How to Mindfully Use the Internet to
Improve Your Emotional Well-Being

by Melissa Karnaze

When it comes to emotional well-being, internet use is a double-edged sword.

It can empower you make healthier choices, educate yourself, and connect with supportive communities.

But it can also fuel compulsive habits (like shopping, gambling or consuming celebrity gossip), make you feel alienated, or overload you with unsettling information about the state of the world.

There’s no end to the internet, which means it can continually rejuvenate you and help you achieve your life goals — or continually distract you from what’s truly important in your life.

What will you opt for? What will you co-create?

If you’re looking to to use the internet to improve your emotional well-being, opportunities abound — literally at your fingertips.

Here are 20 tips to get you started.

1. Get in touch with your passions

The internet exposes to you all kinds of information any time you sign on. Pay attention to which headlines, emails, and videos you can’t wait to discover. Use those clues to get a better sense of what you really care about or what you want to learn about.

2. Get serious about your health

According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project from 2009, 61% of American adults look for health information online.

Even if you don’t see your doctor every day, you can still find more and better ways to stay healthy on a regular basis.

And while sites like WebMD can boost your health knowledge, don’t forget to research alternative health treatments too. (Western medicine isn’t the only type of practice.)

3. Get serious about self-help

Just as you can educate yourself on keeping your body and mind healthy, you can educate yourself on how to maintain healthy and happy relationships.

Use the internet to follow up on the topics of your favorite self-help and personal development books, or use Amazon to learn about new topics that you can relate to.

And get serious about the topic emotional intelligence. It’s not yet a staple of parenting, education, and work life, but it’s key to any long-term success. So make up the difference by doing your own research.

4. Pin down procrastination

If you’re using the net to pass the time or avoid a project, get mindful about it. And own up to your procrastination. In the long-run, you’ll get better at staying connected to your life and being aware of your actions.

5. Find local resources

Don’t forget that you can use the net to find local resources. You might look for free community college classes, public and university libraries, clubs, community events, support groups, or professional organizations and services.

6. Explore your options for professional help

If you think you need to connect with professional in a more controlled environment to improve your emotional well-being, educate yourself on how clinical psychology works, and how it draws from different psychological theories. Mental health professional have various theoretical orientations. You might as well get familiar with them on your own — and find out where your orientation lies.

And you might decide to work with a social worker or a life coach. Or turn to online therapy. Whatever you choose, just be mindful of the therapeutic relationship dynamic, and remember that only you can make important life decisions.

7. Be a smarter consumer of science

Psychology research is supposed to help us all lead healthier and more functional lives.

If you’re not a researcher or clinician, you probably rely on the media to tell you about the latest scientific findings. The media often sensationalizes at the expense getting the facts right.

You can arm yourself with better information, by getting familiar with research methods, reading the actual studies, and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses.

Science blogs can give you leads to interesting research. There are many online databases you can use to find studies (such as Google Scholar, which lets you know if a free pdf is available). You can also visit your local university library to get free access to their journal database.

8. Learn to think for yourself

It’s important to remember that science alone won’t give you all the answers to life. Ultimately, you have to think for yourself. If you’re learning about a controversial topic, keep in mind that there are no easy answers. Scientific debates can go on for years, and we’re constantly learning more as we conduct better and more research.

The hodgepodge of opinions voiced online can be daunting, especially when there are PhD’s on all sides of the issue. But take that as a healthy reminder that in the end: you’re the only one who can make sense of it all (for yourself).

9. Learn directly from other people

In contrast to scientific research, anecdotal accounts can help you too. The internet is a great environment to learn more about how different people think and make sense of their experience.

According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project, 51% of adults report that friends, family, and fellow patients are “more helpful than professional sources when they need a quick remedy for an everyday health issue.” Sites like CureTogether attest to the potential benefits of getting health advice from peers.

Diverse online discussions give you exposure to different perspectives. You can watch what different people say, as well as what they “do” online. Anonymity can encourage people to speak their minds candidly. And some people are more comfortable sharing personal details. No matter the degree of disclosure, you can learn a lot about yourself and your beliefs, by paying attention to what others believe.

10. Create your own news channel

Mainstream media dictates what’s “important” for you to know. But only a handful of corporations decide on what information gets out, and how it’s reported. Much of that brings down your emotional well-being, and hurts your confidence.

Don’t just depend on mainstream news sources, explore your other options:

11. Create your own university

Even if you’re not in school, you can educate yourself for the rest of your life. And you can study any topic you like — psychology, business, running a website, web design, writing, you name it.

Use the net to set up your own university that transcends space and time.

Incorporate resources like MIT OpenCourseWare, TED Talks, and alternative media like Coast to Coast AM.

12. Connect with like-minded people

Take advantage of the online opportunities to connect with others who are interested in the same topics as you are. It’s easier to broach certain topics online than in-person. But don’t neglect your in-person relationships.

13. Expand your social network

Take your offline connections online, through sites like Facebook and Twitter. Social support has a positive impact on overall health and well-being, and it can encourage you to incorporate more perspectives when faced with a challenge.

But beware that online “connection” doesn’t ensure trust or deepen connections. Be mindful of what you disclose about your own life, and only trust with good reason.

14. Hang out in supportive communities

Some blogs and forums have a supportive communities of commenters and posters. Tune in to constructive dialogues. Get inspired on a regular basis to get more constructive about your life.

15. Don’t just ignore the naysayers

Arguments are prolific online, but they’re not always in vain.

Learn how to take something positive from a negative exchange, and master the art of listening to both sides of any story. Both of these exercises can help you clarify your own perspective, and get more mindful about your beliefs.

16. Get in touch with your negative reactions

Sometimes the net can help you rant productively, or someone else’s rant can validate your own frustrations.

Other times, the internet just triggers your hot buttons.

If you’re feeling triggered, take that a sign to address some problem in your life or your thinking. Trust that your emotions will help you get to the issue, and let them run their course in safe and appropriate ways.

17. Keep an open mind

Don’t be afraid to have your thoughts and beliefs challenged. If you’re feeling challenged, it’s probably because (a) you’re not (yet) secure in your own beliefs, (b) you don’t really understand your own beliefs, or (c) you have some dysfunctional beliefs that need some reworking.

18. Read stuff that makes you feel good

Find writers or artists who make you feel uplifted, encouraged, inspired, at peace with yourself, or invincible.

19. Read stuff that challenges you

Find writers or artists who challenge your thinking, push you to think sideways, or give you countless opportunities work through your negative reactions so you won’t get triggered in the first place.

20. Remember to unplug

Most importantly, learn how to use the internet — instead of letting it use you.

Maintain healthy boundaries online, and reminder to take time for solitude, so that you can maintain health off-line relationships.

Have anything to add?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Do you want to learn more about how to get in touch with your opinions (your emotions), as well as how to better appreciate and understand them? Then check out the free 10-part e-class, Your Life is Your Construct, which gives you practical tips on how to work with and learn from your negative emotions.

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