactions and activity in those places.

It can be exhausting trying to create on all platforms. It can be exhausting just skipping from one app to another out of boredom.

When that happens, it can be helpful to catch it and ask yourself, “Why am I bouncing from app to app like this?”

Sometimes it’s boredom or procrastination. Or sometimes it’s because we just posted something and are hopelessly watching for likes and comments. Sometimes it’s just a habit.

If you’re intentionally creating online content – I’ve found a plan really helps quiet souls with social media. Creating a workflow to simply repurpose work that you create and schedule it across platforms can make such a huge difference in how much time and energy it takes.

And if you’re mostly online for community and connection or to consume content, being mindful of your energy and having boundaries around how you’re spending your time online (and for how long), can really help.

I’ve found adjusting the ‘screen time’ settings on my phone really helpful to lock me out when I’m procrasti-scrolling. And sometimes even deleting apps temporarily can act as a circuit breaker for my app habits.

Unapologetically Disconnect When You Need To

As an unapologetically highly sensitive person, interactions and showing up online is so much easier for me than being out and about in the world. Mostly because I can control the environment in a way that’s just not possible in the real world.

But as grateful as I am for the wonders the Internet has brought to us, it can lead to being online a lot. Being connected all the time. Being unable to take a break, switch off, or be uncontactable.

It’s not like when you leave your job and you turn our out-of-office voicemail and email responder on. 

When your computer is just there, when you’re online sharing content, and when everyone can see that, it’s difficult to have a quiet day.

But it’s important to.

How To Disconnect From The Online World As A Highly Sensitive Person

I started taking weekends off all apps and it has been such a relief. 

I clearly communicate to people I’m going to be offline.

I’ve told my clients how to contact me and that I’ll get back to them ASAP.

Boundaries. Boundaries in an online, boundaryless world is so important. We can speak to people all over the planet, thanks to apps like Zoom and FaceTime. Also, we can be contacted at all hours of the day in our various DMs. We can have people working on a project for or with us on the other side of the world.

The most important thing we need to do to find a way to thrive online is to have boundaries around how we spend that time and how and when we are available for it.

We have so much to be grateful to the internet and social media for what it has allowed us to do – whether it’s creating, connecting, or consuming. But, as highly sensitive people, we need to manage how we show up in those spaces because we still get exhausted by all the noise and stimuli out there.

Just like in the ‘real world’, we need to look after our energy and find our own way to thrive in a noisy digital world too. 

…But What If You Are An Online Creator Who Can’t Go Offline All The Time?

If you’re an online creator – whether you’re a business owner, creative person, or just someone who likes to show up and share online, having a plan and a way to make the most of your content is so important for your energy and for sustainability to thrive online.

If you’re looking for a way to make your online content easy and manageable, I created The Content Ecosystem specifically for quiet, sensitive souls to stop getting overwhelmed and start showing up in their own way online. You can check it out here

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