Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why TV Doesn't Count As Down-Time

Have a lot of stress in your life? Do you often feel carried away by anxiety or worries? Do you judge yourself and others way more than you'd like to admit? It's this kind of emotional baggage that leads some of us to stuff ourselves with chocolate or potato chips at night. Or to snap at our partners. Or put our back into spasms. Where does all that junk come from?

Yes, it's in our heads... but we weren't born this way! We've picked it up from all the things we see and hear around us: our families, television, the internet, billboards, books, teachers, movies, social media. As adults, we have more of a choice about the Programming (this was what TV shows used to be called!) that we feed our brains.

What we watch becomes part of our memory and reality. You can't "unsee" or "unfeel" something. Maybe you've noticed, like me, that your own fear-based, judgmental, and self-deprecating thoughts are relatively quick to rise and take you down a dark vortex in your mind compared to your positive, ease-full thoughts. Maybe you've noticed we live in a world that exists in an almost perpetual state of worry and anxiety. And for many people, TV shows, movies and social media have become a main resource for decompressing and mindless escape. Problem is, it isn't mindless.

Many people tell me that they watch TV in their down time especially to relax. Down time is, by definition, time to turn off, to shut your brain and body down for a while so you can rejuvenate. We're not meant to go-go-go all day - that creates chronic stress. Most media plays to that familiar state of mind, keeps us tapped in to our fear so we don't get "lazy" or "fat". Problem is, stress-inducing media doesn't relax you, no matter what you tell yourself. Sure, maybe it does serve as a distraction. But even distractions, while they've got our attention, have their influence on us. When fear-laced TV programming becomes something you consume daily, you are feeding the stress cycle, the same one that may be driving you to mindlessly or emotionally overeat or to turn to "shopping therapy".

Just as I don't recommend watching Cupcake Wars or The Biggest Loser if you want to think about sweets and hate your own body less, by the same token - and especially if you are highly empathetic, sensitive or introverted - I don't recommend you feed your brain violent, sensationalized, or suspense-driven media. What kind of messages are you sending yourself?

When I started really paying attention to the way certain TV show and movies made my body feel (tense, shallow breathing, squirmy), I stopped wondering why I couldn't break free from my stress, my tight shoulders and neck, my midnight mind spins and my anxious late-night food-stuffing sessions. When I started being more selective about what I'd watch, there was suddenly more space to cultivate more of the emotions I DID want... relaxation, ease, clarity.

The great news is that once you acknowledge the power of the media you consume, you can choose to watch, listen to, read and browse from sources that will truly serve the life and mind states you want.

How to Get More Conscious About Your Consumption
(A Simple 5 Step Exercise):

  1. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Draw a horizontal line about a quarter of the way down. In the top left box write: "How I Don't Like Feeling" and make a list of all the ways you feel right now that you don't enjoy (ex: stressed, irritable, restless, not good enough, tense, etc).
  2. In the top right box write: "How I Want to Feel" and write a list of all the ways you want to be feeling as the ultimate version of yourself (ex: confident, happy, relaxed, flexible, easy going, etc).
  3. In the bottom left box, list of all the media you consume on a regular (weekly) basis. Things like movies vary more, but write down what is typical for you when you do watch.
  4. In the right column next to that list, make note about how you feel (what you think about, how your body responds, etc) AND the core messaging you pick up on in that media. Stay open to the idea that you might not be fully aware of how each makes you feel, so start to pay attention this week as you watch, read and listen. Observe your body's responses (emotions are physical energy)!
  5. Cross compare your lists. Are you "eating" (watching) to create the state you want or as a reaction to the state you're in? Decide whether it's worth it to you to keep watching, or whether you want to watch something like it in the future. Maybe you're in the middle of a gripping series that you know isn't really evoking the energy you want to be creating more of in your life. Don't judge yourself for wanting to finish it. Maybe you notice you go into comparison/judgement mode on Facebook. You don't have to delete your profile to have a different relationship to it. Just stay conscious about what and how you're engaging, moving forward.
I know this can feel edgy for a lot of us - it was, and still is sometimes for me too. Sometimes it means telling my partner he should go see a movie without me if he wants to see it. We can be really attached to our devices and our favorite flavor of brain food. But watching something on a screen is NOT down time. Down time rejuvenates. Watching a screen is engaged brain-body-emotional activity.

Tell me below: What has this illuminated for you? What challenges, obstacles or questions are coming up? What "yeah, but"s?

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