How to keep the internet from driving you crazy

August 22, 2011 | 55 comments

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There’s been a fair amount of smack directed my way on the ol’ internet lately. For those of you who haven’t been following the fun over at my Register blog, there was was this, then this, and this, and this, and this. I could list a bunch more examples, but you get the idea. Between all the posts, their comments, and the comments to some of my posts, I’ve read at least 1, 000 nasty remarks directed at me in the past month alone.

A friend of mine recently marveled that I don’t seem bothered by it. Though she would never phrase it this way, I’m guessing what she was thinking was, Jen, you are one of the most prideful people I know, with the fortitude of a bowl of Jello and a disposition toward uncharitableness usually only seen in convicted felons and dictators. You seem like exactly the kind of person who would lose her mind over this kind of thing. So how is it that it’s not getting under your skin?

If that’s what my friend was thinking, she’d be right. I haven’t been too upset about this stuff, and that has nothing to do with natural virtuousness on my part. It’s just that I’ve had various blogs and websites since 2001, so I’ve had a lot of practice with it, and I’ve also been blessed with excellent spiritual direction that’s provided me with invaluable advice. Since anyone with a blog or a Facebook account deals with irritation originating from their computer monitor at least occasionally, I thought I’d share some tips I’ve found helpful:

8 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity with an Internet Connection

1. Learn to let people be wrong

On a practical level, this is probably both the most difficult and the most important tip. There are few things more exasperating than when you write a status update or a blog post and you receive critical responses, especially when they misconstrue your points and accuse you of saying things you never said. There are occasions when it’s worthwhile to defend yourself and clarify your position, but the longer I’m online, the less often I think that’s a fruitful exercise. Seven times out of ten, all your defensive response will do is prolong the argument and draw out new comments that were even more frustrating than the first ones.

The tough part is that, in order to let these conversations drop, you have to let people be wrong. You have to let unfair comments about yourself stand. You have to read harsh words that insult you personally, misrepresent your beliefs, attribute words to you that you never said…and you have to walk away. The good news is that this can really improve your spiritual life if you go about it prayerfully. (I’ll write more details about that in a future post.)

However you go about it, don’t skip this step, because your online interactions will only be peaceful to the extent that you’re at peace with other people being wrong.

2. Be prepared to apologize

…Then again, sometimes it’s you that’s wrong. And let’s face it: For those of us who aren’t exactly spiritual giants, apologizing sucks. It’s painful to say, “You are right, I was in error, and I’m sorry.” Yet the internet can really become a source of stress in your life if you have a fear of apologizing — the constant interaction that comes with new media means that it’s easier than ever to accidentally offend someone, and if you automatically jump into defensive mode every time someone says you’re in error, it’s going to drive you crazy. Per tip #1, oftentimes the right response is no response; but when an apology is called for, it’ll bring a lot of peace to you and to others if you’re able simply to say “I’m sorry” and move on.

3. When you unplug, unplug all the way

I’ve found it to be really important to have hard stops for my online interactions. Most of us have daily “unplugged” time where we just hang out with our families or take time to ourselves, but it’s tempting to keep one foot in the online world, e.g. glancing at email while the water boils for dinner, getting distracted by the ding of the iPhone during prayer time, etc. I recommend scheduling offline time as part of your daily routine, and making sure you unplug all the way during that time — no sneak peaks at your computer or phone.

4. Plan to lose all your followers

For bloggers especially, there’s a big temptation to fixate on the number of people who are reading your stuff. It’s understandable since nobody likes to write into a vacuum, but caring too much can put you on a dangerous path. If you notice a dip in your number of readers after writing a certain post, you’ll feel tempted to avoid that topic in the future, even if it was exactly what God wanted you to say; on the other hand, if some post gets a huge, positive response that nets lots of new traffic, you’ll be tempted to write things like that more often, regardless of whether it’s really fruitful content. I’ve found it freeing to adopt and attitude that goes something like this:

I’m going to think and pray about what I’m supposed to be writing, and write that. It is probably going to be either inane and boring, or offensive and controversial, and, either way, everyone will unsubscribe from my blog in disgust and I’ll have no readers other than a couple of friends who only check in out of guilt.

