Am I Addicted to Social Media?

When standing in the grocery store line turns into a opportunity to check your Facebook messages or waiting in the doctor’s office is the perfect chance to scroll through your Instagram posts…you might need to pause and consider the impact social media is making on your life.

First, let’s make sure we’re all operating on a similar definition of social media. For the purposes of this casual article, we’ll consider social media as interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

So what social media outlets are you engaged in?  Facebook, Twiiter, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, MySpace, blogs, Linked In, etc? They are avenues to interaction with other people…or are they?  Many people will unashamedly admit that they spend more time on social media, email, and texts than they actually spend talking to another human being WITH THEIR VOICE (i.e., face to face conversations, phone calls, meetings, dates, etc.)  Now before you think this is turning into an article about how to teach the younger generation how to learn people skills, keep reading.

I’m not suggesting that social media is wrong, immature, or mentally numbing. There are great things that come from social media: job interviews, connections with friends who live in other cities, product marketing…BUT I am proposing that we have to be careful how much, when, and why we take part in social media.

A few months ago, I found myself intrigued with an article in the January 2014 edition of Real Simple magazine all about this topic. They surveyed women to discover how they report feeling when they use social media: 19% reported that they feel “connected”, 19% entertained, 19% informed, 8% bored, 7% inspired, 7% overwhelmed, 6% relaxed, 5% inadequate, 4% jealous and 3% isolate. Wow! The effects of social media are definitely mixed…but did you notice that half of these reported feelings are emotions that people usually don’t want  to feel (bored, overwhelmed, inadequate, jealous, isolated). So why do we do this to ourselves?  What’s the gain?

While it definitely helps us to feel a sense of connection with friends, family, or long-lost school-mates, some might argue this is a false sense of connection.  Why false? Glad you asked.  When you are “connecting” (e.g., tweeting, posting, pinning, and vining), do you ever put the hard stuff out there…you know: the picture of yourself when you roll of out bed, the kids screaming at each other during mid-afternoon meltdowns, an image of your computer screen during another mundane day at work, or the pile of laundry that needs to get done. If you answer “no” to this, then you’re amongst the majority. So here’s the catch: we spend hours looking at or reading about each other’s pleasurable moments: the summer vacation scenes, the posed family pics, the new baby sleeping, or someone’s new house… but we don’t know what’s really  happening in their lives. Maybe the family on vacation had a horrible fight over dinner. Perhaps the new baby sleeping is one born to parents after multiple miscarriages. What if the new house is full of dishes to still get washed or laundry to be done.  You get it yet? To really connect with someone requires us to see the whole picture.  Otherwise, we might be tempted to compare our not-so-pitcture-perfect lives with someone else’s and wonder how we get there.  I’m NOT suggesting that you get off of social media…unless that would be a healthy experiment for you. I AM proposing that we use it wisely: considering our motives, it’s effects, and the reality behind it.  Also, I’m recommending that we see it for what it is: an avenue towards real relationships but not a substitute for them.

So maybe you’re like me and you notice that you have a tendency towards social media addiction. What do we do about it? Digging deeper into the practical implications of the Real Simple January 2014 magazine article, I followed a link to one author’s recommendations. She had several recommendations for people who are looking for ways to reduce the allure of social media in their lives.  A full list of her ideas can be found here  Amongst my favorite, practical ideas were these:

 Sign Off for a Weekend. A two-day respite isn’t enough to cure you of your habit. You’ll still be anxious when you return to the onslaught of electronic messages, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., the author of iDisorder ($16, amazon.com). But a little time away from the screen reminds you how nice life is sans status updates.

Check With Purpose. Most of us wander onto social media aimlessly—usually when we’re bored. To cut back, set a higher bar for logging on. Ask yourself, Do I have a specific, positive reason for this? If you can’t come up with one (say, wanting to see a relative’s wedding photos), resist the urge and do something that will boost your mood, like calling a friend or diving into an engaging book.

Be a Tough Editor. Before you post a status update or a photo, question your motive: Are you just trying to prove that you’re having a good time? Is this the fourteenth picture of your baby that you’ve posted this week? If the answer is yes, try chatting with a friend or texting the picture to your mom. You could also jot down your thoughts in a notebook, or if you’re somewhere lovely, sketch the spot….Posting a photo has the opposite effect: You stop thinking about your experience and start contemplating other people’s responses to it.

I’ll add one to the list that has been useful for me.

