Kill your television, save your mind

Use your head 2

Maybe I am highly distractable, but I haven’t had cable in over 15 years because if the TV is on, I can’t seem to not look at it. I think that is the idea…we have a society that is run on commerce, and therefore we are saturated with commercials. As a specialist in eating disorders, I am very familiar with the correlation between media exposure and anorexia/bulimia, but lately I am thinking about media and mental health on a broader scale. I believe media not only causes us to suffer from eating disorders, but it also causes us to suffer from depression and anxiety more frequently as well. From my perspective, the manifestation of eating pathology is fueled by media, not because of the thin ideal, but rather because of the role obligations imposed upon us by advertisers. A company sells you its product by convincing you that you would be a better person if you bought the new iflabber 3.0. Imbedded in that ad are a lot of messages about what it means to be a good enough ‘you’. The ad floods your mind with images that replace your sense of your own needs with new information. Suddenly what you thought was real is no longer real anymore, and what is real is that you (or those you love) have been needlessly suffering because you haven’t bought the product they are selling. Commercials have a very insidious and effective way of hijacking your attunement to yourself. So think about how many commercials and ads we see over the course of a lifetime. What are the cumulative effects of this constant derailment? Well, on a global scale it involves a less mentally healthy population. I’ll explain why.

Mental illness of all types stem from unmet needs. Unmet need result when a person’s attunement and nurturing of the self is derailed. Media interferes with our attunement and subsequently erodes our ability to nurture ourselves. When we internalize messages about what it means to be ‘good enough’ as a person, we inadvertently adopt a focus on needs that are interojections from the outside and are not our own. Commercials and ads teach us what to value, what to pursue, what to invest in, even if those endeavors do not speak to the needs of our selves or the needs of those in our social sphere. (I don’t need love, I need “Illegal length lashes!”) The energy that we would be devoting to understanding our own needs and the needs of people we love is replaced with attunement toward those things media says we should value. Suddenly, the genuine needs we have are eclipsed with artificial needs–needs that we attempt to fill with energy that is now not going toward the fulfillment of genuine needs. Unmet needs leads to depression, anxiety and eating disorders, relationship problems etc. So if you want to be more mentally well, kill your television.

Preventing is better than venting


late for work

What an interesting play on words–“vent” and “prevent”. I was thinking about this dynamic the other day while listening to a client talk about how exhausting it is becoming for her to respond to her husband’s chronic stress.

“It’s like he doesn’t see that he needs to delegate tasks, he needs to not commit to things that are going to stretch him too thin, he doesn’t take care of himself and then when all this builds up, he comes home and vents it all to me. I try to support him as best I can but it seems like as soon as he is starting to feel better, something else comes along that makes him all frayed and frazzled again!” Marsha exclaims.

“Have you tried meeting him at the door with a double shot of whisky, wearing pink lingerie doesn’t distract him enough?” I ask.

“Brett, you know how teddies chafe me!” We both have a chuckle.

Marsha brings up an important point that we all need to consider. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of bitching. So often we are caught in a reactive cycle, where we engage with our work and those around us in a way that dysfunctional and uncomfortably comfortable, leading inevitably to the negative outcomes that misaligned interactions yield. Instead of making needed adjustments, we react instead. We drink, smoke, escape with TV and video games, we moan and complain, we overeat, we compensate with mind-numbing exercise or whatever makes the pain lessen. Instead of reflecting on our patterns of interaction that create the stress in the first place, we simply do what we have always done expecting different results. Unfortunately, our loved ones are often caught up in this cycle with us. We end up repeating the same arguments or endlessly seeking the solace that ultimately drains those around us.

In order to reduce the need for reactive stress-management, and increase the utilization of proactive stress-management, try a few of these techniques:

1: Don’t shoulder all life’s tasks by yourself. Even if others seem unwilling or unable to help, remember they can be trained to be helpful and you have to start somewhere. Delegate more frequently and share the load.

2: Stop over-committing to things that don’t really fulfill your personal needs and goals. Say ‘no’ to baking 148 cupcakes for the school bakesale. Suggest your friend take a cab to the airport 50 miles away. Don’t stay late and work through every lunch just because your work team is behind and are not pulling their share.

3: Self-care is a must. Even when you are busy–particularly when you are busy–it is essential that you nurture your experiential needs. Meditate, get a massage, go to lunch with a friend, listen to your favorite CD while soaking in the tub, take a walk, whatever recharges you. Exercise can be really good but it can end up being yet another goal you are striving to achieve so find other ways to nurture and restore that are process-focused rather than outcome-focused.

I always say that processing and receiving nurturing from others is a critical element of close relationships and it is. Just make sure you balance your needs with the prevention of pain. And remember, when you wife greets you at the door with a drink and a nightie, ignore the drink. If it’s your husband in the lingerie, you may need the drink first.