Recently I have begun to pay more attention to the things I find myself thinking about and wondering what influences me to think about them.
Sometimes the answer is obvious, such as a conversation I recently had with someone that is replaying in my mind. Sometimes the answer is more subtle, as in the following stories.
A feeling of fear & danger
A few months ago, I set out for a hike on my neighborhood trail. I hike this trail several times each month and often by myself. On this particular day, I got to a place along the trail where you enter into a more secluded area. I felt scared and actually questioned if there was a dangerous person lurking somewhere ahead.
At first I blew this feeling off, quickly telling myself that I have done this hike alone many times, that it was the middle of the day, and that there was nothing to be scared about. But then I walked a few more feet and I realized that although I didn’t know why I felt this way today that maybe I should listen to how I was feeling. I turned around and headed back home along a less secluded path.
I got home and went on with my day and I didn’t think about it for another moment. Later that night, I crawled on my couch after my daily duties were complete and I grabbed my phone and opened up Facebook.
As I scrolled through my feed, I started seeing more #MeToo stories—one after another after another. It instantly hit me that before I set out for my hike, I had gone on Facebook and on that particular morning, friends from all over started sharing their #MeToo stories.
I was stunned by the amount of #MeToo posts I was reading, proud of so many for being brave enough to share…and on some deep level I recalled feeling both saddened and frightened by their collective experiences.
I realized that although I had closed Facebook and moved on with my day earlier that morning, my body and my unconscious mind still felt the aftermath of the fear and danger many hours later.
A recollection of a painful past experience
A few weeks after that, I arrived at the kids’ school a bit early for pick-up. It was snowing outside and so I decided to sit in my car until right before the bell rang. To occupy myself for a few minutes, I opened up Facebook and the first thing in my feed was a friend’s posting which had a great message about not jumping to conclusions and giving people the benefit of the doubt.
In short, the woman posting had waited for a plumber who did not show up. When she finally heard from him, he explained that they had had a medical emergency and they rescheduled his visit to her home for another day. When the plumber arrived at her house he thanked her for being so kind and understanding a few days prior. When my friend asked if everything turned out okay, he told her that his wife was pregnant and that they had lost the baby that day.
After reading that, the bell rang and I jumped out of my car. As I walked the 3-minute walk to my daughter’s classroom through the snow, I was transported back to my own miscarriage many years before. I recalled how incredibly painful and scary that time was, and I remembered the fear, the pain, the devastation, and the uncertainty I felt, wondering if I would ever have a baby.
When my daughter walked out of her class, I was hardly there. Yes, I was physically there, but I noticed that my mind was suddenly off in a faraway memory—and a painful one at that!
Later that day, when I thought about this again, I began to ask myself some honest questions:
How many of the things that I think about each day are things that I am choosing to think about? How many of my thoughts are from the things that are dangled in front of my attention? And, most importantly, what do I choose to do about this?
My personal observation & realization
These seemingly benign experiences prompted Roy and I to begin discussing this topic and it has become something that we have now been thinking about and talking about for many months.
Here’s what I realized: I am a super sensitive person who feels things very deeply.
For better or for worse, that has always been who I am. It is for this reason that I stopped reading the paper and watching the news many years ago; I simply could not hear about the tragedies in the world and then close my eyes and fall asleep. Some people can, but not me.
Roy also pointed out an observation of his that was very powerful and eye-opening to me. He said that until the last decade or so, and the advent of social media, our worlds were dramatically smaller than they are now.
By our 40’s we would be involved with the details of our own life, our parents’ lives, our siblings’ lives, the close friends and community where we currently live…and maybe the few friends from our past (high school, college, former jobs) who were important enough to us to remain connected to.
But in 2018 we have the ability to stay connected to practically everyone we have ever known in any capacity and at any time in our life! Yes, there is some degree of beauty in this. It’s super fun to see pictures of the children of my high school acquaintances who I will probably never meet. I certainly smile seeing the striking similarity of the face of my old schoolmate to his or her 4-year old kid!
But the flip side of this exposure is that we are also intimately involved in the heartache of their divorces, the loss of their parents (and sometimes, tragically, their young children), the illnesses they are facing, the addictions they are struggling with, their political and dietary stances, and all of the more meaningless musings of often hundreds of people.
