Living in a world of hashtags

The recent internet sensation; the kiki/keke challenge has got me thinking about social media yet again. It is amazing that a video shot not too long ago by an American comedian has become a global phenomenon with over 500,000 posts (and counting) for #InMyFeelingsChallenge hashtag on Instagram. Yes, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened and certainly won’t be the last but it is a reminder yet again of the reach, influence and power of social media. Thanks to the digital world we are more connected, informed and engaged but we are also more pressured to keep up with trends;  be it a trend to follow a certain fitness regime, or be eating a certain diet, or be risking our lives for a meme. Trends, good and bad, existed even prior to social media but what’s different now is how fast things start trending and the large crowds they attract. Thanks to smart phones, information penetrates every waking moment of our lives and lures us into following rapidly changing trends.

Living in the digital world means that we are constantly plugged in both in our professional and personal lives. Disconnecting from work and maintaining a work/life balance has become difficult because there are no set work hours for a lot of people and there are expectations to work from anywhere anytime. We have become “multi-taskers” believing that we can be present with our partner/friends/children at a dinner table while we engage with people in the virtual world. We mindlessly scroll through feeds on Instagram and Facebook to fill our time because sitting still and letting our minds wander is no longer considered an option. We say we use social media to connect, to belong, to keep up with what’s happening in people’s lives but we also inevitably end up comparing our lives with others. Social comparison isn’t new but the number of humans we compare ourselves to has grown exponentially. We look at the carefully crafted and filtered lives of others, some of whom we would perhaps never meet, and experience emotional responses that range from admiration, inadequacy, inspiration, envy, sadness, self-loathing, happiness, loneliness, self-doubt, anger, and anxiety.

While research on connectivity in the digital world and its impact is still relatively limited and mixed, we know that it most certainly has an effect on our emotional and psychological health. Media Psychology is an official sub-specialty in the field of psychology that examines the impact of media and technology on human behavior. Recent studies have validated the reality of Internet Addiction Disorder that can cause symptoms (nausea, tremors, shivers, anxiety) similar to other addictive disorders.

A study conducted in 2015 shows that one third of the participants were not only addicted to their smartphones but they were also not aware of how addicted they were. Another study looked at the use of Facebook on mood and found that the participants felt worse after using it. A follow up experiment showed that people were stuck in the cycle of repeated use because they expect and believe that using it will make them feel better but, in fact, it did not. This kind of thinking and behavior is typical in other types of addictions. On the other hand, it is important to note that not all social media use is bad. There is also research that shows that online social networks allow people to reach out and comfortably share and express themselves. Another recent study shows that young adults with depression are using the internet and social media to connect and talk about their personal experiences with each other.

It is true that we all use technology differently and hence the impact of it is different for all. Social media is a powerful tool that has the ability to organize, create, inspire, influence people and bring about meaningful change. We have seen its power at the Women’s March in cities all over America, the #Metoo movement and the revolution in Egypt among some other positive examples. But we have also seen a rise in cyberbullying, social isolation, mental health problems (stress, depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues), decreased productivity, FOMO, social comparison, and risky behaviors.

As our personal and social spaces become increasingly digital, we need to remember that social media and digital technologies in and of themselves are not the problem, it’s how we choose to consume them. Remember that YOU are the boss of your technology and not the other way around.

The key is to be a mindful consumer;

  • to be cognizant of the content being consumed,
  • to identify goals (e.g. improve relationships, success at work, personal development) and organize content viewing and connectivity accordingly,
  • to evaluate use periodically to see if you are still on track with using it to meet your goals,
  • to be aware of the emotions it stirs in you when you use it,
  • to recognize and acknowledge what personal need you are trying to meet (instant gratification, love, boost self-esteem),
  • to create boundaries around the amount of time you spend on it daily,
  • to give yourself permission to take a break from it from time to time and enjoy living outside the digital world.

 

Maria Mirza is a therapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your emotional health and well-being, contact Colliance Wellness and see how therapy can help.

Guide To Understanding Your Emotions

From a very early age, many of us are told to not show our emotions for it is ‘considered a sign of weakness.’ We might have heard things like ‘don’t show your tears to anyone,’ ‘man up and stop crying’ ‘good girls don’t get angry’ or ‘don’t get so emotional.’ While these messages from others are usually well-intentioned, they teach us that our feelings aren’t valid, emotions can’t be trusted, and that unpleasant emotions need to be avoided at all costs. As a result, when we experience any unpleasant emotions our impulse is to hide, run, avoid, deny, or perhaps numb our feelings through alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, binging, restricting eating, over-working, gambling, compulsive sex, or distracting through over-use of social media.

The fact of the matter is that none of us can escape our emotions. Emotions are an inherently essential part of our daily lives that play the role of an internal compass. They contribute to our identities and help us understand our needs and what matters most to us. According to American psychologist, Paul Eckman, people experience six basic emotions (sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, fear, and joy) regardless of our genes, culture, or upbringing. These core emotions are innate, universal, and automatic and they are what makes all humans alike! It is hypothesized that other more complex emotions, such as contempt or nostalgia, are a blend of these core emotions.

