Category: Unplugging

Revisiting Habits, asking “How’s This Working For Me?”

A month ago I went cold turkey.

No online, paper, or radio news.

No social media.

No falling down the internet rabbit hole.

It wasn’t a particularly well-thought-out, planned-for decision. (Which defies everything we think we know about habit change – right? Conventional wisdom is that habits are easiest to change if we have a plan, have prepared, told significant others, have figured out alternatives, etc.)

But I had no plan. It was an impulsive decision, and I had prepared no one, including myself. I just knew that I felt attached at the hip to the news cycle, and wasn’t sure if it was serving me even though it’s easy to believe that we “should” be paying moment-to-moment attention. Life felt loud, like a bunch of clanging bells always ringing, shaking me out of my own thoughts and efforts. I felt attached at the hip to social media because of FOMO, but didn’t find myself happier or more connected as a result. (The research supports that anxiety and depression and isolation can actually increase because of internet usage!) I’m not morally opposed to the internet, and am grateful for the amazing things that happen on it and because of it. I hold no judgments of other people’s internet habits, but was finding that my own habits weren’t feeling particularly skillful. In other words: was it really worth the time and attention I was giving it?

Now, it’s been almost a month and I find that the impulse to open news and social media websites has mostly faded. Sometimes I find myself staring at my email, wanting there to be something entertaining and new there that somehow I missed, but then I realize – oh, I’m tired – or, oh, I’m not doing anything – and close the computer. Somehow, taking a sabbatical from most of my online world has reduced my stress and quieted the clanging.

I don’t miss the news. I hear from friends or family about what’s happening politically, and am concerned but also don’t miss the roller coaster ride. I’m finding other ways to be involved and engaged – reading more books (like The New Jim Crow and Mindful of Race), getting together more with colleagues, and listening to a series of Tara Brach’s lectures on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. Somehow it seems like I’m experiencing more spaciousness as well – perhaps because I’m bombarding myself less with stimuli. I certainly don’t feel worse. If anything, I feel a bit healthier – a bit more here, in the present moment, with therapy clients and when I’m with family or alone.

My experience has reminded me that taking a step back to assess a part of our life – even a minute, mostly inconsequential part – can sometimes be useful. In the words of America’s favorite non-therapist therapist, Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” He’s cheesy as hell, but it’s a great question.

 

Teens and the Anxiety Epidemic

Teens and the Anxiety Epidemic

The New York Times Magazine cover story this past week was about teens and anxiety. Yay!

And it’s not that I’m a sicko who takes pleasure from other people’s suffering.

Rather, it’s nice to see attention focused on what’s been obvious in my office: that many teens — delightful, smart, precocious, thoughtful teens — are really struggling in profound ways. Self-harm is one way that this struggle shows up. A struggle to get to school is another big way this shows up. And it puts parents in a huge bind over what to do.

Here’s what I want you to know. Anxiety is terrible, and the impulse is to avoid anxiety by avoiding what makes us anxious. But as this article mentions, avoidance generally makes things worse. What helps? Looking at and re-writing thoughts, coping skills for calming the body and mind, and practice showing up for things that feel scary — like school.

 

The Science of Social Media and FOMO

The Science of Social Media and FOMO

Next time you want to go on social media, do a simple experiment. Check in with yourself beforehand for a second. How do you feel about your life, your relationships, your job, your home? After hanging out on social media for a bit, check in with yourself again. Do you feel better or worse?

The science implies you’ll likely feel a bit worse. Some colleagues put me onto this episode of the podcast The Hidden Brain. It’s all about social media, FOMO (fear of missing out), and comparison. Listen here:

http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/national-public-radio/hidden-brain/e/ep-68-schadenfacebook-49872935

We all know our social media versions of ourselves leave out lots of aspects our reality (usually the ugly, the messy, the complicated). The science shows there are consequences to this, and to the comparison that inevitably happens when we spend a chunk of time on social media. It may be that I should be asking all my therapy clients about how time they spend on social media. Counseling helps alleviate depression and anxiety, and it may be that one simple step we can all take is to monitor how much time we spend online – and what we notice as a result.

Are Technology and Peace At Odds?

Are Technology and Peace At Odds?

My meditation teacher sent me this article I Used To Be A Human Being and I’m passing it along to you today. It’s all about how to live in an age of constant distraction and, fittingly, it took me three days and three sittings to actually finish it because of the distractions that bombard me.

I’m sharing this article because its author, Andrew Sullivan, speaks to the wrestling that so many of us do figuring out how to live with technology in a way that serves us. It speaks to the ways that technology often keeps us hooked into distraction and compulsive online searching rather than the more important (and often more difficult and painful) internal searching to find and explore the core of ourselves and our purpose.

I hope this article is thought-provoking in all the right ways for you today.

Reconsidering The Cult of Productivity

imgresI work with a lot of therapy clients struggling to find their place in a culture that values productivity above almost everything else. These clients feel guilty when they aren’t maximizing their time. Lounging can be seen as sinful. There is a constant push for more and more and more efficiency. And while the constant pushing can lead to isolation and loneliness, they are not alone: in mainstream Western culture, we value doing more than being, action more than reflection, and self-improvement over self-acceptance.

There are lots of reasons for our culture’s focus on productivity. But in my office, there are two main reasons people stay so busy and driven:

  1. We fear slowing down. What happens when we spend time being quiet? It often means confronting parts of reality we’d rather push away. Many of us live with an inner critic, and that critic can be hard to tolerate at first when we spend time intentionally practicing reflection and self-acceptance.
  1. Our self-worth has become deeply linked to our productivity. If we only feel okay when we judge ourselves on our productivity, of course we don’t want to slow down. (When our self-worth is linked to productivity like this, it leaves us vulnerable to internal crises if we get sick or have a change in life roles at home or work.)

In counseling, I work with clients to help them recognize other options for self-worth that go beyond productivity. We build bridges to reconcile self-improvement and self-acceptance. We rediscover the pleasure of leisure time well spent – without the guilt.

 

 

 

 

Turning Off and Tuning In to Another Mass Shooting

black ribbonI found out the horrific mass shooting yesterday in Florida this morning, not because of the TV or the radio or the internet but because someone I happened to be with mentioned it.

Word of mouth is how I’ve learned almost all of my news for the past two months. It’s been part of an experiment that has involved purposely turning off and tuning out the barrage of news and infotainment that I had eagerly welcomed for so long.

Before these last two months, my radio was on constantly. I was constantly reloading the New York Times website. I could sound informed and knew a little bit about a lot.

But I was also getting numb to it all. Information overload can increase stress and make it hard to absorb anything at all. And so while it’s important to me to be engaged in the world beyond my nose and take action where I can, it’s also been important to see what happens when I turn everything off for awhile. If I’m not distracting myself with the news or really entertaining podcasts, where does my mind go? If I’m not hearing about everything that’s truly terrible in the world, what does that do for my ability to feel and act calm?

We need to notice the impact that news has on our spirits and sense of well-being. We need to try to be mindful as we figure out the right ways and times to be present with the world around us. That’s what I’m working on.

Please join me in adding your name to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence’s petition for stronger gun control.