And then I try to avoid looking at my traffic and followers stats as much as possible. It’s surprisingly freeing to just assume that you won’t gain any new readers, and let yourself be pleasantly surprised if anything else happens.

5. Protect your inbox

For anyone who has blog comments or social media updates emailed to them, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you set up a filter on your email program so that those updates are marked as read and moved to their own folder without even hitting your inbox.

It’s important to control when you step into the online world, rather than having the internet follow you around when you’re trying to do other things. You should be able to get on email without being distracted by the latest comment on your Pinterest pin or some response you got on your Facebook wall. Having it all moved to separated folders allows you to engage in social media on your own terms. You can wait to read through those folders when you’re in a good mood and in a place of peace, rather than having a bunch of updates shoved in your face when you’re simply trying to dash out a quick email to your mom. Aside from helping you not get riled up by negative interactions, it’ll also help cut down the sheer amount of time you spend distracted by online stuff.

(If your main method of communication is texting or messaging instead of email you might set things up a little differently, but the concept still applies: Separate social media feedback from your main methods of daily communication with friends and loved ones.)

6. Put your vocation first

I actually started this post writing about this point alone: Your vocation will keep you sane. The mundane tasks you engage in to serve your family will act as a lesson in humility, a strong dose of perspective, and a chance to reconnect with God, all rolled into one. (And I’m using “family” broadly here; if you’re single or a consecrated religious, that could mean your parish community, your extended family, your order, etc.) There’s something about getting into a heated online discussion, especially if it was triggered by something you wrote, that can make you feel like WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IS IMPORTANT, and I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN DELIVER THIS MESSAGE. Honestly, I doubt Winston Churchill took himself as seriously when giving wartime addresses to England as I have responding to anonymous blog commenters sometimes.

Thankfully, there is a lot of mundane work that goes along with my vocation: I might feel like sitting in front of my computer and saying Important Things about truths that will be lost forever if I do not single-handedly deliver them to the internet, but instead I have to go fold laundry, mix up tonight’s casserole, change the baby’s diaper, read a book with the kids, and sweep the floor. It’s in those moments that I get the much-needed reminders of what the purpose of my life is (i.e. that it does not involve sitting in front of a glowing screen) and where God really needs me. There’s nothing better than humble manual labor in the service of those you love to remind you that your pithy remarks and clever commentary are not the most important things you have to offer the world.

7. Remember that 99.9999999% of the world doesn’t care

One of the most dangerous aspects of the internet, social media in particular, is that it filters for everything that is not about you: You log on to Facebook and see a flood of people who know you; you look at your blog traffic stats and see only other sites that are talking about you; you Google yourself and, with a few keystrokes, the billions of websites that couldn’t care less about you are wiped away, and you see only a list of folks who are thinking about something you did or said. Especially if you’re getting a big response to something you wrote, it’s surprisingly easy to feel like all 5 billion people on the face of the planet have simultaneously stopped what they’re doing to ponder your status updates. And then you’re back in the mode of feeling like you must SAY SOMETHING IMPORTANT because EVERYONE CARES. (You can tell I’m speaking from experience here.)

A good exercise to combat this is to go to some public place (even just driving down a busy road is fine), look around, and remind yourself: Not a single one of these people reads my blog. Not one of these people saw what Anon101 said about how stupid I am. They would all die of boredom if I even tried to tell them about the big Facebook argument I’m embroiled in.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” It’s a harsh but true point that everyone with a blog or Facebook account should memorize.

8. Pray about it…but not too much

Of course we should always speak freely to God about whatever is on our minds, but be careful not to use prayer as another way to fixate on some online situation that you’re attached to. It’s easy to sit there and pray about how to respond to so-and-so, what your next update should be, how to handle that one offensive remark, etc., leaving no time to be still and listen to what God may be trying to tell you. As my spiritual director would point out, God may have a message for you entirely unrelated to this situation, but if you’re not taking time to clear your head and simply listen, you won’t hear it.

