We are constantly bombarded with information, usually in the form of “news” with headlines intended to provoke an emotional response. We can’t look at any online source without seeing ads which imply we’re missing some vital trend, videos showing accidents, injuries, or other gore; appeals for missing people, lost pets, wounded animals, or crippled veterans; and trolls.
Trolls are everywhere. Those people whom, with the protection of anonymity; write horrible, nasty, vile things about everything and everybody. There’s not enough eye bleach or pictures of cute kittens than can erase some of the stuff we read or see online. There is a cost to this barrage. We become numb, self-protective, and emotionally withdrawn. Even though we may not be aware of it, our psyche slowly comes to the conclusion that the world is not a safe place and we take steps to protect ourselves. We disengage. We still go through the motions. We look like we’re participating in life, but in reality, we’re living shells; hollow and barren inside with the door firmly barred from the inside. We exist in our own lives much like a plane on autopilot.
There is much about our world today that is painful. Social media has connected us to each other and to the wider world in ways never before experienced. At the same time, research says we report ourselves as feeling more lonely and isolated relationally than at any other time in history. Don’t get me wrong – I love social media and how it can facilitate staying connected, but this digital age has a human cost, emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
In my practice, anxiety and/or depression are, by a large margin, the most frequent reason why someone seeks out help. There are many factors that influence these issues, but what comes up over and over and over in therapy is the sense of feeling overwhelmed and lonely.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Restore your internal equilibrium, rejuvenate your soul, and regain a sense of connection to your world.
Take a decision.
- Choose one day per week and unplug. Completely. No screens, no online interaction at all. (If you had a near panic attack after reading this, you definitely need to take time off!)
- Take that offline time to do something enjoyable. Something you used to do and don’t anymore. Go for a bike ride. Take a book to the beach. Paint. Call a friend for coffee (tell him/her no gadgets). Daydream. Meditate. Do yoga. The list is endless. But do something purposeful.
- Set aside a specific time for you to consider your life values. Social justice? Education? Animal rights? Identify what’s important for your internal sense of self to be happy, and then go find a way to tangibly manifest that value. Volunteer. Get involved in community initiatives. Start a little business. Whatever.
- Make the people in your presence more important than anything else. Prioritize time with others by relationship. The ones in front of you; then friends online whom you really, actually know in person; then virtual friends; and finally, those people who are part of your online life by default. (Get rid of this last bunch. They hide the trolls)
- Finally, do something every week that nurtures your soul and brings a sense of wonder to your life. Try new things. Go places you’ve never been. Try a random act of kindness for a total stranger. Take your grandmother out for tea. Get off the world’s treadmill and start walking at your own pace.
Feeling overwhelmed is almost always about unwittingly giving away personal independence to others. Take back your life by choosing every day to do something by deliberate, mindful choice. When everyone else takes the elevator, take the stairs. Just decide. When someone suggests coffee, choose the little independent coffee shop on the street. Then go there. Every single day, consciously make a choice – no matter how small – which declares your autonomy and individuality. Life is too short to live on autopilot.
“When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.” ~Anonymous