A couple of weeks ago I woke up in the morning with my anxiety spiking. I worked out and felt better while working out, but not after. I took my medication, which I do every day. I did some breathing work. No change.
Thankfully, I had an already scheduled appointment with my therapist. I told her I felt “overwhelmed”, not just “stressed” about everything happening in the world and I thought my dog had an eye infection, which if you read this blog regularly you’ll know it turned out she has cancer.
My therapist understood the difference. In the first chapter of her book Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown talks about the difference between stress and overwhelm:
We feel stressed when we evaluate environmental demand as beyond our ability to cope successfully. This includes elements of unpredictability, uncontrollability and feeling overloaded … Overwhelmed means an extreme level of stress, an emotional and / or cognitive intensity to the point of feeling unable to function.Brené Brown in “Atlas of the Heart” pages 4 & 6
When we are stressed we usually know what we need to do to deal with it. We may not listen to ourselves, including completely ignoring the signs of being stressed, but if we had to we could think clearly for even a few minutes to figure out next steps. This might include asking someone to do something specific like “could you take this meeting for me” or “would you pick up supper on the way home from work”.
When we’re overwhelmed, we are beyond being able to figure out next steps. We can’t ask for specific help because we are beyond knowing what that help needs to look like.
I was overwhelmed and I told my therapist that. Instead of me figuring out my next steps, she guided me to figuring them out (I am constantly grateful l that I found such an amazing therapist). She talked me through the various things that were combining to overwhelm me to get me to get me out of the overwhelmed zone and then we discussed ways to help keep me out of it.
One of the tools we came up with was me dramatically cutting my screen time, but mostly my social media time. I use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn each for different reasons, but the one commonality is that I use them to share new blog post and episodes of the Better Me Podcast.
If you have Apple devices you can check your Screen Time, including how much time you’re spending on different categories of apps or websites. That week I spend almost 8.5 hours on social media just on my phone. I’m sure my parents are rolling their eyes as they read this. Last week I cut that down to just over one hour on my phone and a total of about 2.5 hours on social media on all of my devices.
I go on to have a quick look at Instagram (I only follow uplifting accounts there) and Facebook (it’s how I found out a friend’s sister died) and to share updates to Better Me on all four sites. Every time I’m about to go to a social media site, however, I start a timer in the habit app I’m using, giving myself a total of one hour per day, which I’ve stayed well under.
I was having a virtual tea with a friend yesterday and he asked me if I was including YouTube in the my social media limit and I said I wasn’t, but then realized that I had only been on YouTube once or twice in the past week and in both cases because somebody sent me a link. I watched the videos they sent and then left. No rabbit hole.
My screen time overall has not gone down. Wordle and its derivatives have sucked me in and I’m reading news (but not via any social media sites). I still work remotely and even if I wasn’t my job requires a lot of time online. I write blog posts and record podcasts. I connect with friends and family near and far virtually.
While the world is a mess, the pandemic is still here, my dog has cancer, and other every day happenings are stressful, my mental health seems to have improved in the 10 days since I’ve made a conscious decision to do reduce my social media use.
On a final note, reading Atlas of the Heart has been a valuable experience I will keep it at the ready as a reference tool. Having the language to be clear about how I’m feeling makes it easier for me to figure out what’s going on and what I need. I wasn’t stressed, I was overwhelmed. I can explain to my daughter that I’m scared of her getting sick when I tell her to wear a mask, not angry with her for giving me a heavy sigh.
Featured image courtesy of Blogtrepreneur under a CC-BY license.