Driven to Distraction. The Oxford dictionary defines distraction as “a thing that prevents someone from concentrating on something else; a diversion or recreation.” The second definition is “extreme agitation of the mind.” It’s that second one that convinced me to give myself the gift of a social media fast. I’m not really a Facebook or Instagram person. For me, social media isn’t so much keeping up with friends or colleagues or friends of colleagues. But I am a Twitter person. Not the kind of witty Twitter user who has pithy comments and observations and opinions about everything. I use Twitter so I can have easy access to articles from my favorite news sources. At least that’s how it started in 2011.
I began using Twitter as a requirement for a consulting job. I started by following about 20 different news sources. Then I added the feeds of specific journalists and authors, then certain politicos and analysts. At first, I loved how easy it was to stay informed. I couldn’t stand watching news on TV and I wasn’t always near a computer to check in with Internet news sites. Having news via Twitter on my phone was convenient. Then smart phones became smarter – or at least more expedient.
Now my can’t-live-without phone has alerts and notifications and feeds for breaking news and top news stories plus Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and four email accounts and friends who text me with news in case I didn’t see the latest story that broke three seconds ago. I’m not quite sure when the sociocultural emphasis changed from being in the know to being the first to know. My guess is this tedious game of news one-upmanship probably occurred around the same time that we shifted from being informed to being distracted.
All of the reading, watching, re-tweeting, liking, and sharing began to take its toll. I finally realized that my increasingly frequent feelings of anxiety and overwhelm were thanks to up-to-the-second coverage of [insert horrifying daily event here]. Somehow, I had gone from a news follower to a news groupie and finally a news junkie. I still believe it’s important to be informed; however, the ever-present “I CAN’T EVEN” feelings were doing more harm than good.
Social Media Vacation. What happens when you unplug from the news? I had read several articles from people who had done just that. According to those social media teetotalers, you feel a sense of freedom. You are more productive – or more relaxed. You feel less distracted and anxious and more positive and upbeat. You’re more focused on things that matter.
That is not what happened to me. At least not at first. I felt cut off, adrift, untethered. My feelings of anxiety actually increased. I thought the term FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) referred to the idea that someone else might be having a great experience that you’re not a part of. While I wasn’t worried about missing a party or the latest beach look, I did feel like I wouldn’t be able to hold up my end of a conversation. What if there was another “covfefe” incident and I didn’t know what everyone was talking about?? Two hours without social media access and my FOMO was out in full force.
In those initial panicky moments, I realized that I had temporarily lost my grounding. The feelings of being cut off, adrift, untethered were actually quite a literal cue from my body. I needed to regain my footing and center myself (other literal expressions).
You’re Grounded! Grounding techniques are the foundation of ancient healing traditions. I had encountered them in books on feng shui and decluttering, in Tai Chi and Qi Gong lessons, during Healing Touch and meditation training programs. Many studies have shown the link between visualization and its ability to enhance people’s skills whether they are athletes or salespersons. (Here’s one example.) I don’t know that visualizing could ever give me the ability to play a game that involves a ball. But this particular technique has helped me to feel firmly rooted, able to withstand events that seem to come at me from all sides these days, and most importantly, manage feelings of overwhelm, FOMO or despair.
This simple grounding technique involves visualizing yourself being literally rooted into the earth. You just sit in a chair and imagine that you are like a tree, with powerful roots that extend all the way to the center of the earth. Envision the main taproot originating around your hips and growing quickly, easily and effortlessly down, down, down through your chair, the floor, foundation and dirt all the way to the earth’s core. It can be just one gigantic root or you can imagine a strong, elaborate root system. Some people like to visualize themselves either inside of a tree, or actually being a tree. The technique also works if you use a completely different image to anchor yourself to the earth’s center, like a golden cord or a beam of light. (Being an herbalist, I’m partial to roots.)
Just visualizing yourself as grounded helps you to be grounded. It is also helpful to imagine sending troubling emotions like anxiety and overwhelm down your grounding to the center of the earth. I do this grounding visualization exercise during morning and evening meditation. Practicing this technique daily makes me feel more peaceful, centered, and less reactive to challenging people and situations. Sometimes it takes me two minutes and sometimes it takes me 20. But ultimately the results are consistent: calm in the midst of chaos.
I’m Going Back to my Roots. During my social media fast, I became aware of how easily I am uprooted when I’m trying to digest the latest news story. As a “highly sensitive” person (the polite term for someone who feels keenly and can suffer the slings and arrows of daily life a bit more), I’m more susceptible to an input onslaught. And I’m not the only one. Very few people have the time or capacity to be grounded when a formerly predictable news cycle is now continuous and scattershot. So my mid-year resolution is to decrease the input and increase my grounding. And when those feelings of dismay about our current state of affairs creep in, down the grounding roots they go!