Sometimes I feel bombarded with too much information, too many images, too much, and it all sort of closes in on me. It starts to make my world feel small and, sometimes, a little scary. And every so often something happens that makes me realize it is time for a media fast.
The other day I was washing dishes while she was batting wildly at one of her toys on the floor. She was singing one of her favorite songs: screaming happily. It’s so lovely. That sounds sarcastic, but honestly, it’s so lovely. It’s such raw joy. She’s testing the sounds she makes, and she is hearing how she can be so loud and powerful in this world. This is what I want for her.
And even though I believe all of this, the other day as I was doing dishes and listening to her I felt suddenly so overwhelmed. I wanted the noise to stop. I wanted to lay down in a warm, dark space, where it was quiet. The dishes clanging in the sink and my baby screaming, however happily, was like a screw that was tightening my muscles and my mind.
I realized, as so often happens in these moments, that I wasn’t breathing. I was holding my breath, but even correcting it wasn’t really helping. So, I wondered, what was going on… what was causing these feeling of tension? I took a second to think. I am, after all, trying to be more mindful.
And then I realized. I’d read a news story the day before about (warning: this link is sad) a baby found abandoned by an overpass in Brazil. He was alive, is alive, but those moments of him being alive and staring up at the bright white sky instead of spending his first few hours eating from his mother and being loved, well, it cut deep. And it stayed with me.
This was why I wasn’t breathing. This was why I wasn’t loving the sound my daughter was making. I was sad.
And I didn’t need to be. Because if I hadn’t read that story, I wouldn’t have felt that. Time for a media fast.
This is hard: what’s the balance of staying responsibly informed about the world, vs. needing a break. It’s a hard balance, but guess what? We all need breaks. Give yourself one.
Here are my 5 Tips For A Media Fast:
- Figure Out What You Need: Take some time to measure your reactions to different sources–is Instagram making you feel happy and more connected, or more like a failure? Is your fave news site making you feel informed and empowered, or weak and overwhelmed? Also, how long are you spending on each source. Be honest with yourself. Make a list of which ones you can handle in your life right now. Maybe it’s none, maybe it’s a few. Even though we’re calling this a “media fast,” you could just try your hand at a “media diet” for now.
- Make Your Rules: If you aren’t up for going cold turkey from all news and social media, first of all, I don’t blame you. It can be really hard! Maybe your BFF is on a road trip, so you want to keep track of her on Instagram, but you could do without CNN for awhile. Or maybe you are following a news story close to your heart, but definitely don’t want to look at people’s “curated” lives on Instagram. Decide what you want and need, and make the media fast work for you. Now, consider setting some time limits: how often do you want to check the ones you’re keeping in your life? How long do you want to do this for? I recommend rookies start at three days.
- Start Your Morning Clean and Easy: No matter the rules you’ve set for your media fast, this one should feel hard and fast: don’t check your phone right away. Use a watch or clock by your bed (gasp!) for the time. I know that when I am just going to check the time, often there are a million texts and alerts that I just do not need in my life before I’ve even brushed my teeth. Start a new routine: light a candle and stretch, drink your coffee by a window, or if (heaven forbid) the kids are awake, read a story together.
- Don’t Get Bored: It’s always when I’m bored (or stressed) that I begin to scroll through my phone. I might be looking at memes, I might be looking at the brutal news of the day. During a media fast, though, if I start to get bored or feel like I “deserve” a break, I stand up. I stretch, or take a little walk, or even do some jumping jacks. I read something that’s not news: a long form story that isn’t “timely,” a poem, a book. I sketch something quick and simple (and I absolutely cannot draw). I do all of these things if I’m overwhelmed with stress. Whatever is making me feel like I need to pick up my phone, I do something that’s usually better.
- Invest Wisely: Jumping jacks and poems are really great ways to distract and reward yourself that aren’t your phone, but you might be surprised with how much time you have on your hands now that you aren’t just scrolling and scrolling (and reading and gawking). So, what do you want to do with your life, and who do you want to be? Dramatic, I know. But what if every hour you spent on social media was spent, instead, on one of your passion projects? Are you trying to write a graphic novel, or start a blog? Get to it! Are you looking for a better job? Edit your resume! Take all the time you were using investing your energy elsewhere, and turn it back on yourself.
- Measure Your Success: Remember back in step one when you were noticing all about how things made you feel, and how long you were doing the things that were making you feel all those ways? Well, now that you’re partway through (or finished!) with your fast, notice how you feel. Write it down. Notice how much time you saved, and what you accomplished with it. From this new perspective, I hope you have made discoveries about what makes you feel good, what makes you feel bad, and where you want to invest your time (perhaps by playing with your new baby)
For more on this, and other wellness issues, check out my ebook, Coping with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: A Holistic Guide .