I hope some of these tips, hard-won from much personal experience, are helpful to you. What are some of your tips for not letting the internet become a distraction in your life?


  1. Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge

    Spot on Jen! I have had a very few crazies in my online time, but those who have come may way have been doozies…I’m bookmarking this post for the next onslaught…whenever it may happen!

  2. Leila

    β€œYou wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

    This is excellent! And the post is a keeper. I needed to hear it!

    • Calee

      I second this comment! Thank you for this post. SO timely.

    • JoAnna


  3. Benjamin Baxter

    Amen! I try to take a leaf out of Chesterton, finding it easier to love others when I find something to admire about them. From there it’s far easier to laugh, as he did, at their absurdities and prejudices. Approach everyone not yet to arms from the side, as a friend, and not from the front, as an enemy.

  4. Karen

    Oh My Word. I SO needed this article right now. I’m not facing any sort of internet haters or the like, but I’ve found myself virtually addicted to the virtual world. The tip on “unplugging” is one that I have the greatest difficulty with, but the most need.

    I’d add that you shouldn’t frequent internet places that require you to become defensive or combative. Some message boards, especially ones where topics pop up critical of religion, family life, and other things I hold dear, are just breeding grounds *begging* me to lose half my day fighting, only to realize that the false sense of soldiering for the cause I get is exactly that…a false sense. No one cares, and the world has not changed, better or worse, for having entered that fight…and in fact it’s taken me away from my vocation.

    Great article, like usual! πŸ™‚

  5. Michelle

    Great post (again). I get nowhere near the traffic you do, (duh) but even I needed to be reminded that 99.999999999% of the world doesn’t care. πŸ™‚

  6. Young Mom

    I don’t have a big blog like you, but I gave up on convincing people I was right after about 6 months. : ) I write whatever is bursting out of me and I don’t keep track of followers. I only reply to comments if I have an unusual amount of time on my hands and I don’t think that person will be crazy combative. Sometimes it’s hard to unplug and let it all go, but it’s worth it.

  7. Eugenia Slater

    I especially love tip no. 7. And as St. Therese put it: “Let us remain very remote from all that glitters. Let us love our littleness; let us love to feel nothing. Then we shall be poor in spirit and Jesus will come seeking us, however far away we are. He will transform us into flames of love!”

  8. jen

    Don’t feed the trolls — they don’t deserve your attention.

  9. Susan

    I’ve been admiring your grace under pressure. Just don’t let it get to hair-pulling and scratching. Unless she starts it. In that case, I think you’re okay to defend yourself.

  10. Elizabeth K.

    Your thoughtful and good-humored responses to people who sound, frankly, kinda crazy are, even apart from content, convincing arguments for our faith. And while it’s true that most of the world doesn’t care, for those who are reading you offer a powerful model for responding to on-line attacks (and those that happen face to face, as well).

  11. Sushi

    well i don’t let internet become a distraction in my life by balancing my time in using it.. thank you so much for sharing these tips.. i might as well consider some of it


    Such good advice! Especially love the part about focusing on vocation.

    “Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.” 2Pe 1:10-11

    My Portuguese translation of the Bible has vocation instead of where it says call and it says “put greatest effort into the strengthening of your vocation”

  13. Eva

    Thanks for this Jen. Some of it is applicable to life in general. As someone who doesn’t always agree with you, I appreciate understaning your side of the interaction (although I do keep my thoughts in my own head, though).
    I liked your point about not letting traffic drive what you write. Very true.

  14. Eva

    Thanks for this Jen. Some of it is applicable to life in general. As someone who doesn’t always agree with you, I appreciate understaning your side of the interaction (although I do keep my thoughts in my own head, though).
    I liked your point about not letting traffic drive what you write. Very true.

  15. Michael

    I had lots of practice during my divorce…blogging is easy. πŸ˜‰

  16. Kathleen Basi

    The one that hit me was writing what you’re supposed to write, without worrying about whether it generates hits or not. That one’s aimed right at me this morning.

