Could ‘unplugging’ be helpful for you?

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‘Unplugging’ has, in recent years, become one of those buzzwords that pop up on blogs and in conversation.  What does it mean and can it be helpful?

A recent blog post about an artist’s experience of ‘unplugging’ got me thinking about how much time we spend looking at screens instead of doing other things and why.  The artist found that she was spending so much time online doing what she felt she had to do that she missed out on doing the things she wanted to do, and ended up feeling lost and unhappy.  By choosing a different way, she challenged her beliefs about what she ‘should’ be doing, and became much more fulfilled.

Many of us spend several hours every day looking at our screens – both at work and in our personal lives.  I am not saying that this is an objectively bad thing.  For people who might otherwise be alone, electronic communication is important for wellbeing.  Friendships between people who otherwise rarely (or never) meet in the ‘real world’ can flourish via social media.

However, use of phones and other devices can interfere with our lives just like in the case of the artist.  ‘Unplugging’ is a deliberate choice to prevent this by switching off phones, tablets and computers to engage with ‘real’ life.  This can be part of mindfulness practice – how many of us have eaten a meal without really tasting it (an unmindful experience), because we are looking at our phones?!  Have you ever missed out on something because you have been looking at your phone?  You might even be ‘addicted’ to your phone, as described in this article!

Unplugging can also help you to enjoy spending time with loved ones without missing what is happening.  You might find you have more time to think, and to do so without being interrupted.  Facebook can be a lot of fun and a great way to stay in touch, but it can also be a time-suck and lead to FoMO.  We only usually see the ‘highlight reel’ of people’s lives on Facebook – the parts they want us to see.  It is easy to believe that ‘everyone else’ has better lives than we do, as we look at our ‘behind the scenes’ and see our own ‘bloopers’.

It is also possible that screen use before bed could impact sleep cycles.  Restful sleep is extremely important for both emotional and physical wellbeing, so unplugging a couple of hours before bed might be helpful.

You might find it useful to add up how much time you spend with electronic devices.  How much of that time is spent doing things which are, in one way or another, actually helpful for you?  If there is a difference between the timings then would you like to change that, and how?

These articles describe ways you could try unplugging, such as timing limits and working out your own rules for specific events you want to be unplugged for.

Taking advice from yourself

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You might find it very easy to give good advice to your friends and family.  Can you give good advice to yourself?  More difficult, can you take advice from yourself?  How might you do that?

The best person to give you advice is you, because you will always know yourself best.  However, it is often very difficult to take a step back from the problem you have to get the objective view you need.  You might be overwhelmed with emotions, or exhausted.  You might feel like your mind is swirling round and round until to can’t imagine being able to think straight.  How useful it would be to have a Pensieve from Harry Potter, to tease out individual thoughts and memories and patterns!

However, unless and until a Pensieve is invented, there are other things you can do.  Mindfulness techniques can help you calm the storm enough to allow yourself to let go and step back to an “observer position”.  This is the same, more objective, viewpoint you have when you feel able to advise someone else.  As ever, take care of yourself and don’t force yourself to persist if you become too stressed or upset.

You might like this visualisation exercise from Active Listener.

Finally, and perhaps most simply, you can imagine what you might say if it were someone else.  Imagine your friend, spouse, sibling, child were in your situation.  What would you advise them to do?  If you think that advice wouldn’t work for you, why not?  What needs to be done differently?  What is holding back?  Are your fears or anxieties getting in the way?  What practical issues are giving you trouble and how might you overcome them?  If you are worrying about aspects out of your control, you might find it helpful to do the Circles of Influence and Concern exercise.

What do you want to do?

Resignation or acceptance?

resignation or acceptance
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You might shy away from the idea of “acceptance” when it comes to your thoughts, feelings or situation.  Perhaps you are mixing up acceptance with resignation.  There are big differences between the two.  Making an active choice of one over the other for yourself can give you your power back!  Let me explain…

Some people might say that resignation and acceptance are the same thing, meaning defeat, powerlessness, or giving up on any hope of change.  That might be what resignation is, but it’s not what is meant by acceptance in a therapeutic context.

Think of being lost, and needing a map to find your destination.  What is the first thing you do?  Find out exactly where you are already!  You wouldn’t be able to move on with your journey if you didn’t know your starting point, and acceptance is like that. Acceptance is the big “you are here” arrow we need to orient ourselves.

Acceptance can be really hard at first.  It is easy to get caught up in ruminating.  You might fall into a cycle of thinking “this shouldn’t be happening!” or “things should be different!” – sound familiar?  That is the opposite of acceptance, because you are fighting hard against what is happening in the here and now.  This fighting against yourself uses up a lot of energy, causes stress and breeds dissatisfaction.

How would it be if you stopped?  Perhaps you fear that stopping this cycle of thoughts will mean giving up hope of any change?  No!  I have good news for you – acceptance is change, in and of itself!  Acceptance is the first step to making things different and growing.

Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, said “We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”  He also said, “It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function. This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.”

Carl Jung put it more succinctly, when he said, “What we resist, persists.”

Acceptance is about treating yourself kindly.  Much as a child won’t learn if you shout at them, or a plant won’t grow if you restrict its water, you won’t grow while you are fighting yourself and your circumstances.  You can turn that energy to other uses.  Greet your painful feelings with kindness and acceptance.  You might be surprised as they lessen in intensity and duration.  Listen to what your feelings are telling you.  Examine your thoughts with compassion, as you would those of your best friend.  If you wouldn’t insult your best friend for their situation and tell them it must be different, why do it to yourself?  Let yourself grow.

If you find this difficult, or overwhelming, take a step back.  Don’t push beyond your limits of safety.  If you would like to work through and move on from these issues in a safe and supportive environment, please contact me to book an appointment.

Breathing exercises

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January can be a rushed time of year – catching up after a break over the holiday period, new year’s resolutions, struggling with weather etc.  Sometimes you might feel like the Red Queen, running faster and faster to stay in the same spot!  Breathing exercises are a simple, free way to take a moment to calm and gather your thoughts.

Despite seeming so simple, breathing exercises may relieve symptoms of stress, lower blood pressure and even help boost your immune system.  In “Reasons To Stay Alive” the author, Matt Haig says, “So many anxiety symptoms – dizziness, pins and needles, tingling – are directly related to shallow breathing“.  These symptoms in themselves can cause you to be stressed or anxious, and the value of breathing exercises is to break that cycle.

As always, before trying any new health or exercise regime, check with a doctor first.

There are a number of breathing exercises available. You may want to combine them with other forms of meditation, such as mindfulness or other grounding exercises.

A quiet and calm places required in which to do your breathing exercises.  This may seem quite a task, but it is worth making the effort to find or otherwise make such a place and time.  A breathing exercise can take less than a minute – that’s plenty time for three deep and slow breaths.  You can do this while queuing, safely parked in the car, at your desk or even in the loo if you need to!

One of may favourite effective breathing exercises is “7/11”.  Breathe slowly in for the count of seven, and out for the count of eleven.  Don’t force it, let it feel natural.  You may end up with a different count, which suits you better.  That’s fine.

Some people like to visualise using models like this square breathing pattern.

If you’d like something more dynamic, @nathanwpyle has some very beautiful breathing animations on his Instagram.  For example this one, this one and this one.

Try spending the next week taking some time to do some of these exercises.  See if you notice any differences.  You might like to journal your experiences.  Breathing exercises won’t change the situation around you, but as I described above they could have health benefits for you.  These health benefits can make you feel stronger, calmer and more able to cope with what is happening around you.