Life

Unplugged: Combating Mental and Media Strain

Imagine the scene — You wake up, grab your morning cup of coffee, brush your teeth, and it’s time to start your day. The sun is shining, summer temperatures are rising and you think to yourself — “Today is going to be a good day. Just a quick flip through social media and I’m off to the races”. Then it starts. As you start to scroll through *enter preferred social media platform here* and/or turn on your *enter preferred news outlet here*, post after post, news report after news report, the tone is the same. Your mind starts to race, your blood starts to boil, and before you know it, what was supposed to be a couple of funny memes and dog videos have become a mental onslaught of videos, visual images, and angry rhetoric. You instantly become exhausted looking at the clock to realize, it’s now 5 pm and you’ve got nothing done for the day. What was supposed to be a “quick flip” has just turned into an all-day parade of negativity, creeping into your cerebellum, dancing around your limbic system, and doing serious damage to your mental well-being.

If you’re like me, you try to keep up with current events, looking to stay apprised of everything that’s going on. Keeping your finger on the preverbal pulse of the world. But, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t help but escape what is now our new normal. From COVID-19 to George Floyd, 2020 hasn’t really been shaping up to be the best year (especially if the Jumanji sized murder hornets show up). What do you do when you want to stay informed, but not drain what little spoons you have equipped for the day?

Recently, I found myself asking these questions and more importantly, exhausting myself trying to navigate the mental minefield (“mind field”) that is our new normal. Over the last several weeks, I’ve noticed that I haven’t been able to really control the emotions that I’m experiencing. From confusion to anger, jubilation to depression, my mind has raced in ways that would make The Flash blush. So, what can you do to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap that I and countless others around the world have? Below are some tips and tricks that I am discovering help me during this time. Some I’ve mastered, other’s I’m still learning to do. At the end of the day, you have to listen to yourself and find the ones that work for you.

1. Shut off and shut down

Turning off your mobile, switching to something light-hearted, taking a nap, all can do wonders for your mental stability. Think of your brain as a battery. Shutting off and unplugging from the social media/news machine is the lightning charge cable. Like your phone, the more apps you have running in the background, the quicker your battery drains. Your brain is no different. The more external stimulation you receive, the more your brain works to compensate for the extra white noise. The more your brain fights to compensate, the quicker your battery drains. Turn your brain on “Airplane mode”, cut off your mental Bluetooth, and allow your body to receive the proper charge it deserves.

2. Limit the number of media outlets you consume

Our body’s natural fight or flight system is designed to pick up on your fear, and fear sadly is the stock and trade of most news and social outlets. The bombardment of negativity that you are absorbing outside of what your body is used to (perceived as “threats”) will cause your body to produce absorbent amounts of adrenaline and cortisol, rewiring your body with enough energy to combat your body’s instinctual flight response. Typically, once the threat has been neutralized, these hormones typically revert back to its baseline level and you resume your regular activities. The problem with this however is that your body isn’t combating actual physical threats. Therefore your body’s natural fight or flight system remains turned on. Like apps running on your phone’s background, it drains your battery. Just like your phone, closing the apps stops the drain.

3. Turning off app notifications

From the time you wake up to the time you fall asleep (and even while you are actually sleeping), your phone constantly sends out notifications, almost creating a melodic symphony “buzzes”, “clicks”, “dings”. Per the NY Post, “Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes — burying their heads in their phones 80 times a day, according to new research. A study by global tech protection and support company Asurion found that the average person struggles to go a little more than 10 minutes without checking their phone”. Stated in the Journal of Accountability, the average consumer is likely to check their smart devices a total of 42 times a day with the exception being adults 18–24 checking their devices a whopping 86 times a day. That’s 42–86 distractions a day keeping us from resetting our system. As I discussed above, that’s 42–86 times your body resorts to its fight or flight response. Turning off the notifications to your top app distractors will allow your body to reset its cortisol and blue screen consumption levels, allowing your body to get back into its natural circadian rhythm. More sleep = a better, more alert and receptive you!

