The power of disconnection in pain management
(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.
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.