  17. Julia at LotsaLaundry

    Superb. I rarely post anything to FB, but did with this.

  18. laura in nj

    so, so helpful. especially the cartoon (i’m totally serious).

  19. Sarah

    This post is so great. I need to remember this when I get testy because I’d like to spend all day alone online, but I have a baby who actually needs ME in a way that no one on the internet will ever need me. Thanks for the reminder!

  20. Kris, in New England

    The Eleanor Roosevelt quote says it all. Our belief in the importance of our own opinions is just that – our belief. Having a blog is a nice place to share thoughts, talk about things that are important to you or resonate with you. And at the end of the day, it’s one voice among millions and who cares if the world agrees with you or not.

  21. Barbara


    I fell into the black hole after reading a BRILLIANT essay on how it would be cool if there could be some kind of virus manufactured that only attacked the stupid people and made them infertile. By the end of the week I wanted to hang it all up and go all Heaven’s Gate up in this house.

    Luckily I remember Jesus is the answer, not an idiot on the internet. That reminds me, I need to go pray for someone…

  22. Jessica

    My “tip” is this: Remember that Christ did not chase down anyone who chose not to follow Him. We see it in the Scriptures . . . He gave them Truth, made certain that they did not misunderstand, and then, if they walked away, He let them walk away.

    Great post, Jen. Thank you.

  23. Lara


    Thank you so much for speaking the truth, despite these attacks. My friends and I up in Boston very much enjoy your blog. Your conversion gives us so much hope and your reflections have helped us grow. I am grateful God called you to represent his Truth. Just wanted to affirm that not everyone is misinterpreting your words, some of us appreciate them very much, and I pray that they might slowly change others as well. I am grateful God is keeping your heart secure through these attacks, and giving you the grace to walk away when its time. God bless you!

  24. Steph @ Moving to MD

    Jen thank you so much! I really feel that I needed to read this post despite the fact that I’ve long given up my “get in online fights/debates” days.

    The simple tip of marking social network/blog comments as read and archived instead of showing up in my main inbox is giving me so much peace. I just went and set up 3-4 new filters in my Gmail, and I’m feeling very good and organized about it.

    Awesome awesome post. Thank you.

  25. priest's wife

    yes yes yes

    I’ve been reading your blog posts at the Register and you Do attract a lot of meaness (why are atheists so mean- at least the ones that seem to comment)—I appreciate your writing- it is very inspirational

  26. Kimberlie

    This is a great post. I especially appreciate the message to totally unplug each day. I have a bad habit of “just let me check my email” and then get sucked in for 20 or more minutes.

    Regarding #4, I have the opposite worry. I worry when my “views” on my blog spike. I tend to write whatever I feel like writing, I don’t necessarily have a strong viewpoint that I stick to, sometimes my posts are personal because let’s face it, most of the time it’s just my husband and my goddaughter reading it. But when I get a big traffic day I almost freak out. Especially because almost NO ONE comments. They read and they go away, and I feel like “well, if you’re going to take the time to come to my puny blog, at least let me know if you liked or hated what I had to say.” πŸ˜‰

  27. Smoochagator

    Great post, Jen! Your eight very wise points seem to be an expanded version of a saying I’ve heard over and over in the past few years: “Relax, it’s just the internet.” Seriously, though, I’m going to bookmark this post so that whenever I have a friend who’s hurt by some sort of internet drama, I can send him or her here for some encouragement.

    Hope things are going well for your husband’s studying/testing-type stuff!

  28. Kathryn

    I love what you wrote about letting other people be wrong. It really is our own pride that makes us want to prove others wrong, when really we should just LET them be wrong. I don’t assume there has ever been a time where someone has come to faith because he/she lost an argument/debate. So there is no point in going on and on trying to prove your point to someone. When we desire to be seen in a good light—that’s pride. We try to defend ourselves and “explain” where we are really coming from, when in reality we are just manipulating the situation in an effort to be seen in a different light because we are prideful. We don’t want to be seen as stupid, wrong, etc. by others so we try to convince them otherwise. We should just leave it to God! When you think about it, Jesus Himself was judged, ridiculed, mocked, and tortured up until His death and He was innocent!

