My Month off Social Media

My daughter took a course in college last year that considered the impact of social media on the well-being of young women. In short, it’s not good. While it can connect people who are geographically apart, share ideas and inspire reflection, the way we have come to use most social media doesn’t inspire much. Except social comparison. So she left her social media accounts for the month of January. I was impressed. She announced she was doing it again this year, so I spontaneously decided to join her.

I had been growing increasingly sick of my News Feed on Facebook. I noticed myself spending many minutes a day, at various times in my day, just searching for something new or different to catch my attention. Surely I had enough contacts there that someone was doing something inspired, sharing an article I needed to read, or offering some news that was important to know. Well, it seems that those enlightened folks were increasingly off Facebook and living their lives. Who knew? Instead, I fed myself a steady diet of unimportant videos, repetitive misattributed inspirational quotes, and photo after photo that were the central cause of my quiet poor attitude: everyone else was having such a wonderful time, and I was just doing my work, the laundry, going to the gym for the millionth time, and thinking about what to make for dinner.

Twitter, my other account which promises more than it delivers, was much more idea, news and event driven, and to give that up for a month seemed a bit neglectful. But I didn’t miss much. Instead, I spent my Twitter time looking at the Star Tribune, MPR, NPR and NYT websites. I got the news from journalists themselves, and got less snark, smirks and repeats than I might on the Twitter.

The only social media account I let myself check this month, without much guilt I must add, was the beautiful professional and personal photography on Instagram. I always smile, feel calmer and more optimistic after looking at what shows up on my feed. I see yoga poses, black and white photography from NYC and Egypt, fountain pens galore (because, that’s my thing) and smiling faces of acquaintances and friends all living daily life and pausing to share it without much commentary. That is something that I will keep.

So, as January comes to an end, I will say that it was like stepping back in time, before I had a smart phone and two laptops and a tablet. I read more news, listened to more music, and read novels as much as I used to. All that needs to keep happening. I need to reignite the personal free time activities I enjoyed before social media stole my attention. I felt I suddenly had more space in my thoughts and emotions, and was more aware of my own present moments and less consumed by the gloat and glitter of my contact’s vacation photos.

I will be coming back to Twitter and FB but I have committed to myself to be a minimalist user. Twitter gets a check once a day on both my personal and professional profiles. FB? I’m first going to reconfigure what I see when it opens, stop following those who have nothing original to say, and only look at it once a day. And I think I need to get off several group pages, particularly those of the ELCA clergy. Those pastors need to stop arguing online and read some books and go for a walk, for heaven’s sake. Pathetic.

Instagram gets a pass on any changes. I’m there to stay. And Reddit? SnapChat? et al? Forget it. I’m a new Spotify user. Enough said.

 

You Gotta Have Hope

It’s true that all we have is the now. Every moment, lived now, is how we put together a life. Living our mental time too much in the past, or too far into the future, is a sure fire recipe for suffering.

In a previous post I wrote about a few important aspects of changing our body experience in the present: focusing on actions we can take to change our inner world: good nutrition, daily exercise, quieting the mind through prayer, ritual, or meditation, and focusing our time on mutual, healthy relationships.

Here I’d like to talk about the mental attitude of hopefulness, a necessary ingredient to creating a more positive outcome to our efforts toward change.

Have you ever noticed that while you are in that awful process of really being sick with an infection or injury, trying to decide whether to make an appointment or get to an urgent care center, the anxiety about your situation amplifies your suffering? In the same way, I wonder if you have noticed that once you make up your mind to take action, and put yourself in a situation where you can receive medical help, your symptoms begin to subside even before you are examined?

This lessening of anxiety and its effect on our suffering once we are confident we will be helped is known as the placebo effect: the way that hope for change creates an increase in well-being and a lessening of suffering.

That is how powerful the emotional experience of hopefulness is. Part of the therapeutic process, whether in a hospital room or a counseling office, is sustaining hope for change. I believe that human beings can change; I have changed, and continue to work on my own change processes. I have helped many people create their own change, and witnessed healing of heart, mind, and body all my life.

Hope is the confidence that the suffering of the present can be relieved, and that there is a path that can be relied on to attain healing. It is what can carry us through the work of the present to a new future. It’s the most necessary mental ingredient I know when taking on the challenge to create something new in our lives.

If you have hope for a different future, you can often endure the suffering of the now, the work necessary to change your circumstance, and launch yourself into a different tomorrow, next week or next year.

Want to change something now? Grab onto your hope for change and don’t let go.

Willing to Risk Again

Several times this week I have found myself talking to new couple clients about their relationships, and how hurt has caused them to feel withdrawn from their partners. Sometimes this distance has lasted for years, the human need for support, connection and understanding no longer expected from their spouse. 

One of the most important aspects of relationship repair is the willingness to risk being open to a partner who has been months or years at odds with our needs and hopes. Couple therapy at its best keeps both people focused on their individual efforts, while being confident, through actions and words in the therapy room and out, that the partner is doing the same hard work. 

It can feel like being open to injury. Like you are just asking for your partner to hurt you again. Many people resist, and for every right reason! But repairing such pain means turning toward your partner and feeling what you feel, expressing your hurt and disappointment, asking for what you need again, and being willing to see if your openness can be met with a similar effort of apology, repair, and affection by your partner. That’s what a good couple therapist does every day with couples, with compassion, encouragement and patience. It’s not a free-for-all in therapy sessions. If it is, run in the other direction. 

When deciding whether to go to couples therapy, this is one question you will need to answer: am I willing to be open again to this person, this one I once loved, and see what I feel, what they have to say, what they have experienced, and work together for new, common ground?