4. (Re)Connect with nature

Right now, our bodies are starved for Vitamin D. Not only does Vitamin D boost your immune system, fight disease, and boost weight loss, it also can combat depression. In this time of desperate need, your body needs the rays of the Sun to give you the Vitamin D it is calling out for. Even if it’s only for 10 mins a day, getting outside and enjoying the warmth of the Sun can give you the boost you need to power through the day and combat the brain’s desire to constantly “Fight” or “Fly”. Just make sure you are still adhering to your state or country’s health and distancing laws to keep you safe. You also might want to keep a bottle of Claritin on standby. It is after all, still allergy season.

5. Give yourself limits

The definition of an 8 hour day has completely been thrown on its head. COVID-19 has shown us that the antiquated business practices of 8 hours, 30 minutes for lunch, and the desire to be in the office/cubicle isn’t as critical as we have been led to believe. With more and more teleworking from home, it’s easy to get lost in what you are working on. Giving yourself limits, setting alarms, taking breaks is the only way to get a reclaim not only your home/work balance but your mental balance as well.

6. Binge your favorite TV show/movie

Nerd alert, I am a movie, tv-show junkie. With over 400 movies in my personal library and almost every streaming service known to man, it should come to no surprise that I am advocating for a good binge session. Unplugging from reality, letting your mind drift and wander, getting lost in a compelling story will give your brain and body the reset from reality that it is so desperately begging for. Warning: extreme bingeing will however give you major #ShowHole feels once you finish out a series. It’s a small price to pay, but worth it!

7. Read a book

If binging watching isn’t really your bag, that’s ok. Getting lost in a good book is just as good (if not better). The same rules as Tip 6 apply.

8. Take a self-care day

Self-care is different for everyone. While it is completely different for each person, that doesn’t mean you can’t find which aspects work for you Just because you currently can’t have a spa day, get a Mani/Pedi, or go to the gym, it doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy a good self-care day. Whatever makes you feel good can be considered “self-care”. The very name means its care for yourself. Take a day out to enjoy the things that make you happy. Take an extra hot bath, jam out to your favorite song on repeat with the volume turned to max, have that second bottle of wine…bottom line, do something that makes you happy.

9. Connect with old friends

I recently reconnected with a few friends that I’ve lost contact with over the years. It wasn’t that we had any misunderstandings or some big fight, life just got in the way. Pre-COVID, it was very easy to use life as the reason and excuse not to stay connected. Needing human connection is important now more than ever with life coming to a standstill. No longer do we have the excuses that stood in our way. Reconnecting and rediscovering those meaningful lost connections can truly do wonders for the malnourished soul.

10. Stay hydrated and nourished

This last tip, honestly, is one I to this day struggle with. While trying not to sound hypocritical, I have to accept the fact that I have to get better at this last tip. There are days where I either forget to eat or even sometimes go extended periods of time without liquid. It’s horrible I know. But for the times where I do eat, (or cook…spoilers, I love to cook), your body gets to replenish itself with the nutrients it needs to be able to get you through the day. That sustenance fuels your body to power through and rally back from the major stressors of the day. PRO-TIP: Eating healthy, giving your body an array of fruits and veggies not only boost your immune system in order to fight media fatigue, but they are also delicious as well! The more healthy things you put in your system, the more your body will thank you.

Until next time, remember: Life is always changing. That’s how we know we are alive!

S. (2017, November 08). Americans check their phones 80 times a day: Study. Retrieved June 05, 2020, from https://nypost.com/2017/11/08/americans-check-their-phones-80-times-a-day-study/

Wolfe, A. (2018, April 02). Guess how often you use your phone every day. Retrieved June 05, 2020, from https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/newsletters/2018/apr/how-often-use-phone-every-day.html

H. (2020, April 7). The Benefits of Vitamin D (D. Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT, Ed.). Retrieved June 05, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d#fights-disease

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