Why I Went on a Media Diet

Why I Went on a Media Diet

The power of disconnection in pain management

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Jenni Grover Prokopy

(One in a series of columns by Jenni Grover Prokopy – founder of ChronicBabe.com and Illinois State Pain Ambassador for U.S. Pain Foundation)

For a variety of reasons, the people of our chronic pain community are struggling more than ever.

Maybe it’s stress from the recent elections in our country; no matter who you voted for, there are sources of political strife from all directions, and it feels like no one can agree on anything.

Maybe you’re feeling burdened by the social demands of the holiday season; marketing messages via pop culture and media are reminding us daily that everything should be merry and bright, no matter how much pain we’re in.

Or maybe you’re just feeling down about the change in seasons; many of us experience more pain in colder months, and weather forecasters love to add drama to their hourly predictions—Snowmageddon, anyone?

The choice to go on a media diet

I’m struggling, too. I’ve had a few days during the past few weeks when I had to force myself to take a shower (and some days, I didn’t succeed). My pain has been through the roof. And I keep hitting mute on the TV, radio, and phone. (Heck, I keep feeling the urge to hurl my phone out the nearest window!)

I’m not alone; I heard someone say recently that they were measuring their emotional progress by how much less they cried each day, and it just about broke my heart. Many of us are feeling that way—physically and emotionally burned out.

So two weeks ago, I decided to go on a media diet:

  • I committed to a week without social media. That’s right: no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or Snapchat. (Not easy for someone whose business is operated online!)
  • I turned off all notifications on my phone—no beeping, buzzing, vibrating, or annoying visual cues to lure me back online.
  • I committed to spending no more than 10 minutes a day reading the headlines, and only news about positive events.
  • I stopped watching the local TV newscast while I ate breakfast.
  • I listened only to podcasts about soul-feeding stuff like cooking, quilting, music, and spirituality (no wonky politics or healthcare policy shows).

The first day, I was shocked at how often I went to check my phone—many times an hour. I realized how enslaved I had become to social media, and how much it was contributing to my anxiety and pain. Over and over I found myself wondering “what’s happening in the world?” and “is there anything I need to do?” and “what am I missing out on?” Many times, I turned on the TV, only to turn it right back off. Old habits die hard!

That kind of minute-by-minute stress is terrible for our bodies

I like to think of myself as a fairly tuned-in person—in touch with my mind and body, and their intertwined relationship. But it seems I have a lot of work to do in this area. I had become addicted to media, and it was stressing me out.

The constant need to be “in the know” was feeding me tons of arguments, bad news, sensationalism, and other stressors. My desire to be “well-informed” meant I was spending hours scrolling social media for news, when in reality, if something urgent happens, I’ll hear about it from my fiancée or my friends.

When I committed to a media diet, I was worried I would miss out. But I gained so much by setting this boundary:

  • My anxiety and challenging emotions calmed down and I was able to re-focus energy on my work, personal relationships, and health
  • There was more time every day to do things that relax and nourish my body, like cook a meal or read a book
  • My overall pain level dropped and my intermittent, weeks-long headache went away
  • I was able to think about how I want to use social media strategically moving forward, instead of compulsively check-check-checking all day
  • Peaceful days helped me rest so I could come back as a stronger advocate for our community than ever before

Now that I’m back online, I’m careful about how I spend that time

I love seeing pictures of my nieces, so when I hop on Facebook, I go right to my family’s profiles instead of browsing for an hour. Instead of leaving TV news on all morning, I check headlines for about 15 minutes and spend a little time catching up on favorite blogs. I “unfollowed” a bunch of people and groups on all my social media channels, which means I mostly see updates from close friends and trusted colleagues.

It may sound like I’m an ostrich sticking her head in the sand, but I need this boundary. My media immersion was making me feel worse, and stealing precious energy from my work. It’s essential to remember this: We get to choose every day how we nourish ourselves, not just in the food and drink we use to power our bodies, but also in the cultural influences that fuel our minds.

A media diet improved my health. Maybe you need this diet, too. Consider removing social media apps from your phone for a day, or turning off notifications. You could take a break from the social media platform you use the most, or set a timer so you can only be online for a small amount of time each day. Consider turning off the TV, and reaching instead for a magazine or book—or calling a friend for a chat.