The word emotion literally translates as energy in motion and its Latin root is the same as motivation and motion. Emotions are at the heart of our behavior as they spur us to action. They serve an evolutionary purpose by giving us information about situations and motivating us to act. For example, fear motivates us to fight, flee, or freeze in a situation that may be dangerous or life-threatening, anger makes us assert/stand up for ourselves and provides us with the drive to change a situation. Sadness is a feeling of loss of some kind that pushes us to heal ourselves from hurt, disgust alerts us of unpleasantness and makes us avoid it. Joy gets us engaged with things, and surprise is the rush of adrenaline in our body that stirs curiosity, learning and adventure.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about emotions but there are good and bad ways of expressing or acting on emotions. A common reaction to our perceived unpleasant or distressing emotions is to either suppress them or act them out. Trying to suppress our emotions is like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water; the water will boil over and come out of the pot at some point despite our efforts to stop it. Acting out our emotions by being aggressive or passive aggressive might feel good in the moment, but in the long run it leads to resentment, increased anger, shame or disappointment.  

Many of us aren’t good at listening to our emotions due to unhelpful internalized messages from our culture/caregivers as well as our lack of practice of acknowledging and accepting our feelings. Often, we respond to our emotions by judging ourselves, disavowing our feelings or getting so attached to our emotions that our feelings become all-consuming and crippling. Dealing with our emotions in these ways is not only exhausting but often leads to more suffering.

The key to living a full and satisfying life is to listen to our emotions and to use them as our guide to determine what our mind, body and soul needs at every given moment. When we learn to accept that all emotions, whether it be disappointment, sadness, anxiety, frustration, joy, heartbreak, or gratitude, are a natural part of the human experience, we allow ourselves to bravely embrace the ebb and flow of life. 

The mindful approach to emotions is to simply recognize and be present with our feelings. Often times it is the meanings we assign to our emotions that is a cause of distress rather than emotions themselves. By judging ourselves and trying to suppress an unpleasant emotion, we make the emotion grow in intensity and put ourselves in greater distress. When we engage in the practice of mindfulness, we non-judgmentally acknowledge and accept whatever feelings/thoughts show up and as we do this, we notice that our emotion passes and makes room for the next experience. All feelings are transient and while some thoughts/feelings might stay longer, eventually they ALL pass. Mindfulness takes practice but making a habit of tuning into our feelings, recognizing our body signals (e.g. racing heart, sweaty palms) and putting emotions into words (e.g I’m feeling anxious, I’m feeling disappointed) creates emotional awareness and makes space for healthier ways of responding to distress (e.g using techniques like listening to music, taking a walk, creating boundaries, journaling, reaching out to someone for help etc).

If you find yourself holding back your emotions tell yourself: It’s time to let them out. Give yourself permission to feel, embrace your emotions fully, identify, label and express them, and make them your ally. Use them to understand and express your authentic core and feel more in control of how you respond to yourself and the people around you.

 

Maria Mirza is a psychotherapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in identifying, understanding and better managing your emotions, contact Colliance Wellness and see how therapy can help.

Rumination: the broken record of our mind

 

Sarah receives feedback from her boss on a project she recently completed and now she can’t stop thinking about it and is worried that her boss wants her fired. Jane meets her friends for drinks and expresses her opinion on a political matter that is not well received and now she fears that her friendship will change. Both Sarah and Jane are engaged in ruminative thinking. They replay the scenario in their mind over and over again and are stuck in a wallowing cycle of what they could or should have done differently and what might happen in the future.

Rumination is something a lot of us do. We replay a thought, a conversation, an event, or a situation in our heads over and over again with no solution in sight. We become fixated on our shortcomings and mistakes and let worry of feared outcomes take over.  Rumination is much like a record that’s stuck; the same song compulsively playing in the brain.

While we have a tendency to ruminate on matters that feel important to us, being engaged in this kind of thinking is not only counterproductive but also leads to an inability to flexibly generate solutions. The problem with rumination is that it distracts us through its repeated and passive quality. It takes us away from the present moment and gets us stuck in our heads. So when Sarah gets home after work, instead of enjoying her meal with her family, she is tormented by the thoughts in her head and is unable to be fully present with her family.

Unlike introspection that calls for active self-reflection and engagement for growth, rumination keeps us stuck and paralyzed and robs us of our ability to focus and constructively problem-solve. Furthermore, being trapped in a negative cycle of repetitive thinking has an impact on our mood. Research shows that rumination is linked to depression as well as anxiety, eating, and substance abuse disorders. It can also lead to sleep problems, physical symptoms of stress such as headaches or fatigue, and poor self-esteem.

Thankfully there are ways to deal with rumination. Here are some:

Talk it out with others who understand. Sharing your thoughts with trusted friends, family or a therapist can help you gain a different perspective on things that are troubling you.

Practicing mindfulness regularly teaches you to bring your attention back to the present moment and when it’s done regularly it can alert you when you get into ruminative thinking. Having this type of awareness can help you get out of your head and back into the present moment.

Engage in some form of physical activity because ruminators have a tendency to sit in one place and worry. By simply doing something around the house, taking a walk in nature or engaging in an activity that is part of your self-care routine can help break the cycle.

Repeat a healthy affirmation, a poem, a mantra, a song or perhaps the serenity prayer by Niebuhr for comfort: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.

Make a list of all your concerns, categorize them based on ‘problems I can actually do something about’ and ‘worries I can’t control.’ For the first category, create small goals or action steps that you can start working towards and monitor your progress. For the second category, acknowledge that these are worries outside of my control and look for themes to your anxiety (self-sabotaging, blaming, interpersonal). But if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your problems/thoughts and they continue to be a source of major distress then seek help from a professional counselor.

If this resonates with you and you have identified rumination as a culprit that is impacting your daily life, then know that you’ve already taken the first step towards change! With acknowledgement of the problem and the right tools and support, it is possible to to change the song playing in your mind.

 

Maria Mirza is a psychotherapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your emotional health and well-being, contact Colliance Wellnessand see how therapy can help.