My brain doesn’t work. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Literally, my brain does work somewhat spectacularly. I don’t have to think too much about breathing or beating my heart, I can usually remember my kids’ names, and I can probably out-daydream anyone I know, except perhaps my sister Amanda. But as most moms can tell you, after kids your brain sort of goes “poof!” and suddenly trying to remember spare details of life such as where you put your purse or that you have an important meeting 9:00 Monday morning just doesn’t happen. Even stuff that occurs routinely, like Wednesday is trash night, just escape me. From who I was before having kids, this has been by far the biggest adjustment to try and deal with, the fact that my brain just can’t keep up with my life anymore.
Or can it?
Sleep deprivation is the most likely and most-cited culprit in Baby Brain. I mean, we are not made to function on four broken hours of sleep a night for months on end. Squish took a while before he was sleeping through the night enough to give me a decent rest. Buttercup, however, was one of those miracle babies that settled into a solid, predictable schedule right off the bat and was sleeping through the night in just a few months. I’ve had over a year of not really feeling like “oh I have a baby” is a justified excuse for poor sleep, since my own choices are now affecting how much time I get in bed more than my tiny, demanding humans. Finally owning up to this fact, I began do my best to get to bed on time, practicing good “sleep hygiene”, and sleeping in if I feel like I need it. The past four months I’ve really improved my sleep, averaging 7:30 per night. While I have noticeably more energy and vast improvement on my overall mood, my brain still feels spacey and not really like it’s on it’s game.
Now that Whole30 has given me a good template for my diet, I’ve been more active with CrossFit, and my sleep is under control, so with the main factors of cognitive degradation under control I started exploring more options on how I can improve my mental performance. I was flirting with the idea of a social media detox of sorts, maybe doing a “SocialMedia30” of sorts where I abstain for a month. My totally inspiring bestie Alexis just embarked on her month media-free, which put the bug in my brain even more. But 30 days without social media is a bit drastic right? I mean, it’s not just a way to distract for me; this is how I share pictures of the kids with my grandma and stay in touch with friends that live abroad. Clearly I don’t misuse my online connections, do I?
There’s really only one way to find out: that dreaded “awarenes”.
Curious, I downloaded the Moment app, which tracks your phone usage. You guys, I’m spending on average about 2 hours a day on my phone. Two. Hours. I couldn’t believe it. I complain so much about not having time, about wanting to cram 30 hours into a 24 hour day, and here I am spending two hours a day on Facebook or who knows what.
And it’s not just Facebook. It’s Beyond the Whiteboard app where I record my CrossFit workouts and compare myself to my gymmates. It’s My Fitness Pal and the Up app that syncs with my Jawbone, where I load my sleep, food, and exercise data … and compare myself to the other users in the community and browse blog posts. It’s Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Yelp, my Feedly blog feeds, all of the apps that I don’t really need, but I find myself checking ever day, just because they’re there. And that’s not it. There’s all of the newsfeeds I subscribe to through email, with article links and other “healthy” tips that jam up my inbox and feed my brain with data.
What if I don’t have Baby Brain? What if my recent decline in cognitive abilities is because of the barrage of media consumption I subject myself to on a daily basis? Thinking about it: when I had Squish, the only social media I engaged in was Facebook, and I had just found out blogs were a thing. I don’t remember spending my free time sitting on my phone, except to put together a new iTunes playlist or read emails. Now, I am consistently turned onto all the things that are supposed to “connect” me. Connect me to whom? Not my Grandma. And then there is all the IM: the texting, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts. I’m constantly getting pings and notifications and reminders, and my brain cannot turn off.
Maybe I don’t have Baby Brain. Maybe my brain is just done with all of this extra stimulation.
The final straw was when I read this Fast Company article about the brain that I ironically ran across in the latest email newsletter from Dallas Hartwig. And it blew. My. Mind. The article, titled “Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button—Here’s How To Use It” took what I knew about your brain and sleep – as in, you need sleep for your brain to work – and took it a step further to explain how your brain uses sleep to “clean up” stuff, and more importantly, describes that your mindfulness and the things you focus on tells your brain what to clean up and what to repair. So when I’m looking at Instagram 326 times a day, I don’t remember what was decided on in that budget meeting I lead last week, but I do remember that funny meme or the wicked workout that <insert CrossFit Games athlete I follow> did yesterday. Because that’s what I’ve told my brain is important information to retain. Clearly important facts!
So I’m going to give this social media detox a shot. I’m going to go 30 days social media free, and see if/how my cognitive abilities improve. Here are the rules I am going to follow:
- No apps on my phone, and no apps in my phone web browsers. I’ve deleted the apps from my phone and web browser bookmarks.
- No email newsletters. I’ve either unsubscribed from all email newsletters, or have set up a gmail filter to mark them as “read” and move them to a special folder to read after my experiment, if I am so inclined.
- No reading blogs, articles, or online journals, but I will post here if I am so inclined because I sort of view my blog as a journal rather than social media. However if I find I’m posting more often as a substitute for real social connection, I’ll take another look at that rule.
- No podcasts. This will be a hard one; I love podcasts on my commute! But I know that if I listen to podcasts, I’ll probably start to crave online social interaction since many of the podcasts I listen to I also follow on social media. So better safe than sorry, and I’ll find other ways to amuse myself driving over the bridge. Like call my Grandma.
In addition to reclaiming my brain space, this social media detox will give me the opportunity to reconnect with the humans in my life, in my real life. If you don’t know me in real life, please don’t take this as “Emily doesn’t care to know you anymore.” On the contrary, I’d love to get to know you better! Feel free to email me, and let’s connect! And if you do know me in real life, call/text/email me, and let’s connect without a screen in between us (except for my SoCal/East Coast babes, we might need to Skype! Skype is totally okay in my book), preferably over coffee or hiking mountains.
To be clear, I don’t think social media is bad. I think it is useful, purposeful, and an easy way to connect with people. But just like birthday cake not inherently “bad” and is useful and purposeful in the right setting (celebrating a birthday!), so is social media. It is a tool, not an activity. And just like I use a Whole30 to adjust my attitude to birthday cake (totally worth the splurge on birthdays, but not on, like, Tuesdays), I want to use this Social Media Break to identify the role social media has in my life and how I engage with it.
I am super pumped to get two hours back into my day. Wish me luck!
Now that I’m off to do something not social-media related, go forth and make it a great day!