 Choose a time and set a timer. Decide when you’d like to take some time to engage in social media and then set an alarm clock on your phone or computer to limit the endless online wandering.  I’ve found that I’m more intentional about what I am looking at and which social media avenue I’m on when I know that my “time” will be up in five or ten minutes. This way, I still get the pleasure of “catching up” on people’s lives but I’m not wasting hours perusing photos of people I haven’t talked to in years. It also frees us up to be present in real-life social situations. Just last month I found myself actually having a conversation with a woman in the waiting room because I wasn’t staring at my phone. I found it refreshing to sit and talk!

10 Stress Busters for Finals Week

Finals are just around the corner! But there’s no need panic. In fact, when studying for finals, panicking is totally counterproductive. So if you feel your blood pressure start to rise, try some of these strategies to stay calm under pressure.

1. Breathe!!! – When you hold your breath, you increase the neurotransmitter adrenaline. Adrenaline is great for regulating your metabolism, making roller coasters exciting, and helping you run quickly if you are ever chased by a tiger. But, adrenaline is the enemy when you are anxious, it can induce panic!  Try breathing in for 7 seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat four more times.

2. Start studying early – The earlier one starts studying, the better. There is nothing worse than cramming the night before the test and realizing that you are out of time and you can’t find your study guide. Insufficient study time is one of the biggest underlying problems for students who suffer from test anxiety. When you start studying early and hit a roadblock, you will have time to ask for clarification or tutoring.

3. Find a furry animal – Playing or snuggling with a dog or cat has been so effective in reducing stress that many universities around the world have started having a “puppy room” during finals week.  It’s a room full of puppies!  How can that not be relaxing???

4. Go for a walk or a run – Whether you are a marathon runner or a strolling through the park kind of a person, get outside and go.  It’s great to step away from the books intermittently and moving around will increase the blood flow to your brain.

5. Drink plenty of water – Many people overload on caffeine during finals week.  Caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.  Drink plenty of water!

6. Make time for your passions – Take a 15-30 minute break to do something you are passionate about.   Taking time for music, dancing, friends, and sports can rejuvenate your soul.

7. Get plenty of sleep – People think that it is wise to pull all-nighters when studying for finals.  It’s real simple: you don’t sleep, you can’t think.

8. Take a social media break – Anxiety is contagious.  If you are reading all about your friend’s anxiety about finals, you will start to feel it too.

9. Study with friends – Choose a (not completely anxious) friend and study together.  You can divide the work, quiz one another, and help each other when the work is confusing or difficult.  Also, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

10. Get your parents to chill out! (Tell your parents to read this part.) “Are you studying?” “Why aren’t you studying?” “Do you care that finals are just around the corner?” “You don’t have time for that, start studying!” CHILL OUT PARENTS!!! Anxiety is contagious! Students are hearing about finals from every teacher, all of their friends, their friends’ parents, and all of your neighbors, etc. Your child is fully aware that finals are approaching and EVERYONE is anxious about them! In a calm manner, ask your child what you can do to help them. Offer to bring them healthy snacks, quiz them, take a walk with them, and help them get organized. Finally, find something absolutely ridicules to laugh about. Laughter is a wonderfully fun stress reducer!

Preventing the Post Holiday Blues

“The stress and craziness of the holiday season is finally coming to an end. So why do I feel so down and depressed?”

Many people have some variation of the above thought at some point during the first part of the new year. If you have asked yourself this question, then you have already achieved the first step in preventing the “post holiday blues”. We must recognize and acknowledge our emotions before we can begin taking action steps to move through this hard time and feel better.

What are the symptoms of the blues? Changes in sleep patterns, such as the desire to sleep more or insomnia, can be a sign of mild depression. Mood swings, having the urge to cry for no apparent reason, and feeling sad or down are also common signs. The National Institute of Mental Health states that people can have headaches, increased alcohol consumption, and overeat as a result feeling depressed after the holiday season. Feelings of fatigue or increased anxiety are also common indicators of depression.

Children can suffer from post Christmas doldrums as well, though their symptoms may present themselves a bit differently. Kids may have decreased motivation, decreased focus on schoolwork, seem as though they are in a brain fog, or become more reclusive. Returning to school can be difficult because they are facing another 3 months without a break from homework and tests. Many children feel sad because they are not engaging in the fun activities they enjoyed over the Christmas break such as seeing family, or hanging out and relaxing with friends.

There are several ways to assist your children through this back-to-school time. It is helpful to create opportunities to see family after the holiday season, and allow meaningful hang out time with close friends when possible. Plan activities that your entire family can look forward to such as ice-skating, game night, or a trip to the movie theater. Even printing off holiday photos and creating an album can raise your little one’s spirits.

