Balance Darkness with Light

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Can you believe it? You’re halfway there! We’re starting this week having spent the last month working on our diet, exercise, meditation ritual, and sh*it owning process on our path to moving through depression. What’s next in store for you? You betcha. It’s time to unplug.

I’ll admit, this is a little bizarre timing with the whole Facebook scandal thing. Or perhaps it’ll just be that little bit extra motivation. Let’s talk about, though, why you don’t need a scandal to unplug.

My guess is that you’ve heard that use of electronics can increase your risks of depression and anxiety. It’s even more dangerous for teenagers and young adults.

There’s no shortage of people out there asking us to unplug more often. There’s also plenty of cartoons depicting just what it does to us. Like this from the NY Times about how phone use is impairing intimate relationships:

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You can take a handy quiz they have set up to check how your relationship with your phone is. Believe you me, the irony of you reading about less electronic use on my blog is not lost on me.

I could spend a lot of time explaining to you the ways in which overuse of electronics is harmful to you. And you probably know most of them already. Here’s a personal example.

I recently decided to give the whole Instagram thing a try. I know, I’m behind. Let’s blame it on me being old. But let me share with you what I’ve found.

It’s starts off innocent enough. You just want to connect with people and share fun stories. Then likes come through, follows, comments. So you check out their pages, like some things, maybe search through hashtags. Suddenly you’ve lost a half an hour, maybe more, to doing nothing but scrolling through endless pictures. But posting is fun, especially since it gets your creative juices flowing with both photography and writing. Soon life becomes little moments wanting their pictures taken. Then more likes, comments, follows. More searches. More time lost. So you try not to use the app, but find yourself still picking up your phone more than you need to. Or thinking of the next time you’ll have a few minutes to peek through, promising yourself you won’t spend more than five minutes…

After a week of using Instagram, I noticed several things. For starters, my sleep sucked. I had a difficult time falling asleep every night that I checked it. My attention waned, as my ability to stay present in the moment was snatched away by wondering. My work suffered, as little moments that could have been spent well were wasted away. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t keep it up. I remember the struggle when Myspace came out. Then Facebook. It sucks you in.

Oh man, and streaming services? Forget it.

Excessive electronic use, whether through phones, computers, TV, tablet, or what-have-you, is hurting your mental health. Recent research has also shown that social media is especially damaging and increases the risk of suicide in teens who use it more than 5 hours per day. Think about what it does to our kids’ brains to spend all day every day on tablets at school. It’s how we teach them now. Here are some other ways electronic use is disruptive:

  • Incomplete and often unrealistic expectations. Many people post more about the things that make it appear as though they have a great life, family, body, etc.
  • Avoidance of feelings. It can be terrifying to open up and let feelings have space, and infinitely easier to quiet them with a quick distraction.
  • Internet is the perfect marketing scheme. It only shows you what it thinks you want to see. So if you’re depressed, you’re probably going to get more suggestions on the topic or relate to others online who are also in a dark place. Like parents get a lot of parenting links in their ads and “sponsored posts.” Or if you click on political support things for this person, you’re going to see more positive things about them and more negative about their competition.
    • You can’t get out of depression by feeding it more depression. You need to balance your exposure to the darkness with things that bring you light.
  • It eats time. Time that you might feel you don’t have in order to eat right, exercise, meditate, spend time with friends, keep up a clean house, etc. If you have time to check your social media, play games, or scroll through something, binge watch something, then you have time to take care of yourself.
  • Dangers of anonymity. Cyber bullying is real, and it’s not just for teens. Just read any lengthy comment feed.
  • Getting overstimulated. It’s important that the brain has both excited times and relaxed times. Electronics are like little strobe lights. You need downtime too.

I hear a lot of “good” reasons for people to be on electronics.

For example, it’s how I keep in touch with people! It doesn’t have to be. Did you know that your brain does not experience the interactions via snapchat, instagram, facebook, etc as social interaction? Face to face, real social interaction and emotional intimacy is vital to your ability to thrive.

Oh, it helps me relax or blow off steam! Actually, it helps distract you. Which is not the same thing as coping. Distraction can be a useful skill, but it cannot be your only skill.

Remember last week’s assignment of letting go of excuses.

So why don’t we stop? It’s called addiction. Addiction, simplified, is compulsive use despite harmful consequences. The way I describe addiction is simple: it starts with using something to avoid having to feel, be alone with ourselves (or our thoughts), or like reasons. It’s an escape. Of course, in some cases it becomes its own beast.

Does that sound like something you might do? Like perhaps taking a “break” from one electronic device by using another?

I get it. Electronic, and especially phone, overuse is pervasive. I dare say it’s the most common form of addiction, and it’s not just in our country.

What are we to do?

Well, let’s be honest. Computers, including those mobile and miniature ones we keep in our pockets, aren’t going anywhere for now. When it comes to helping our mental health, it’s important that we’re using them responsibly. Here’s a place to start.

Danielle’s 10 Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. Pay attention for how much time you’re on your phone, including using various applications. A tech way of doing this is through apps like Moment.
  2. Don’t spend your time with others on your devices unless absolutely necessary. Hint: it’s hardly ever necessary.
    • Here’s a fun game: Phone Stack. Whoever picks up their phone first pays the bill.
  3. Do look for opportunities to enjoy life around you. If you’re waiting for something, engage people around you in conversation. If you’re outside, take a deep breath.
    • You can also do the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste. You can switch the senses up to match where you are.
  4. If you use an app too much, delete the app and access it through your internet browser. Or turn off notifications. Or limit yourself to a certain number of minutes on that app each day. Or make it so you have to enter your password each time you want to use it.
  5. Stop electronic use at least an hour before bedtime. Do something neurologically soothing in order to help transition yourself into sleep.
    • Examples of activities: Stretching, shower/bath, reading, journaling, coloring, meditating, etc.
  6. Carve out time for quiet reflection. This can be praying, meditating, a bath, or a walk outside. Make time to not only be with yourself, but allow space for your feelings. If need be, turn on music instead of TV.
  7. Make commitments and stick to them. Like no phones at dinner or only checking a social media app once per day.
  8. Read real books. Like the ones you check out from the library, where you physically turn each page to read it. They even smell good.
  9. If you must distract, do it with quality, light promoting content. Like The School of Life, Happify, or Calm.
  10. Pay attention to what you’re pumping into your psyche. Is it positive? Violent? Dramatic? Loving? Competitive? Twisted? What do different shows and media do to your psyche? Ever watch tattoo shows and want a new tattoo? Or cooking shows and get on a cooking kick? Hint: Media affects you.

You can do this. Less time in virtual, more time in reality. Your mood, relationships, brain chemistry, social life, and spirit will thank you.

What’s one way you can find balance today?

See you next week for our talk about sleep? You’ll already be a step ahead if you quit with the bedtime electronics.

Take care out there,

D

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