Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why I'm Making A Concerted Effort For More Off-Screen Time

I realize the irony, writing a blog about how I'm going to be on my computer less. But I promise this is during my scheduled "screen time" (explained below).

First, let me say that I do value the convenience of the screen and the internet and the connectivity it gives us. I have friends half a world away, and it allows us to communicate without phone bills that ranges in the hundreds (also it allows me to not have to talk on the phone). So I'm not one of those "these kids these days and their Facebook" people. Not by a long stretch. But I have been noticing something. The more time I spend on the screen, the more I see the following effects:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Inability to focus
  • Neck/shoulder pain (from being hunched over some sort of electronic device, I presume)
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxiety/anger/frustration numerous other emotions that are triggered by posts/emails/etc
  • Exhaustion
  • Missing what's going on around me
  • Lack of connectivity with people (ironically)
  • Weight gain (yeah, not kidding, I'll attempt to explain this one)
  • The inability to not be on the screen in some form

    Now, many of these are part and parcel to my illnesses in some form. I have suffered from migraines as long as I can remember. I have MECFS so am often exhausted. I suffer from anxiety and a mood cycling disorder, so feeling overwhelmed, unfocused, and anxious is basically a daily occurrence. But I do feel that these are being enhanced by screen time - and to clarify, by screen time I mean anything that involves a screen, which includes social media, emails as two of the big "offenders", so to speak. I'm going to address these one by one, to try to explain as well as possible. 
    • Headaches/Migraines: First off, it's pretty common knowledge that staring at a screen for hours can cause headaches. To be honest staring at anything nonstop for hours probably would cause a headache. If a migraine is coming on, the light and the fine-tune focus of staring at words on a screen don't help alleviate it. 
    • Inability to focus: my senses are super sensitive to stimulation, so with numerous email accounts and social media accounts, jumping back and forth trying to give the right amount of time to everything is too much. It's like standing in the middle of Times Square on a Saturday night with every sound and light surrounding you, and having to focus on one particular thing. Eventually my brain gets overloaded and I can't focus on anything. 
    • Neck/shoulder pain: sitting in a chair all day is tough enough. So hunching over a computer at work all day, then going home to sit on the couch or in the car or wherever and hunch over my phone exacerbates it. This also doesn't help the headaches, by the way. 
    • Feeling overwhelmed: as I mentioned in "in-ability to focus" sometimes it all gets too much. It builds up, and I feel like I have to not only be continually checking everything that could possibly come through my screen, but understanding and responding to it. After a while, it becomes a blur and builds up and I break down. 
    • Anxiety/Anger/Frustration/emotion: You can only read so many emails and posts about everything that needed to be done yesterday and every disaster and everyone's differing opinions and everyone arguing about those differing opinions and everyone being angry at some person or group before you implode. Or at least that's the case for me. For someone who feels these emotions in such a raw, truly empathetic way, even when they aren't directed at me, it's too much. I start to break down. 
    • Exhaustion: All of the above - the overwhelmed, the inability to focus the emotion is draining. So is sitting staring a screen instead of moving. The whole inertia thing. Now sometimes, when I'm really battling illness, I need to sit back and relax an watch mindless tv. But I still don't need to be checking email every five minutes. In fact, then I especially don't need to be checking email every five minutes. 
    • Missing what's going on around me. This is pretty obvious. Looking intently at screen = not looking intently at surroundings. My brain tends to focus so fully on something to block out all of the other stimuli, which will otherwise distract me, that there are times where people have come up and been talking to me for five minutes before I actually hear them. Not because I'm intentionally not listening. But because in order for me to focus I need to block out everything else. That means you too. 
    • Lack of connectivity with people. See above. Missing real life conversations to read emails. Also, thinking 'I'll just message this person on Facebook to see how they are" instead of saying, "hey want to grab a coffee and catch up?" when they live two blocks away. It's way easier to type "we need to get together soon" than actually make the effort to do so. Times when I'm flaring up, it's helpful to have different ways of communicating. But for people nearby, I hate when I feel online replacing actually seeing them, when we're both up to it. 
    • Weight gain: While I'm sitting on email (not at work)/social media/whatever other screen, I could be doing something, anything, that didn't involve me sitting not moving for an hour or more. The ease of "experiencing" everything from my screen means I move less. Thus, weight gain. Again, when I'm especially ill, sometimes I just need to appreciate the connectivity and deal with the weight gain. But when I'm not, there's no need to be just looking at a friend's pictures of a hike or a visit to the local market or whatever it is, when I could actually be doing it myself. 
    • Inability to not be on the screen. To me, this may be the worst. It's become my go-to instinct to check my phone when there's literally any spare moment. No need to soak in my surroundings, or talk to someone near me or do something creative or just enjoy being silent for a moment. My phone is always there and waiting for me, even if I've just looked at it five minutes before. 
    To be clear, I'm not bashing email or social media or any other screen-related activity. There are a lot of areas in which it makes life easier, especially with a chronic illness where face to face isn't always a possibility, or when anxiety makes it too difficult to be around people. Plus, in theory, you can think about an email or post, and reply when you've formulated a good, clear response, instead of being caught off-guard as you might be on the phone or in-person. But that's if you can wait to reply, and I'm finding it more expected, by others and myself, that we get instant replies. There are days when I miss the old rotary phone on the wall (besides the talking on the phone part), where if you weren't home, someone just had to reach you at another time. You didn't have to feel guilty not being available 24/7. It was assumed you didn't sit by the phone all day every day waiting in case someone happened to call. And I think that is the key. It's nice to have the option to be on the screen, to connect with people electronically. But it shouldn't be compulsory, all the time, nonstop. We shouldn't have to feel guilty about spending time with friends and family, or even by ourselves, instead of being online, especially the evenings, weekends, holidays. It's funny, how so many people in my age group talk wistfully about the days when kids played outside instead of on their phones and ipads, and yet we ourselves often feel the urge to be connected nonstop. Quite frankly, I probably could benefit from playing outside more myself! 

    So I'm working on changing this for myself. I'll be checking emails and social media in chunks of time (especially when I'm not actually at the office, checking office email). I will have specific times devoted to each area that requires my electronic attention. And people understand that in any truly urgent/emergent situation, they can text me, or call me if absolutely necessary. Aside from these instances, the world will not stop if I don't check email for a couple of hours, or longer on the weekends/evenings, an that's reassuring. I'd never want to be in such a position that it did.  

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