Many of these people (truthfully, most of them) do not feel close enough to me to pick up the phone and talk about these things, however, their world is laid out before me—and therefore they enter my heart to some degree—each and every day if I decide to take a look.
The reach on social media extends even wider because we are often connected to the friends and families of our “friends” when they are tagged in a picture or comment on a post.
On top of all this, we know about everything in the world the second that it happens— the bombings, the invasions, the brutality, the natural disasters. And more than just hearing about it, we are able to see it in vivid pictures and real-time videos. Again, a window into the pain and fear of so many all over the globe. All the time. Every day.
Alerts, notifications & advertisements
I recently had amber alerts startle me (twice!) as I sat at the pool relaxing during my most recent vacations. “Top News Stories” now appear on the screen of my phone the second I touch it. (Yes, I now have learned to turn those notifications off.) I can’t even pump gas at most gas stations anymore without being assaulted with a video that is either telling or selling me something!
And on the topic of selling you stuff, while on our vacation in Los Angeles I went into the Gap and saw a pair of cute jeans. They didn’t have them in my size so I looked them up online to see if they carried them at our Colorado store, which they did not.
I decided that I didn’t want them enough to order them without first trying them on, so I forgot about them. Well, at least I tried to! But every time I went on Google or Facebook, those jeans appeared. And I only noted this consciously when they appeared again a few weeks later in my Google sidebar and I actually said to myself, “I keep forgetting to order those jeans!” only to then remember that I had decided against buying them—a month ago! But the Gap has their clever way of putting things in front of me again and again until I actually believed it was me who was forgetting to buy something!
Is it just me, or is the world feeling a bit like a mini-version of Times Square to you these days as well?
Now, I am by no means advocating that we bury our heads in the sand to the things happening around the world. But there are some things that we feel passionate about and others that are simply not our cause and not our pain to carry. Would you agree?
This has caused me to contemplate the following question:
Are we able to hold a space for this many people and this many thoughts in our hearts and minds at the capacity that the world is asking us to do today?
I realized that the honest answer for me is NO.
The challenge of turning it off
When I stopped watching the news I had made the decision (as a sensitive and empathetic person) to keep myself informed but not inundated. I needed to do this for my own health and happiness. I believed that I was certain to hear about anything that was ultimately worth knowing about from someone in my world—most likely my mom 🙂
But it has gotten harder and harder for me today to “turn it all off.” It is something that we have to consciously do now because it seems that most people either want the information, don’t realize that they have a choice in getting the information (at least to some degree), or don’t realize the effects of the information on them.
As I sat with these questions for the last few months, I realized that this is ultimately a mindfulness practice. It starts with simply noticing.
How do I feel after 5-10 minutes on social media? How do I feel about the information my cellphone bombards me with?
The answer for me was often some version of the following: sad, scared, anxious, fearful, conflicted, confused.
Is this how I want to feel? Clearly the answer was NO!
Reconnecting with my own thoughts
Roy and I both took vacations in the last few weeks. Roy went biking, hiking, and camping in Moab and I went to a spa located in a canyon in Sedona. We both had limited cell phone reception and made a conscious decision to limit our time on our emails. I chose to not engage in any social media, even my regular 5-10 minutes a day—which I imagine is a fraction of the time that the average person spends on it.
What we both found was this: our minds slowed down. We had fewer thoughts and the ones we had were “ours.” We thought more about the experiences we were having and less about random things. We were more present and more grounded in the moment. I personally felt less worried, anxious and fearful.
So what have I concluded from all this?
I have never been one to be extreme about anything and this holds true here. I am not going back to a flip phone or banning all media at our house. But I have seen for myself that this information is something that I need to be in control of and continue to put some limits around.
Just as I have to be mindful of my diet to keep my body well, this is another area of my life where less seems to be more.
I will choose to moderate the amount of information coming at me (as I can) to keep my mind balanced and more at peace. (Roy often jokes that I have ten thoughts for every one that he has. I think this is true for many women, especially moms!)
If you have made it this far, I would really love to hear from you! Please comment below.
- What is your relationship to social media?
- Can you relate to my observations over the last few months?
- If so, how do you limit information to make it work best for you?
Original post dated May 2018. Most recently updated October 2021.