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Why running from pain can be catastrophic: Redefining my relationship with Tech

Read time : Approximately 6.5 minutes

Source from: How to Find Balance in the Age of Indulgence - Dr. Anna Lembke

For the past 15 years, I have loved social media.


Around 2009, I fell head over heels for Youtube and decided that one day, I wanted to become a YouTuber.


Fourteen years later, I started sharing my journey of self-discovery on Instagram and unfortunately began to have increasing troubles with my mental health.


I noticed my anxiety was worsened by constantly looking at the metrics ( likes, follows, subscribers, etc).


I knew something had to change.


And even though I tried tech sabbaths and no-screen days, nothing really clicked until last year.


I was stressed out and burned out at work and lost another loved one.


I needed a break.


I rented out an Airbnb in Joshua Tree for the weekend, so my husband and I could get away…but on our drive, I went viral on TikTok.


Although there was a lot of support, I got a fair amount of hate from what seemed like hundreds if not thousands of strangers on the internet.


I knew I wasn't in the right mind to handle that on top of everything else I was dealing with, so I asked my husband to turn off my phone and hide it in the Airbnb for the entire weekend.


And you know what? It was one of the best weekends of my life.


So after some almost mid-year reflections last month, I decided to go social media-free for 30 days.


Here are some things I've been thinking about.


 

Using Social Media as an Excuse for Relationship Maintenace


While writing one day, I asked myself the question:


“Would you rather be liked by many while hiding aspects of yourself, or be freely yourself and loved by a few?”


One of the reasons we love social media is that it has made maintaining relationships with loved ones easier than ever.


Long gone are the days of relocating and only seeing or hearing from your loved ones a couple of times a year or by letter.


Which is amazing!


But... I also think a lot of us are using it as the path of least resistance.


We enjoy the "likes" and comments from our loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers because of that lovely feel-good chemical dopamine.


We get more attention and more dopamine but without the effort.

In an interview done on NBC News, the U.S. Surgeon General stated that we are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness that is increasing our risk for physical illnesses.


Research suggests that loneliness increases the risk for heart disease by 29%, stroke by 32%, and amongst older adults dementia by 50%.


And although phones can be great tools, the Surgeon General states that they may in fact be making our loneliness worse.


Because there is no substitute for spending time with your loved ones face to face.


Followers don’t replace friendships.


Texts don’t replace phone calls, phone calls don’t do the same justice as Facetime, and


Facetime pales in comparison to sitting at the dinner table with your favorite people.


But that all takes more work.


I remember asking a loved one if they had called a cousin recently and they said “No but I comment on their posts on Facebook”.


And to be honest, I became frustrated until I realized I was simply doing a very similar version with my friends and some of our family too.


I realized that I was substituting online and parasocial relationships for the real thing.


I wanted the feel-good part of relationships without the commitment… because the more effort you put into relationships the stronger those relationships get.


And the stronger your relationships get, the harder the grief hits when you lose that person.


But that's no way to live, is it?


So during my 30-day detox, I made a point to start scheduling calls, preferably facetimes, with my loved ones.


I know it's not the most attractive way to think about maintaining your relationships, but


I'm a strong believer that if it's scheduled it has a higher likelihood of getting done.


And I'm very happy to say, I've developed a system where I try to talk to at least 2-3 loved ones a week during my afternoon walks, Alhamdulillah.


I haven't felt this good in a long time.

“It seems it is not enough to just get out there and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially. When you are inside your comfort zone, you may be outside of the enhancement zone.”- Dr. Denise Park

 

Let's Talk about Dopamine

Dopamine- a neurotransmitter notably involved in the brain’s reward system that allows you to feel pleasure.

Pleasure and pain are colocated in our brains, meaning that they are processed from the same parts of the brain.


In this video by After School, Dr. Ana Lembke explains the pain-pleasure balance as a type of seesaw.


When you do something you enjoy, your brain releases a bit of dopamine and you lean more towards the pleasure side of said seesaw.


In order to maintain neutrality or homeostasis, your brain will then down-regulate the amount of dopamine released.


Dr. Lembke explains this through a visual of little gremlins jumping onto the “pain side”.


Source from: How to Find Balance in the Age of Indulgence - Dr. Anna Lembke

Unfortunately, these gremlins don’t want to just balance you out, they want to keep you on the side of pain.


This is when your brain thinks “just one more chip”, “just one more video”.