You get to set this boundary any way you want, and you can change it any time. How magical is that? If you decide to try the media diet, let me know. I’m curious to know how many folks give it a go.

About Jenni:

Jenni Grover Prokopy founded ChronicBabe.com in 2005 and has been a boisterous advocate for people with chronic pain and illness ever since. A professional speaker and writer with more than 25 years of experience, Jenni believes all people have a story worth telling. She lives in Chicago with her fiancée, Joe, and enjoys gardening, quilting, and five-minute dance parties in her living room.

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Authored by: Jenni Grover Prokopy

There are 17 comments for this article
  1. Jean Price at 5:04 pm

    Tim…I loved your story of your mom’s sense of humor with her wig! She weathered her cancer without allowing her good spirit to be touched, I imagine! You honor me with the comparison. I also had to chuckle because my sister is named Barbara! And we were so close in age, and I followed her around so much that when anyone wanted either of us…they would just call out Barbara Jean! And we would both respond. As I get older, I realize the friendships we have fit into sort of a sliding scale…some briefly or less intense, and a very few who are near and dear despite any physical distance! Those are the treasured ones, yet I do think each and every person we meet is important…to teach us, even show us something about ourselves maybe, and to give us a broader sense of humanity and the world and how we fit in it. Because of my faith, I think all of this serves to help us develop more healthy way of relating, and to know ourselves so we will ultimately have an honest, open relationship with God. I’m not sure about how telemarketers fit in this theory, yet I truly have had some surprisingly good conversations with a very few! Ha ha! My Christmas and holiday wish for you, Tim is for heart peace, comfort, and joy. And a happy Hew Year to you also! And please know that your comments and input are insightful and helpful for us all.

  2. Tim Mason at 5:50 pm

    Jean. My parents lived the kind of life yours did. My mothers name was Jean. (Barbara Jean). She named me after her. Eugene. You remind me of her when you write. I was surprised that people actually admitted to creating “Fake News” recently. I found out that if they pay for an ad on Yahoo they are allowed to create “Fake Stories”. I meet a lot of strangers. I have always been attracted to much older people than myself, even when I was young. Friends I have few. My father always said “Familiarity Breeds Contempt”. It took me awhile to figure that out.
    Just before my mother started her first chemotherapy, she had her hair styled and then all of it cut off and a wig made of out of the hair. It was a nice wig. A year or so later, after her hair came back out in full, she had it styled yet again just like before. Her hair was identical in every aspect to the wig. While visiting, if a stranger or old friend of hers would come by she would have me put the wig on before they entered the house. We sat patiently, watching their expressions, before busting out in laughter.
    Happy New Year Jean.

  3. Jean Price at 3:15 pm

    Tim…your comment speaks for many of us, I think! Being on social media is like living a manic depressive existence…most days you take the plunge! You’re positive then negative…then positive and then negative…and so on and so on…from all the posts and comments! Going from poignant uplifting stories and pictures to people trashing others and even going after you, should you dare comment! And this all happens when all you really wanted to do was to be informed, entertained, and maybe connect with a few souls! I suppose I’ve always been what some would call a “people person”, raised by parents who would talk to everyone…and go out of their way to do little kindnesses for acquaintances AND strangers. They weren’t saints by any means, yet they were both caring individuals who lived out their belief that we are all humans AND no one was better or worse than we were…no matter what yardstick you used TO MEASURE! Plus I was taught there was “never a piece of paper so thin that it didn’t have TWO sides” when it came to separating truth and anything we heard about OR lived with!! I guess I took this to heart…and also really literally, I’m afraid…and I thought every one believed this too! Until I found out some don’t…and I think I still struggle to believe that! (And I’ll probably die trying to understand why they don’t!!). So when I see some stuff on social media, it pushes my buttons, big time! And then there goes my peace and positive mindset! It seems crazy to keep allowing this, yet I still believe there are so many good people and such beautiful and interesting things we can find… if we weed through the junk. For instance, I’ve met a young man from Uganda who is an incredible force for goodness in this world…and he wrote me that he cried when he read my letter telling him of my pain and what is happening to others in pain here! Unbelievablly compassionate person, considering where he lives and what he sees every day…children orphaned and at risk from AIDS, many whose head of the family is also a child, school children who risk malaria and snake bites and parasites just walking to school…on an empty stomach no less! And I’ve met people who live with pain who are the best and the brightest people I know…striving against all odds to help raise grandchildren and to care for aging parents while they themselves are in constant pain and being abandoned by our health care system! I’ve reconnected with old school chums who didn’t have a clue about what this opioid and pain patient witch hunt is about…and who were eager to find out and had no judgement for us, only concern and incredulousness! I was invited to join a prayer group online…a special group of people supporting others! And that is something I CAN DO, It’s hard to think of leaving these good parts out of my life! Plus I’d really miss seeing pictures of my grandchildren’s activities and all the beautiful nature videos posted in Facebook. But I wish I had a good “formula” for sifting through the negativity…or better yet, a good way to stop letting the 85% push my buttons so much! I wonder if there are exercises to toughen up our buttons…or if it’s a matter like with most diets…it’s the “won’t” power we need more than will power! As in…”I won’t allow this negativity to stick to me!” (Perhaps that can become my pre-media mantra…or prayer!). Wishing you a holiday filled with the positive parts of life (and the media)…and a very merry Christmas!!!

