The world has seen pandemics before, but COVID-19 has introduced a new set of challenges unique to the digital age–-information overload. Information overload is a real phenomenon where people have unlimited, instant access to related, but unauthenticated information.

Overload often occurs when too much relevant information arrives too quickly, making it difficult to determine which information is reliable and helpful. It can make people feel overwhelmed and powerless, causing fatigue, anxiety and anger. This can lead to a type of paralysis where people don’t know what to do, so do nothing, which can be dangerous during a pandemic.

So how do we break free from information overload–-so information can give us strength rather than deplete us? These tips may help.

Limiting Information

Pick Your Sources. Select your sources carefully. Give top consideration to people and organizations with access to authenticated information.

Set Select Times. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports can be agitating, so gather information at regular intervals once or twice a day, seeking to distinguish facts from rumors.

Focus on Facts. Cut down on how often you engage with venues where fear feeds on itself rather than reality. For example, limit social media or conversations with people who do more speculating and catastrophizing than sharing sound information. These types generally assume the worst and tend to exaggerate difficulties.

Take a Break. Continual watching, reading or listening to the news can be upsetting. Constant scrolling through social media for the latest updates on the pandemic can also be stressful. Take a break. Make time to unwind and do activities you enjoy.

Cutting Back on Screen Time

The fact people have nearly constant access to digital screens doesn’t help. iPhone recently reported that user screen times have more than doubled during the pandemic. Here are some ways to cut back.

  • Put your phone in another room. This simple act forces you to think twice when you would normally grab your phone without even realizing it.
  • Ban the phone from the bedside. Keeping the phone by the bed may tempt you to check for messages or the time if you wake during the night. Looking at your phone’s screen just before bed has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns for some people.
  • Keep meals phone free. Meals are a tempting time to catch up on news and social media. By banning screens from the table you’ll not only give your eyes a rest, you’ll probably enjoy your food more.
  • Set the timer. Set time limits on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Start by timing how long you actually spend there, then gradually reduce those times to a more realistic level.
  • Move or remove apps. Figure out which apps tend to hook you in. Then either delete them or move them to a different page or folder. This slight inconvenience may be enough to stop you from unconscious scrolling.
  • Disable notifications. Notifications are distracting. They can tempt you to get on your phone and before you know it minutes have turned into hours.

Managing the flow of information will not only free us from information overload but also lead to clearer decisions while we navigate uncharted territory.