If you ride this feeling out, your brain will get back to a neutral balance.


But, if you give in to this impulse, you may find yourself at the bottom of a party-sized chip bag, or on the conspiracy side of youtube… 8 videos deep… on the undeniable existence of the Loch Ness Monster.


If you do this enough, you change your hedonic setpoint, which is essentially the baseline of what you need in order to feel happy.


Once that happens, you need to continue that activity just to feel “normal”.


And if you stop, you experience common withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, cravings, and irritability to name a few.


Thankfully, Dr. Lembke suggests that a 30-day detox may be enough to reset your hedonic setpoint and help you begin to repair your relationship with social media, video games etcetera.


~Additional fact~


An interesting fact that Dr.Lembke mentioned in the video is that pain can act as a pathway to pleasure!


Pain is the price for pleasure while pleasure is the reward for pain.


You can see this in multiple day-to-day examples like martial arts, sensory deprivation tanks, cold baths, and exercise.


All well-known examples that have multiple physiological benefits on the human body and a plethora of mental health benefits.


 

Practical Steps to Take

“Everything that's created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence... All creativity requires some stillness.” Wayne Dyer

Unplugging from my phone and social media gave my mind space to breathe.


It was almost as if my mind was so jumbled with other people’s opinions and my own and


I couldn’t differentiate between the two.


Disconnecting allowed my thoughts to be gently unraveled into a coherent stream.


I was starting to interpret each thought and view them as an observer instead of an active participant.


During my detox, I:

  • talked to my family more than I had in the first 4 months of this year

  • reduced my screen time by around 60 hours for the month

  • redesigned my entire website

  • created and stayed consistent with this newsletter

  • Slayed my standing, movement, and exercise goals set on my Apple Watch


However, I realized I needed to set up a system that would allow me to maintain this healthier relationship I was developing with social media and my phone.


One of my favorite mantras/systems I developed is: set your intention, simplify, execute, and stay consistent.


I’ve found it’s a great way to establish a system that is created for YOUR success.


This is how you can use it to decrease your social media and tech use:

  1. Get clear on your Intention

  2. look at your screen time and the breakdown per category (social, finance etc).

  3. Evaluate whether or not you’re satisfied with this level of time being consumed.

  4. Be radically honest about why you spend so much time on these apps.

  5. Write down emotions/states you usually experience while on specific apps.

  • angry, content, stressed, argumentative…

  1. Simplify

  2. Break your goal down into a system of actionable steps.

  3. “For the first hour in the morning or during the hour before I go to bed, I will put my phone on the other side of the room” (this may also help you not snooze your morning alarms).

  4. Execute

  5. Don't allow yourself to get analysis paralysis or overthink. You've already prepped, now you just have to do it.

  6. Stay consistent

  7. Show up for yourself in some capacity every day.

  8. When you find yourself getting anxious from doom scrolling, put the phone to the side, go for a 5-minute walk and then see how you feel after.

  9. When you find your anxiety creeping up and you want to violate the boundaries you set for yourself, remind yourself of your “why”. Then find a replacement habit such as drawing, journaling, or doing a couple of jumping jacks. Something to get you out of your head and into your body


Once you establish the above system, tell someone.


I had my husband set a passcode, only he knew, that would lock me out of TikTok and Instagram after a specified amount of time.


It was incredibly frustrating at first but it was very effective.


Don’t worry, you don't have to go to extremes like I did.


Instead of having your apps locked with a password you are unaware of, you can use a tool to help with your impulse control.


For example, on Amazon, there are boxes that allow you to set a timer and place your phone inside of it for the allotted time.


The box will keep you locked out and you will have to sit with yourself and your lovely and sometimes not-so-lovely thoughts.


If you feel like you have a little more control you can always set screen limits on your phone but unfortunately, those can be easily overridden.


 

What now?


My goal isn’t for you to delete every social media app off of your phone or go dark for 30 days as I did.


Rather it’s to help you reflect on your relationship with tech.


Is it healthy?


Are you mindful of your time?


What purpose is it serving? Entertainment? Education? Escapism?


Although social media and our cell phones can be amazing tools, I’ve found that living a life ~where the majority of it is online~ can rob you of precious time in the real world.


Stepping away from tech can allow you to step into your life, your relationships, your work, and your creative pursuits with more presence and authenticity.


 

Praying you all have a week filled with abundant light and radiant health,

Aqilah


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