  29. Carrie

    I love your blog Jennifer. I have been reading everything for over a year now, and I have yet to discover anything whatsoever that I disagree with. I can always count on you for sound answers to everything. I am happy that you are able to let all the negativity roll off. πŸ™‚

  30. Martina

    Ugh, how true all of that is! Walk away is the biggest one I used to have to employ in order to preserve my sanity.

    My skin was SO thin when I first started theological debates. These days, I could take on raging atheists and they are just amusing to me. But, I don’t. It takes too much time to argue against their version of “reason” and “rationality.” Then I remind myself. I have five kids who need to be homeschooled in some capacity. And my blog, and my volunteer work. There’s just not enough time in the day to try to get into some folks’ brains. πŸ˜‰

  31. Sheba

    Hello Jen,

    Thank you for these guiding principles. I not a blogger, but the very first guideline hit home. Since taking the step to come home to Christ, the times I was “allowed to be wrong” by others have helped to humble me and see the transformation Christ is making in me. I peeked at a few of the comments you linked to. I can completely see my old self in them. More and more as I reflect on my old self, more and more I see the need I have for Christ as my savior. How else can He save me if I don’t see the evil in my heart? Thank you again for blessing all of us with your words of wisdom.

  32. SillySimple

    Love what you wrote– good points to remember. I think that the internet creates both a closeness and a separation between people at the same time. It allows people to say things to someone “over the internet” that they would never dream of saying in real life.

  33. Julie @ The Corner With A View

    Jen, I reeeeeally appreciated this post. Especially point numero uno. My roommate liked to tell me, if you’re stirring people up, you’re hitting something worth discussing. Thanks for your grit, even under the more unfavorable of circumstances.

  34. Stacy Makes Cents

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I’ve been getting “mean” comments occasionally and I did take them personally…..and I didn’t know how to deal with them.
    Thanks for your advice that I plan on following starting today. πŸ™‚

  35. Rachel

    First, I just want to say that I love the xkcd comic πŸ™‚

    This was a refreshing post to read, and definitely something I needed to hear right now. I NEVER engage in debate, and that’s a huge part of what’s lacking when I’m trying to minister on my college campus. I need to be okay with others being wrong, and accept if they’re going to say mean things about me or about other believers.

    Thanks for keeping your head up and for setting such a good example of how us followers of Christ should act in situations like this! God bless πŸ™‚

  36. TheFeministBreeder

    I’ve had more than my fair share of trolls, and recently saved my own sanity by taking my blog offline completely for a month long vacation. Once an entire facebook page was created to make up lies about me (like that I traded sex for grades, that one was AWESOME) I decided I needed a break. (A lawyer got Facebook remove that page, btw, so I’ve found that when something is truly defamatory, the right people can handle it and *I* don’t need to.)

    The rest of this is stellar advice. Deep down, I knew it already, but it’s great to be reminded.

  37. Mrs.B

    Hey, it’s my first time visiting your blog, but I’ve read a couple of your posts at the National Catholic register. I used to get into heated discussions, sometimes still do. But I keep reminding myself what the bible says about fools. They despise knowledge and instruction.

    Proverbs 23:9 Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.

    I try to keep my thoughts, insights etc only to people who are truly open to the truth and are seeking some wisdom. I have changed my mind on some important things lately, like birth control, and I want the whole world to know the truth lol, but I hold myself back and reserve myself for women who will listen, bc no matter how much evidence you bring up if the person is not open to the truth they will refute it till the end.

    Thanks for the tips, and love your writing

  38. Katina Castillo

    YESSSSSSSSS! How is she a martyr? Jen, I reeeeeally appreciated this post.

  39. Kristina Stewart

    I especially love tip no. And perhaps Jen steps back from the arguments in the comment sections because she knows they are a waste of her precious time. I peeked at a few of the comments you linked to.

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