Here are several steps that can help to return you and yours to a better state of mind:

1.    Get rest!  The hustle and bustle of the holidays can lead to less sleep. Lack of sleep has been linked to irritability and depression, as well as weight gain and other health concerns. Give yourself a week of 8 hour nights of sleep and get back on a sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Incorporate down time to relax and regain energy.

2.    Feel it.  Allow yourself to acknowledge and experience your emotions and tell yourself that it is okay to feel down. Name the emotion, identify what your thoughts are regarding the emotion, and express your feelings in a productive way. This may be crying, talking to someone, journaling, or listening to music. Remember to give yourself permission to move out of the emotion.

3.    Get sunlight and exercise.  You may not have noticed how much you have been inside over the winter break, or the way the days have become shorter. Our bodies need sunlight in order to produce vitamin D3, which is needed to synthesize the brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being. If getting outside is difficult during these shortened days, then you may want to consider purchasing a sunlamp. Sunlamps are typically used for ten minutes a day and results are usually seen in four to five days.

Regular exercise (3 to 4 times per week for at least 30 minutes) has been linked to increased production of neurotransmitters, which in turn leads to increased mood and energy.

4.    Focus on others.  When we help someone in need or give of our time and energy to better other human beings we can’t help but experience feelings of joy. Sometimes we simply need to take our focus off of ourselves and by taking an active step in this process we stop dwelling on our negative state of mind. Volunteering for an organization you are passionate about, taking a sick friend dinner, or running an errand for a family that is going through a hard life circumstance are just a few ideas of how to focus on other people.

5.    Plan events and get excited about the future.  We often look forward to spending more time with family during the holidays, but why not plan an activity once a month to look forward to as well? You could organize a supper club with those closest to you, plan a girls or guys night out for the same time each month, or have a family movie night every couple of weeks. Planning fun activities with those we love not only gives us something to look forward to, but it helps us not fall into a pattern of isolation and reclusiveness.

6.    Focus on spirituality.  Research shows that when we are all consumed with ourselves and our day- to-day lives and have no spiritual grounding, this can lead to depression. Give yourself permission to explore big questions such as: What is my purpose? Why am I here? Why is there suffering? Is there a higher power? Of course, you may never find the absolute final answer, but allowing ourselves to ask these questions and explore what we believe can lead to joy and understanding.

If you are struggling with any of these questions, then seek wise counsel to help you navigate through this exploration. Pastors, friends, and Licensed Professional Counselors are all good people to include, if needed, in your spiritual journey.

I hope that the above steps will help to relieve any post holiday funk that you or your family members may be feeling. If you implement the steps above and still cannot seem to get any relief from feelings of depression, then you may need professional help. Licensed counselors and psychologists are trained to help people navigate hard times, and achieve relief from depression.

Do Real Men Get Depression?

Absolutely! Real men get depressed! A lot of us think of the depressed person as the tearful woman, lying in bed with swollen eyes, finishing off her second box of Kleenex. This may be the case for some, but this is NOT what I have seen from most men.

When depressed, both men and women may feel blue, feel extremely tired, have difficulty sleeping, and find it difficult to get pleasure from activities that they once enjoyed. But, there are many other behaviors in men that could be signs of depression – even if they aren’t usually seen as such.

Depressed men often:

  • Show escapist behaviors: spend a lot of time at work or on sports
  • Drink excessively
  • Abuse drugs
  • Feel and/or show irritability or inappropriate anger
  • Use risky behaviors such as driving recklessly and participating in dangerous sports
  • Have physical pain or symptoms, such as backaches and frequent headaches

Differences between male and female depression

Women tend to:

Men tend to:

Blame themselves Blame others
Feel sad, apathetic, and worthless Feel angry, irritable, and ego inflated
Feel anxious and scared Feel suspicious and guarded
Feel slowed down or nervous Feel restless and agitated
Have trouble setting boundaries Need to feel in control at all costs
Find it easy to talk about self-doubt and despair Find it “weak” to admit self-doubt or despair
Use food, friends, and “love” to self-medicate Use alcohol, TV, sports and sex to self- medicate

(Adapted from: Male Menopause by Jed Diamond)

While there is no evidence that women experience higher rates of depression, men account for one in ten diagnosed cases of depression (Mental Health America, 2007). Many say that this is because men don’t like to ask for help, but I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s rather difficult to recognize that you have depression if sadness is not your primary symptom. It’s very common for other symptoms like headaches, fatigue, irritability and feeling isolated to be more prevalent than sadness.

So, to all the REAL men who related to these symptoms of depression, I double-dog-dare you to do something about your depression! Call a therapist and/or talk to your doctor. You don’t have to continue to feel this way.