Connection, Community, and Friends: Mental Health Awareness Day

Hello, friends! Sorry I’m a bit late to the party today. After talking yesterday about how great and easy it was waking up early in the morning … I totally overslept this morning! Of course I did. By, like, two hours. So instead of reading my post with your trusty cup of coffee by your side, we’ll swap it out with a glass of wine (or cup of herbal tea) and have a little evening chat!

So I heard that today is Mental Health Awareness day, and what a perfect day to discuss what was on my mind today:

Connection. Community. Friends.

How does this relate to Mental Health Awareness, you may wonder? For me and my own mental health journey, this was the secret sauce. This was the one thing that was missing from my life for so long, and I had no idea what was missing. Finding people to connect with – and not just through social media, but, like, face-to-face, share-your-fries, right-here-so-we-can-high-five-each-other type interactions – is one of the most important and yet one of the most underrated ways we can improve our health and well being. Because for some of us, other people are, you know, other people.

And I get it. Friends are hard to find when you’re pretending to be a grown-up. Most of your time is filled with work, commuting, maybe caring for kids or other family members and you don’t have much free time to spend with someone else. Or you moved to a new place and just don’t know anyone yet, even years later (guilty!). But wherever and however you can find and make new friends, just know that they are a huge contributor to health and longevity. And from personal experience, can really change your mental health game as well.

Now, I’m an introvert, and I know I need a sufficient amount of alone time to maintain sanity. If I’m interacting with too many people for too long, I get this crawly-out-of-my-skin feeling and I know I just need to go … away, like, now right now. I need to be alone. So I make sure to schedule at least one day a month where I have exactly zero appointments, obligations, or plans. I stay at home all day and just do whatever I want, and don’t have to talk to anyone. I read, I organize closets, or I just binge watch Netflix. I might get outside and go for a hike or something, but only if I’m feeling it. And it’s glorious. I love it so hard. And I go to bed so refreshed and happy. To me, this is a form of self-care.

One evening or one day without human interaction is just fine with me. It’s not for everyone, but it’s what I need. But if one is good, more is better, right? But here’s the thing about managing depression – it’s a disease of isolation. It wants me to be alone for too long so it can get its claws back in me. It wants me to feel alone and disconnected, turning down invitations to be included and make excuses on why I need to stay in and be alone. And so quickly I can cross that line from innocently charging my introvert buckets to tanking back down under the cloudy mental sky, which is opposite of self care.

So how do I keep from crossing that line? How do I make sure that being alone is something I need to do and not something that’s harming me? It’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out the difference for me. But I know that if I’m hanging around at home, and the idea of calling a friend or going out sounds kind of like an okay thing to do but I’ll just do it later … I’m recharging my buckets and it’s fine. But if I actively reject the idea of reaching out to someone and I just want to crawl into a hole … then I need to call a trusted friend and make some plans to break my isolation ASAP. And I absolutely won’t want to do it. That’s how I know, when the idea of being social feels like the last thing in the world I want to do. Because it’s not me, it’s the disease at that point. So I make the call.

Just like I never regret a workout, I never regret calling or hanging out with a friend. I recognize it now as so vital to my mental health.

Big high-fives and hugs to all my friends out there that answer my calls and take me up on my invites to get out of the house. It may not seem much, but you are quite literally saving my life, friends.

If you’re struggling with mental health, there’s help. Here is a link to a list of mental health resources that can point you in the right direction. Also, if you need therapy but cannot afford it (most insurances cover it, but sometimes it’s only partial coverage or a copay), many schools and psychology student programs offer free counseling services to the community. Finally, if doing the research to find help is too overwhelming (I’ve been there and I feel ya!), find a friend or family member that can help do the legwork for you to get your foot in the door. Sometimes that first call is the hardest call to make.

Go make it a great day!


Social Media Break – Lessons Learned

Greetings, fellow bloggites!

Oh wow, it seems so weird to finally be writing a post again. The longer I procrastinate, the more I feel like I have to say, and the more I have to say the more I don’t know exactly what to write about. So I don’t write, and the cycle continues. Hashtag blogger problems.

In July and August I conducted a little Social Media Detox experiment on myself. For 30 days I stripped away all forms of social media and content intake in general to see how I felt and what would happen. I was mostly wondering if stepping away from the barrage of posts and likes and other sensory assults if it would help my brain a bit in focus and memory, since I still feel plagued by “baby brain” although it’s been almost two years (!!) since I actually had a baby. Clearly since I’m now posting and pinning and snapchatting I’m back on the Social Media market. So how was the detox? What did I find out?

It was pretty interesting.

