Silencing the World

Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 7-30-2020

    I used to sit and/ or walk in silence for hours and hours, literally. As a millennial born in 1989, I still remember this: no smart screens. No easy internet access, as it wasn’t allowed in my household. The ‘special’ computer with dial up internet access was locked in the forbidden dungeon (my parents’ room). There was TV, but only accessible when my parents allowed it. I had silence. I knew how-to live-in silence, think in silence and cope in silence. I honestly forgot what that felt like. I forgot a world with silence the moment I owned my first smartphone in 2010, when I was 20 years old.

When we reflect on the first SmartScreen we bought and/ or were gifted, what can we remember? It sucked me in the way my ex-boyfriend was sucked in, from what I recall. He got one just a year before I did, and it seemed like nothing else in the world mattered but that phone. Then admittedly, I repeated the same destructive pattern. I was sucked into another world where I could keep in touch with any/ everyone I had ever met. Being in the military, that was a huge deal as we were always traveling and losing touch. Also, the fact that I was stationed far away from many friends/ family members. I remember the excitement of apps and the endless games/ activities. The portable music, all my favorite songs from every decade in one convenient area!

     One of the most difficult things we must face when we find a new/ exciting coping outlet is asking ourselves this honest question: “When has it gotten out of hand?” Also, when does it feel like too much? Am I addicted to this? Is this impairing my job? My relationships? Is this impairing my mental health? These are hard realities to face when we are sucked into something that brings so much entertainment, adrenaline and joy. Sometimes, the things we want/ welcome are not what’s good for us. When we are in emotional pain, we do not gravitate toward healthy things, we gravitate toward distractions, highs & escapes. An ill mind rarely does what’s best for physical and mental health. Smart screens just became one more interesting/ unique way to cope, and it falls in the realm of all 3 above: A distraction, a high, as well as a form of escapism.

     How much information is too much information? I would never ask that someone become ill informed or try to block out every & every atrocity in this world. But seriously, how much is too much? We are in rare times right now, where constant access to almost all information in the world is met with a mass mandated quarantine. I recently asked a client (who reported being on the screen an average of 12 hours a day) to write down what she is using her phone for. Below is the list:

  • News/ politics
  • Growing her online business
  • Socializing (calls/ texts/ social media’s)
  • Games
  • Music & other forms of entertainment

     My next question: Roughly how many hours a day do you believe you should allot yourself to accomplish these goals on your smart screen?  She thought hard about it and gave an honest answer: 5 hours a day. This does not mean that she could only be on the phone for a max of 5 hours a day. Simply, it became a template, a goal, something to work with and work on. Upon reducing her screen hours to the best of her ability, she reported a decrease in depression, anxiety and anger symptoms. There was also an increase in concentration and motivation which ultimately helped her online business generate more income.

     Less can be more. Less screen time can be more, in the sense that we silence out the world along with the external triggers and symptom exacerbation it causes. The mood fluctuations, the stress hormones it releases, the constant processing that our brain is required to do whenever we read a new tidbit of information. The mental capacity it requires to partake in such online activities every day is a lot more extreme than we give ourselves credit for. My brain literally started to feel like it was frying. The best metaphor I can use would be like when you find old batteries that leaked, and it looks radioactive and dangerous to the touch. I was literally experiencing both mental and physiological symptoms due to high amounts of screen time. Especially in the social media realm. So again, how much is too much?

Warning signs of too much screen time:

  • Constant mood fluctuations regarding what you are seeing/ reading online
  • Aggravation/ irritability
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Dry eyes/ headaches
  • Lost sense of time/ reality
  • Feeling/ anxious and/ or desperate when the screen isn’t in front of you
  • Neglect toward self and/ or others
  • Isolation/ loneliness
  • Decreased self-esteem due to increase in comparisons
  • Consistently falling behind on major activities and chores (procrastination)
  • Confusion, identity crisis, lost sense of purpose/ reality
  • Financial stress (due to possible influx of online purchasing)

     I really want to silence the world again, but admittedly, it’s extremely hard. The screen can pull us in like a vacuum to a carpet. It calls, it beckons, it’s an extreme force. So, like a very realistic and practical thinker (like I like to believe I am), I created a reasonable and attainable goal: No social Media on Wednesdays.  Today is my first Wednesday. Only phone call, text and email are allowed… because, I’m not a cave woman!  I’m roughly halfway through the day and already experiencing withdrawals. (anxiousness and restlessness) The good news? I hear silence, if that makes sense. My mind is at a standstill, I was able to get through so much work that I had been putting off. I’m filtering through my priority list and I’m able to write this blog. May this be one of many things that can help with long-term self-care and self-improvement.

Published by functionallymentall

Social Worker, Writer, USAF Veteran

One thought on “Silencing the World

  1. I am guilty as charged with letting the news draw me in. I don’t fall in to the phone so much but the tv news had me in a panic at times at the beginning of this pandemic. I have found much more peace and as you put it silence, since I have allowed myself only 1 hour of news a day. Thanks for sharing, since this seems to not only being an adult addiction but young children are falling into this screen time as a babysitter. I hope that after many read this they step back and look at how screen time is affecting their family life.

    Liked by 1 person

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