Let's be careful out there!
Now I’m not the kind of person who makes New Year resolutions anymore partly because as they say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and most of our resolutions tend to fall on “stony ground” (Matthew 13:5). However, there are some things I feel people can do to improve or maintain a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle and general good wellbeing. I say this partly due what I learnt and taught in my old day job when I ran a series of Stress Management programmes in the Public Sector- it worked then, and it can work for you, but it has been newly informed by recent events.
I use social media and it can have incredibly healthy and powerful transformative power. Here at St Mary’s my church in Princes Risborough, the use of Facebook & You Tube has been fundamental to them spreading the ‘Good News’ to audiences well beyond our Parish- in that sense social media has been a true blessing. But there is a darker side to the use of social media.
There are significant numbers of people whose lives are increasingly being managed and influenced by what is said especially on Twitter, it has become their immediate environment especially in these lockdown times where we may get bored or restless and instinctively want to know what someone is saying about something or someone. Contentious political areas such as BREXIT and the American Presidency have at times brought it to fever pitch and that has ultimately led to communities being fractured and in urgent need of healing. COVID 19 and the lockdown has made things worse as well.
This was all brought into focus for me in the last week when a UK political newspaper columnist by the name of Rafael Behr spoke about what happened when social media took control over his life. His involvement in living through social media led him to being as he said “in a state of fizzing unease”, that he slept too little, ate and drunk too much, was distracted at home and became impatient and shouty with his children (all classic symptoms of stress by the way). In photos he said he looked puffy and grey and as he said “I knew that social media was the main pipeline bringing anger and anxiety into every corner of my waking life”. And then on New Year’s Eve at the age of just 45 he had a heart attack, the kind Cardiologists call ‘the widow maker’.
Rafael Behr did survive but it taught him a life changing set of lessons. What he learnt, because his very life depends on it , apart from eating healthier and taking exercise was:
- No matter how bleak world events seem, “breath and not take it all to heart”.
- He stopped following politics “and didn’t miss it”.
- He learnt not “to binge on instant reaction” when a news story breaks
- He locked himself out of Twitter and gave his new password of an unmemorable sequence of random characters to his wife in a sealed envelope for her to keep to protect him
- He now takes exercise somewhere where he can see the horizon, to relax his shoulders, not to clench his fists, to breath evenly- and to look out and up
Social Media, and how Rafael Behr allowed it to take hold of his life , was almost the literal death of him, and although it is an extreme example, I am convinced that social media, unless you manage your time on it carefully, can be very toxic and be bad for your health. Be assured that you will always find something out there that you will be offended or hurt by, and it can have the effect of upsetting your day and taking your focus away from where God wants it to be. Which is why these Thoughts are hopefully helpful to comfort and inspire people.
So what are we to do? I would suggest following a few healthy guidelines will help us all remain saner, mentally and physically healthier, increase our general well -being and give us some inner calm:
- Avoid using social media first thing in the morning and last thing at night as that will prevent you from starting the day in the wrong frame of mind or disrupting your beauty sleep. Instead use that time for some inner reflection - to meditate or pray;
- ‘follow’ those people who bring you joy- and ‘unfollow’ negative conversations and people
- When replying to something ask yourself; a) “is it true?”, b) “is it necessary?” and c) “Is it kind?”-be intentional in your contributions
- Monitor your usage – most Apple or Android mobiles will tell you how often you are on social media. Seek support if you are struggling to stay away from social media
- Remember to live IRL (In Real Life)- engage with your real life by talking or spending time with friends, families and those in the community (socially distanced of course!)
- If despite the above you are getting stressed through your use of social media, you are allowed to come off it – you can delete the Twitter & Facebook and other apps. There is a life beyond and that is much more important than the things that are said online.
Finally, remember the closing words that Sgt Esterhaus on the cop show ‘Hill Street Blues’ told his patrol before they went out –“Let’s be careful out there” (see the video below)