For starters, I only intended on removing myself from the socials spaces for 30 days. Then on Day 31, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to log in again. I ended up waiting for another two weeks before I finally logged back into Instagram, and only a week or so ago did I put the Facebook app back on my phone. I really enjoyed having my own “space” in my head, without wondering what was being posted or if I’m missing out on anything interesting, or even having to question if I should Snapchat my lunch. If I took cute pictures of the kids, I’d just text them to family and friends. If I was curious what was going on in a friends’ life, I would call them. Occasionally when I would talk to people, their reaction for me not knowing about something they had posted on Facebook ad nauseam about made me feel a little silly; like, why would they have to go and explain all of this to me when all of the info is RIGHT THERE on Facebook? I like to be pretty self-sufficient in obtaining knowledge, preferring to dig up the answer myself rather than ask somebody, so it felt weird to ask about things when the answers were attainable somewhere else. But I felt so much more connected talking about my friend’s latest race details on the phone, or group texting new baby pictures with my friend who just gave birth (and commiserating in all of the new-mama war stories!). Instead of taking my kids to an event and being distracted by “ooh, let me take a good picture so I can post this to show the world what a great day we’re having!” I could actually be there and enjoy the great day we were having. I even commuted on the train and just sat and observed the experience – it was actually quite peaceful to take in all of the other commuters sharing this ride with me, ready to take out our individual days. I found myself overwhelmed with such feelings of community and gratitude when I noticed the small pleasantries other passengers would bestow on one another, such as giving directions to a new rider or helping a blind individual find a seat. Oh man, I sound like such a crunchy hippie now. But it really helped me to be able to look and see the good side of people.

As far as brain space goes, I did notice an improvement in my general mental chatter and focus. As I suspected, the lack of new content streaming into my brain did give my cognitive processing abilities a bit of a break to pay more attention to things like what the decision was from that meeting two weeks ago or to not forget that I’m taking Squish to preschool and not driving straight to work even when he is in the back seat. I was able to think more deeply about all of the interesting little topics and curiosities that I like to ponder. And I had an easier time not getting overwhelmed and losing my temper during those routine, chaotic moments that just come with running a busy house with small humans, of the we-have-to-leave-in-exactly-five-minutes-one-kid-is-naked-the-other-is-covered-in-food-the-dog-destroyed-a-couch-cushion-again-something-on-the-stove-is-burning-where-are-my-keys variety. Text that we’ll be late, turn off the burner, throw the dog outside, remember that messy houses mean fun houses, grab baby wipes and spare clothes on the way out the door, and don’t worry, the keys are probably still left in the car from the day before. See, that wasn’t too terrible.

The hardest part was finding out how addicted I was to having a mental escape to distract myself with when I was bored or needed a brain break. This may be TMI, but I suspect this is one of those things that everyone does and no one talks about: I always take my phone into the bathroom with me. And without social media apps to browse while I did my business, I would literally stare at the home screen in my hands. So weird. And during the day at work if I needed a quick mental break from a big task, there was no where for my mind to go. Taking a walk took too much time, I only wanted a minute or two to distract myself. I can’t pull out a book and read at my desk, that’s just weird. I would stand up and stretch and take a few cleansing deep breaths, but my brain still cried for entertainment. I don’t really have a good understanding or answer to this finding yet, of needing to be entertained. I’m filing it as something to explore in the future.

I’ve adopted a new attitude towards my relationship with social media as a result of this experiment. To me, social media is not only a way to connect with people I would like to connect with in real life, but also a form of entertainment just like TV and video games. It’s fun, it can be educational if used in that way, but it’s not meant to replace real life. I can’t play SimPark and think it’s the same as a hike in the real park, just like I can’t “like” my friend’s status and think it’s the same thing as grabbing coffee together. Also, social media shouldn’t “take away” from me. Before my detox, I noticed sometimes I would be in a good mood, then I would browse my news feeds. I would walk away feeling worse than if I had left my phone alone. All of the angry, opinionated memes, “Fitspo” articles, an other ugly stuff that is all too common in news feeds would just knock me out and leave me in a shame spiral – I can’t fix the world’s problems, I don’t have a six pack, and I sent my kid to school with cold pizza in his lunch because today was one of “those” mornings, so clearly I’m not “good enough” and I’m a terrible person. Since coming back to social media I took a hard look at the content I follow, and made changes to ensure that after I take a trip into SnapInstaBook I come away inspired and grateful, if not just the same as I was before. Because that’s what I’m here for – to have a little fun, share some virtual high-fives, and close my browser feeling a little refreshed and ready to move on with real life.

So that’s just what I found, and that was on my first round of Social Media Detox. I suspect that if I make this a regular thing I’ll uncover more observations on the impact social media has on my life and my relationship with it. This is such a strange new world we live in, one that no generation previously has ever experienced. It offers us so many opportunities, but I still want to be a little bit conscientious (without being a buzzkill!) about what we have to pay to have all of this information – and exposure – at our fingertips. Oh man, when did I become all responsible and stuff?

I’m curious, what are your thoughts? How do you view your relationship with social media? Have you ever considered a detox, or does it scare the crap out of you? 😉

That’ all I have for now, go make it a great day!


Why I’m Taking a Social Media Break (not just because I’m nuts)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!