  4. Tim Mason at 3:29 am

    Jean all the bad statistics, and the 85% out there can wreck our positive mental attitude. I believe this the main reason I am a social recluse. As I grow older (59 now) there is less importance on what others “feel”. Time cannot be bought and should not be wasted. Oliver Sacks figured this out when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The daily political news means nothing to a dying man. We are all dying at different rates.
    There are people out there that don’t know, and people that don’t know that they don’t know and many out there would not understand it if you explained it to them. The last group makes up no less than 85% of the population.
    Horacio Quiroga is my favorite author. I love his short stories on. They portray the tragedy of both man and animals. As for TV. I love to catch an old movie on TCM. “On Borrowed Time” is one story I think anyone over 55 can relate to.
    Merry Christmas

  5. Jean Price at 3:57 pm

    Sadly…a media diet (and the peace we can achieve with one) is really just a diet that limits our exposure to people, in general! And the results are telling! We all seem to be more peaceful and less stressed or anxious or less hurt or upset with fewer contacts with the public at large!! People can be very inhumane! So what is it that spurs some people to display their worst side on social media?! We see all this negativity, the unkindness, the bigotry, of course so much now is political garbage, and lately we see disrespect clothed as dissent and of course all the antics of those trying to pervert pain care! (Truly, an electrical blitz might bring us to our knees…but then possibly to our senses!). After a “media sabbatical”, I find I’m even less able to tolerate the dark side…and more energized than ever to not add to it! Think of the tools for goodness we have at our command! Yet from hackers to the media’s lack of unbiased reporting, we stand little chance of finding the truth! Maybe like in X Files, the truth IS out there…but I for one don’t have the stamina or the desire to wander the media maze to find it! I can only work to make certain my personal little piece of the world operates on truth and unbiased good will, and love for myself and my neighbors…and I don’t think there’s much need for the media to help me with that most days! I’ll admit though it’s easy to get sucked back in, and then so difficult to weed out the uplifting, enhancing posts from the sludge! Like all things, maybe moderation is the key…yet we don’t really live in a world that values moderation. Excess is king, it seems, and unless we are willing to set ourselves apart from this…somehow…we stand to gain little but those meaningless “pounds” of rhetoric and “empty calorie” type posts that eventually drag us down and can even separate us from the people we do chose to be with! I’m still working on finding my own best approach, and so far not having much luck at striking a happy medium. Yet I’ll keep working at it and who knows…maybe I’ll find that once a month, like with a soap opera is enough to keep the story thread alive! Ha ha!

  6. Kyrie-Inn Blue at 5:15 pm

    proud of the work you did with this and the choices with which you empower yourself and others, glitter britches!! <3

  7. Geo Sims at 8:37 am

    Hi Tim,

    We laughed about that with Jenni, the author, also. But we still agree with her…and you.

  8. Tim Mason at 9:29 pm

    Sometimes it is hard to see the Forest for the trees. National Pain Report is a form of social media.

