Before it controls you.
Our nervous systems respond to what we read
Most of us try to take good care of our health. We limit processed food and eat fruits and vegetables because we know they are good for us. What about what we put into our minds? Shouldn’t we limit the junk we take in from the internet?
It’s been a rough year.
Many of us had to reorganize our lives to deal with our new reality in light of the pandemic. During the first lockdown, I was a victim of the rabbit hole called social media — clicking here, clicking there, watching a video, liking a post… There were some pretty funny posts out there — clips of people navigating their corporate and private lives in one household. After a while, the novelty wore off and I went on autopilot, numb to the content I was reading.
Our nervous systems respond to what we read and take in, even when we aren’t fully engaged. Our thoughts, feelings, and emotions affect us both physically and mentally. If the gist of what we are reading evokes sensations of anxiety, fear, hate, anger, and grief, we will feel the qualities of these emotions in everything we do. It may start as an inquiry, we check out a headline, but then as we scroll and click along, our energy gets sucked from us like a vacuum.
Fight or Flight
Let’s unravel what happens in the body when you spend a day online reading stressful news (I’ll leave social media for another time). Keep in mind that any good reporter will try to grab your attention with their words. They select catchy headlines to pull you in: “COVID-19 Surges…”, “George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody”, “Worst Pandemic in 100 years”, “Businesses looted”, and so on.
When we feel threatened, as we may when reading these headlines, our sympathetic nervous system does its thing — our hearts race, our breath rate increases, our muscles tighten and our body’s sensory system lights up. After a while, we feel the effects of an exhausted nervous system — anxious, irritable, tired, and wired.
We have some control over this phenomenon. We can choose to tune out the noise and turn down the volume by being more selective with what we read, ignoring alerts, or deliberately limiting our time. Like many, I considered taking a break from my phone and computer entirely.
It’s not easy. Have you tried it?
It’s nice in theory but not realistic if you own a business, have kids, or a family. There are ways to do this that aren’t all or nothing; it just takes a little effort.
Here are suggestions to reduce the impacts today’s world events may have on your body and mind:
- Do frequent body scans. Notice the state of your body throughout the day. Are you tensing your shoulders, your neck, and jaw? Are you breathing quickly or shallow? Are you holding your breath? If yes, begin to slow the breath rate down and take gentle breaths in through the nose. Roll your shoulders, soften your jaw, and close the eyes for a moment. Notice how directing your attention to the body, thoughtfully, helps reduce physical and mental tension.
- Control your intake. Unless you sort through the news or social media all day as part of your job, you have control over how often you read it. How many times a day is truly necessary to read the news? Attempt to limit your intake by switching off notifications on your phone, going offline, or whatever you can to give yourself a break.
- Read something inspiring. Sometimes we scan through the news and social media because of habit. If we always have a good book on hand, we are more apt to pick that up and read rather than scan the news. The result may be a calmer, more relaxed state of mind.
- Get up and exercise! Go for a walk. Do some yoga. Meditate. Do anything, offline, that addresses your mental health and fitness. Your body and mind need a break, just like your stomach needs a break from food.
We have some control over what we put into our bodies and minds. How we feel by the end of the day is very much a result of how we spend our time. If you feel like crap, ask yourself, “Did I eat a healthy diet?