  9. Angel at 6:22 pm

    3 years ago I ceased using social media as a New Years resolution as well as local news. I found social media added no value to my life and local news contained accounts of horrific deeds that hurt my heart and depressed me. I think I will give national/political news the boot this year like you’ve done. Blessings

  10. Tim Mason at 6:17 pm

    “Few things a doctor does are more important than relieving pain. . . pain is soul destroying. No patient should have to endure intense pain unnecessarily. The quality of mercy is essential to the practice of medicine; here, of all places, it should not be strained.”
    ― Marcia Angell

  11. John S at 12:35 pm

    For me, I look at all the social media outlets FB, Twitter and all the others for what they are for me; Entertainment !

    News, is there any REAL NEWS coming from these sourses – not much if you check.

    Think of the wasted time spent talking about the elections that are over and done with.

    Every where you look there is anti-Opiate rhetoric coming from the far reaches of the galaxy and it’s all B S & P C cr*p that someone feels we must agree with. I have more pressing issues to deal with.

    If I need a lauph I can go to social media – it’s good for that.

    Thank you

    John S

  12. Tim Mason at 10:40 am

    “When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”
    ― Oliver Sacks

  13. Angelica Heavner at 9:07 am

    Hi. I did this awhile ago. I stopped getting on groups and took myself off as administrator of one. It was taking to much out of me and I didn’t like it. Now I get on my emails to check weather, I ignore news unless I know something is going on in an area I have family or friends, and I only have fb and keep that to a minimum. Most know if they need me they can always hit me through pm or text me as alot have my phone number too. I have several groups for information on certain disorders as they are either one of my kids diagnosis or mine. Past that I stay away except authors who always have something to smile about or to cheer you up.
    I have always been a person that does to much and being diagnosed with a disorder with no cure and can spread and causes the worst pain known hasn’t changed that. I am still me.

  14. connie at 9:00 am

    I did this a long time ago because I was in a constant state of panic. My hubby carefully feeds me the news on an as needed basis.

  15. Maureen at 6:48 am

    Jenni,
    I enjoyed reading your post. And, Good For YOU! I’m sure it was a true test for you with all of your regular computer/phone work etc. BUT, you were choosing to be good to your body 🙂 The world we live in effects us even more that we know! But if we pay close attention to our bodies..we recognize more and more.
    I, for one, have generally always kept my ‘media’ influence at arms length.
    As computers, then cell phones, Ipads, Facebook, complicated TV’s etc entered into my life I recognized the stress it was all bringing to my mind and body.
    It’s all way too consuming for me.
    I only go on FB about once a month to catch up on family/friends pics.
    I rarely post on it. I never turn the TV on during the day.
    I basically only go to my laptop to scan world news, NPR posts and check emails in the morn while waking up with my coffee :), but more than any device…its the cell phone that I want to throw into the ocean on a regular basis!!
    Texts seem to take over my days a lot with far too many interruptions and when I rest during the day, and while eating dinner and especially come evening when I ‘shut down my day’ and turn off the world around me to get in bed to read, meditate or watch a show… I ignore my cell and often put it on silent for a few hours. I have to!
    I need to de-stress. My painful body just can handle it.
    I’ve trained family/friends not to call me before 11am and after 8pm, unless it is an emergency.
    I want to go back to the old days when we did not have all of this and life was
    enhanced and enjoyed by the little things.

    I recognized long ago that these things cause my pain levels to heighten for sure and often consume my mind with worry or fury.
    Muscles tighten putting pressure on my damaged lumbar nerves and bones, or stir up my neck and give me a wicked tension headache.
    Not to say that some days I have to be plugged in more often for whatever reason but when I am…I once again learn my lesson.
    Self pain management is a must for me! And dealing with too much overflow from the media surely effects my body.
    Before my accident that changed my life 14 yrs ago…I was a nurse and used a computer, cell and beeper all day long. It was so stressing!
    Therefore, I would only use my PC on ‘weekends’ to email. I learned back then to cut it off at some point in my day.
    May we learn to listen to our bodies and how stress effects us more and more each day. Thank you for this great reminder Jenni!

  16. Jill Jensen at 4:01 am

    Been there, done that for all the same reasons. It was an eye opener and well worth it. But it takes an ongoing awareness and effort to monitor the allure yet continue to be informed. Bottom line – it’s worth it!